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Fact Checking the Fourth Republican Presidential Primary Debate
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Fact Checking the Fourth Republican Presidential Primary Debate

On Nikki Haley and Boeing, U.S. troops in Ukraine, and transgender guidance in New Jersey schools.

Vivek Ramaswamy holds up a sign reading "Nikki = Corrupt" referring to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as he speaks during the fourth Republican presidential primary debate at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on December 6, 2023. (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Four Republican presidential candidates took the stage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Wednesday night for the fourth GOP presidential primary debate of the cycle. Donald Trump skipped the event—as he has all presidential debates thus far—leaving former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, with her improved polling and recent backing from prominent donors, as the main target on stage for both Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie continued his outspoken criticism of Trump, however, and accused his rivals of ignoring the former president’s sizable lead in the primary contest.

Harsh accusations and misleading claims abounded throughout the night. Here’s a look at the truth behind three of the most contentious.

Nikki Haley and Boeing

The candidates were barely eight minutes into the debate when Vivek Ramaswamy leveled charges of corruption against Nikki Haley, whom he accused of being under the influence of billionaire donors and taking money from foreign speeches.

“After you left the U.N., you became a military contractor, you actually started joining service on the board of Boeing, whose back you scratched for a very long time, and then gave foreign multinational speeches like Hillary Clinton is. And now you’re a multimillionaire,” Ramaswamy said. “That math does not add up. It adds up to the fact that you are corrupt.”

Given a chance to respond, Haley defended her time with Boeing, which has a presence in South Carolina. “I did serve on the board of Boeing. I did a lot of work with Boeing when I was governor, they were a great partner to me,” she said. “I served for 10 months and then when they decided after COVID that they wanted to go for a corporate bailout, I’ve never supported corporate bailout, so I respectfully stepped back and got off the board.”

Haley’s representation of her time at Boeing is accurate. She was nominated to the position of director by Boeing’s board on February 26, 2019, four months after announcing her resignation as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The board then formally elected her a few months later, on April 29. Haley stepped down from the board about ten months later, in March 2020, citing disagreements with Boeing’s plan to seek federal COVID-19 relief money. 

“While I know cash is tight, that is equally true for numerous other industries and for millions of small businesses,” Haley wrote in her resignation letter. “I cannot support a move to lean on the federal government for a stimulus or bailout that prioritizes our company over others and relies on taxpayers to guarantee our financial position. I have long held strong convictions that this is not the role of government.”

That said, Ramaswamy’s claims about Haley’s decision to hit the speaking circuit after leaving the Trump administration are also correct, though accusations of actual corruption are unsubstantiated. Financial disclosures filed by Haley in May 2023 show that she earned between $100,001 and $1 million each from 12 speaking engagements between March 2, 2022, and January 27, 2023—after Haley resigned from her role in the Trump administration and before announcing her primary candidacy. Haley spoke to a variety of organizations including Partners Group, a leading Swiss private equity firm, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a Canadian advocacy group.

American Troops in Ukraine

In a lengthy argument with Chris Christie and Nikki Haley, Ramaswamy accused Haley of calling for direct U.S. military involvement in Ukraine. “I mean, she has no idea what the hell the names of those provinces are,” Ramaswamy said, referring to areas of Ukraine under Russian occupation. “But she wants to send our sons and daughters and our troops and our military equipment to go fight it.”

Though Haley has consistently supported U.S. military assistance to Ukraine throughout her campaign, she has never called for American boots on the ground in the conflict. “Nikki Haley has been clear about her position on Ukraine: No American troops, no cash, no blank checks,”  a representative for the Haley campaign told The Dispatch Fact Check. “Give Ukraine the weapons it needs to defend its sovereignty and defeat Vladimir Putin.”

In fact, Haley has made the case for continued U.S. support of the Ukrainian war effort in part by arguing it would prevent the need for further American military involvement. “Joe Biden has done a horrific job of really explaining to the American people and making it transparent of where this money goes. The fact that this is actually going to prevent war,” she said on Fox News Sunday in October. “It’s going to weapons, it’s going to replenish our stockpile, it’s going to make sure Ukraine has what they need, and it’s going to make sure that if they win, that this is not a win for Russia or China, but it’s preventing war so that it doesn’t go into Poland and other NATO countries.”

The Ramaswamy campaign did not respond to a request for evidence supporting the candidate’s remarks.

Transgender Guidance in New Jersey Schools

Later in the debate, moderator Megyn Kelly asked Chris Christie whether he sufficiently supported parental rights as governor of New Jersey.

“When you were governor in 2017, you signed a law that required new guidelines for schools dealing with transgender students. Those guidelines required schools to accept a child’s preferred gender identity—even if the minor’s parents objected,” Kelly said. “It said that there is no duty for schools to notify parents if their son or daughter changes their gender identity, allowing this serious issue to remain a secret between the school and a child. How is any of that pro-parental rights?”

“That’s simply not true,” Christie responded. “That law was put into effect in 2018 and regulated in 2018 after I was out of office.”

In July 2017, Gov. Christie signed N.J. Stat. § 18A:36-41, a bill designed to address the development and distribution of guidelines concerning transgender students in New Jersey schools. The bill mandated that the state’s Department of Education provide guidance to schools on how to handle issues related to transgender students and included a number of requirements. 

The formal guidance later provided to school districts did not require parental consent for a school district to accept a student’s asserted gender identity and also stipulated that a student did not need to meet any specific threshold diagnosis or treatment requirements to have their gender identity recognized. That said, Christie is correct that the actual guidelines themselves were not issued until September 2018, eight months after he left office.

“I would disagree,” a spokesperson for the Christie campaign told The Dispatch Fact Check when asked if the candidate’s debate response was misleading. “If you weren’t there to actually engage in what the guidelines ultimately are, that is the difference.”

In the years since, Christie has himself criticized current New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy—a Democrat—for certain policies in the state’s schools. Asked on the Brian Kilmeade Show in April 2022 whether he approved of New Jersey schools teaching students in kindergarten through third grade* about gender identity, Christie remarked that “this is just a further indication of the crazy liberal policies of my successor, Phil Murphy, who is in the progressive movement. He’s on the left of the progressive movement, and this kind of stuff just should not be going on.” However, Christie’s signing of the 2017 bill was also praised by many LGBTQ advocates at the time, and the eventual guidance issued in 2018 was approved by members of the New Jersey Board of Education who Christie appointed or reappointed during his governorship.

Clarification, December 8, 2023: Fixed a typo in the sentence about Chris Christie’s appearance on the Brian Kilmeade Show.

Alex Demas is a fact checker at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in England as a financial journalist and earned his MA in Political Economy at King's College London. When not heroically combating misinformation online, Alex can be found mixing cocktails, watching his beloved soccer team Aston Villa lose a match, or attempting to pet stray cats.