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GOP debate fact check: What Haley, Ramaswamy, other Republican candidates got wrong

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (L) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during the fourth Republican Presidential Primary Debate.

Amid a flurry of attacks in tonight's final GOP presidential debate, many of the candidates' claims were misleading or flat wrong.

Here's what the USA TODAY Fact Check Team found on some of the most noteworthy claims from former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.

More from the USA TODAY Fact-Check Team:

Vivek Ramaswamy claim: Climate change is a hoax

“The climate change agenda is a hoax because it has nothing to do with the climate. … 98% reduction in climate disaster-related deaths in the last century. Eight times as many people are going to die of cold temperatures this year than warm ones."

This is inaccurate on multiple counts.

The hoax claim is wrong: The vast majority of climate scientists (97%) agree that human activity is causing climate change, which in turn has caused an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters.

And a decrease in deaths relating to these natural disasters isn’t proof that climate change is a hoax either. Experts previously told USA TODAY that social factors and technological improvements, such as early warning systems and robust building engineering, have saved lives during the growing number of natural disasters.

These experts also said it’s difficult to accurately measure deaths associated with natural disasters because different parts of the world have different protocols for measuring mortality, numbers can be skewed by few high-mortality eve and high-quality, unbiased data isn’t always easily accessible.

And Ramaswamy’s hot and cold stat isn’t exactly clear cut. Though there doesn’t appear to be a clear consensus about the rate at which cold-related deaths outnumber those caused by the heat, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports there are nearly four times as many cold-related deaths, while the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics says there are roughly two times as many.

A study published by the Lancet found that there were roughly 10 times as many cold-related deaths as heat-related deaths, but the findings were solely based on European cities.

Other USA TODAY debunks about the legitimacy of climate change:

-Hannah Hudnall

Vivek Ramaswamy claim: Jan. 6 now does look like an inside job

There is absolutely no evidence supporting this claim.

More than 1,000 people have been arrested and faced charges stemming from their actions at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with more than 700 having either pled guilty or been convicted at trial as of Oct. 6.

Among those convicted of helping plan or incite the activities was then-Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison for helping orchestrate the plot. Stewart Rhodes, who founded the Oath Keepers militia and said the rioters “should have brought rifles,” to the Capitol, was sentenced to 18 years for his role.

Fourth Republican debate live updates: GOP debate live updates: What to know as 2024 Republican candidates face off in Alabama

A pair of viral claims about government or law enforcement involvement in the riot have been debunked in recent months. Social media users claimed a video showed a man flashing a badge while inside the Capitol, but USA TODAY reported that the man had been previously identified as an HVAC technician by his own attorney, and the item he flashed resembled the vape he was later filmed using.

Another viral claim focused on a Trump supporter named Ray Epps, who was accused of being an undercover federal agent before pleading guilty in September to charges stemming from the riot. Numerous outlets have debunked claims that Epps was a government agent.

Other USA TODAY debunks on the nature of the Jan. 6 riot:

-Nate Trela

Nikki Haley claim: Every 30 minutes spent watching TikTok makes a person 17% more antisemitic

“For every 30 minutes that someone watches TikTok, every day, they become 17% more antisemitic.”

Haley is significantly misstating the nature of a survey that suggests TikTok is a driver of a surge in antisemitism.

The study was published Nov. 30 on X by Anthony Goldbloom, the former CEO of data science platform Kaggle.

It suggests that spending at least 30 minutes a day on TikTok increases the chances by 17% that a person responding to the survey holds antisemitic or anti-Israel views. By comparison, the increase with at least 30 minutes of use per day was 6% for an Instagram user and 2% for an X (formerly Twitter) user.

Goldbloom said this on the TikTok findings: "This is not surprising when you consider that for every view of a TikTok video with a pro-Israel hashtag in the US, there are 54 views of videos with pro-Palestinian hashtags."

– Joedy McCreary

Nikki Haley claim: She quit Boeing’s board over bailout

“When they decided, after COVID, that they wanted to go for a corporate bailout – I’ve never supported corporate bailouts, so I respectfully stepped back and got off the board."

Haley, who was elected to Boeing’s board of directors in April 2019, resigned in March 2020, saying in a letter to the company’s management that she could not support its bid for government assistance early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Haley did, however, support other government funding for Boeing.

She backed a $900 million package of subsidies for Boeing manufacturing facilities in South Carolina in 2009 while she was a state lawmaker and candidate for governor, according to The Wall Street Journal. And as governor, she signed a law in 2013 to give Boeing $120 million in bond money as part of an expansion, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported.

– Joedy McCreary

Ron DeSantis claim: He delivered on all of his campaign promises in Florida

“100% of the things I promised as governor, I delivered on those promises. I beat the Left time and time again.”

This is false. While DeSantis has followed through on some of his campaign promises since being elected governor in 2018, he has not fulfilled all of them, according to PolitiFact’s “DeSant-O-Meter” scorecard.

His most prominent broken campaign promises relate to tax cuts. In 2018, DeSantis pledged to work to lower the corporate tax rate in Florida, and while it temporarily dropped from 2019 to 2021 primarily as the result of federal changes, it returned to 5.5% in 2022 – the same tax rate it was before DeSantis took office.

