Racist ‘Great Replacement Theory’ and ‘KKK’ evoked at Republican presidential debate

“Whatever the attempt to brand the modern Republican Party...it will cannibalize their efforts to reach independents, Black voters, and young voters who are all key to the Biden coalition," says Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy (right) holds up a sign referring to former Governor from South Carolina and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley (left), as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (center) looks on, during the fourth Republican presidential primary debate on Dec. 6, 2023, at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

During the fourth 2024 Republican presidential debate, held in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the white nationalist movement known as the “great replacement theory” was dismissed as a liberal talking point, and the rise of antisemitism on college campuses was juxtaposed to the history of the Ku Klux Klan. 

In one of their last-ditch efforts to win over a very solidly pro-Donald Trump voting base, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Chris Christie gave their final debate performances for the year with only weeks ahead of the first primary contest in Iowa on Jan. 15. 

Pundits concluded that Wednesday night’s debate proved that the Republican Party continues to be the party of Donald Trump, anchored in extremism.

“The debate was the latest illustration of how the GOP race is about who can out MAGA each other,” said Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“Whatever the attempt to brand the modern Republican Party,” he continued, “it is far out of the mainstream, and it will cannibalize their efforts to reach independents, Black voters, and young voters who are all key to the Biden coalition.”

Ramaswamy garnered much online chatter for holding up a sign that read “Nikki = Corrupt” in attacking Former United Nations Ambassador Haley, who is surging in polls and gaining big donors. 

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy participates in the NewsNation Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Alabama Moody Music Hall on Dec. 6, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The tech entrepreneur also garnered visceral reactions when he evoked the racist great replacement theory, the idea that Black and brown people are replacing the white or European population. The theory has been pushed by far-right conservative voices and has, at times, led to violence.  

“The great replacement theory is not some grand right-wing conspiracy theory, but a basic statement of the Democratic Party’s platform,” said Ramaswamy, who, without evidence, also spewed false statements that the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection was an “inside job” and that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen by Big Tech.”

“Vivek is Qanon’s candidate on the debate stage,” said Markus Batchelor, national political director at People For the American Way. “Apart from accusing Democrats of a campaign to replace white people in the country…he’s a dangerous trafficker of the worst impulses and most dangerous conspiracies of the far right.”

Former Obama White House official Van Jones slammed Ramaswamy on CNN for his comments, calling them “smug” and “condescending.”

“[The] way that he just spews his poison out is very, very dangerous because he won’t stop Trump, but he’s going to outlive Trump by about 50 years,” said Jones, who said he was “shaking” while listening to the Republican presidential candidate speak. 

He added, “You’re watching the rise of (an) American demagogue. That is a very, very despicable person.”

Batchelor told theGrio that Ramaswamy, no matter how outlandish, is “what the Republican Party is passing as a worthy contender for the American presidency.”

He said the White House hopeful’s sign attacking Haley shows how “low” he will go to make headlines.

“Every Trump understudy needs a target for their sexist ire,” said the political organizer. “Whether it’s Vivek and Nikki, Ron DeSantis purposefully mispronouncing the Vice President [Kamala Harris]’s name, or the ‘Crooked Hillary’ and ‘Nasty Woman’ tropes from Trump, it’s a new spin on an old playbook.”

Former President Donald Trump speaks with reporters as he lands at Quad City International Airport en route to Iowa on Monday, March 13, 2023, in Moline, IL. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The ongoing Israel war in Gaza led to a rise of antisemitism and islamophobia in the U.S., including on college campuses. The occurrence has resulted in a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill and a list of actions from the Biden-Harris administration.

During the Wednesday night debate, Haley denounced the rise of antisemitism on American campuses but did not mention the rise of Islamophobia. The former South Carolina governor argued, “If this had been the KKK doing protests on these campuses, every one of these college presidents would have been up in arms.”

Batchelor dismissed Haley as “proving she’s not the voice of reason in the Republican field.” He said Haley would be “irresponsible” if elected commander in chief.

“Instead of tempering divisions and fostering dialogue and diversity on campuses and online, she’ll shut it down,” he argued. He continued, “Instead of working for peace and an end to suffering in the Middle East, she’ll bomb hostile nations like Iran and claim it’ll make us safer.”

Batchelor added, “She’s dangerous for American tranquility and peace abroad.”

Attention-grabbing moments aside, critics continue to say the Republican presidential nomination is Trump’s to lose. During the debate, Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, chastised his three opponents for being afraid to “offend” Trump and “acting as if the race is between the four of us.”

He reminded them: “There’s no bigger issue in this race than Donald Trump.”

“For all the positioning and dangerous rhetoric coming from this field of also-rans, Trump will be the nominee,” predicted Batchelor, who said the debate was “merely the opening act for the worst show you’ve ever seen.”

Payne said, “Even if you are a voter who has expressed some level of disappointment with what Democrats have delivered since 2021,” last night’s debate should make the decision for voters in 2024 easy. 

“The clear choice next November, between what the Biden-Harris administration has delivered,” he said, “and the chaos, division, and instability that the Donald Trump, MAGA-led Republican Party is threatening.” 

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