The governor also failed to follow through on his pledge to lower Florida’s communication services tax, which is assessed on telecommunications, audio and video streaming, direct-to-home satellite and related services. Florida consistently has one of the highest such taxes in the country, a fact which has not changed since DeSantis took office.

-Brad Sylvester

Ron DeSantis claim: Haley called for unlimited legal immigration, policy set by corporate CEOs

“Nikki Haley said the other day there should be no limits on legal immigration and that corporate CEOs should set the policy on that.” – DeSantis

Haley responded to this claim by asserting DeSantis was lying. DeSantis – who has previously levied the same attack against Haley – is indeed mischaracterizing her proposed reforms for legal immigration as detailed during a Nov. 2 town hall.

“For too long, Republican and Democrat presidents dealt with immigration based on a quota – ‘We’ll take X number this year, we’ll take X number the next year and the debate is on the number,’” Haley said.

“We need to do it based on merit. We need to go to our industries and say, ‘What do you need that you don’t have?’” she added. “So, think agriculture, think tourism, think tech. We want the talent that’s going to make us better. Then, you bring people in that can fill those needs.”

Haley has previously advocated easing legal pathways for new workers as a way to address labor shortages, The New York Times reported in November.

– Joedy McCreary

Ron DeSantis claim: The Biden administration wants to get rid of cash

“So one of the dangers we’re going to face, what Biden wants, is a central bank, digital currency. They want to get rid of cash, crypto, they want to force you to do that.”

This is inaccurate. Though President Joe Biden’s administration has researched the possible implications of digital currency, no concrete plans to implement such a thing have been made. In March 2022, Biden signed an executive order to promote the development of digital assets and cryptocurrencies, asking federal agencies to evaluate the viability of such a central bank digital currency.

Experts previously told USA TODAY that even if a digital currency were implemented in the future, it would serve as a possible alternative to physical currency, not a replacement. They also said as long as the Federal Reserve retains its independence, politicians would have no direct role in the creation or distribution of physical or digital currency.

USA TODAY found no record of Biden saying he supports eliminating cash.

-Hannah Hudnall

Nikki Haley claim: ‘I never said government should go and require anyone's name on the internet’

In a Fox News interview on Nov. 14, Haley said, "Every person on social media should be verified by their name,” but she did not say who should do the verification – government or social media companies.

Haley called it a matter of national security to reduce the influence of foreign “bot” accounts that spread misinformation. In the same interview, Haley said she would require social media platforms to be transparent with their algorithms so Americans can “see why they're pushing what they're pushing.”

Other GOP candidates presented her remarks as saying the government was entitled to know the identities. A day later, Haley walked back her verification stance and said she believed social media companies should be doing the verification.

“I don’t mind anonymous American people having free speech," Haley said. "What I don’t like is anonymous Russians and Chinese and Iranians having free speech."

-Nate Trela

Ron DeSantis claim: Toddler died after fentanyl exposure at Florida Airbnb

“There was an 18-month-old baby who was crawling on the floor of an Airbnb rental. There was fentanyl residue on the carpet and the baby died.”

The Florida governor recycled an anecdote he previously brought up during the second GOP primary debate in September.

He was talking about the 2021 death of 19-month-old Enora Lavenir. She and her family stayed at a rental property in Wellington, Florida, while they visited from France, according to a report from the Palm Beach Post on the wrongful death lawsuit her family filed in March in Palm Beach County.

The lawsuit alleges that the home was not properly cleaned after a party was held there in which fentanyl and other drugs were present.

But official reports have not yet confirmed that. The county medical examiner’s office ruled her death accidental and said it was caused by acute fentanyl toxicity.

It is not clear how the child ingested the substance, and an incident report from the county sheriff’s office did not indicate how the toddler was exposed to the drug, according to the newspaper report. She was napping on the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2021, when her mother found her unresponsive. She was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

– Joedy McCreary

Chris Christie claim: Ramaswamy has voted in the Republican primaries for less than 12 years

“I’ve known (Haley) for 12 years, which is longer than he’s even started to vote in a Republican primary.”

This is true. Ramaswamy said he was a libertarian in college and voted as a libertarian in 2004, but didn’t vote in 2008, 2012 or 2016, according to Reuters. He says he then voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020.

Ramaswamy has said he doesn’t strongly identify with either political party and is merely using the Republican party as a “vehicle” to stand for “America-first principles.”

-Hannah Hudnall

Vivek Ramaswamy claim: Nikki Haley was bankrupt when she stepped down from the UN

“Nikki, you were bankrupt when you left the U.N. … And now you’re a multimillionaire. That math doesn’t add up. It adds up to the fact that you are corrupt.”

This overstates the nature of Haley’s financial situation, according to Forbes. When Haley stepped down as former President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations in 2018, her parents owed over $1 million and were in danger of losing their home, according to Forbes. Haley and her husband then loaned them hundreds of thousands of dollars to help.

Though Haley’s 2018 financial disclosure report showed she was at least $1.5 million in debt, most of that was a $1 million mortgage. Forbes reported that she had nearly $100,000 in her bank accounts and $185,000 coming in each year in salary.

There are no reports from Forbes or other reputable outlets that Haley declared bankruptcy.

-Hannah Hudnall

Ron DeSantis claim: He removed two Soros-backed prosecutors in Florida

“We beat George Soros when we removed two of his radical district attorneys.”

DeSantis has indeed removed two prosecutors that Democratic megadonor George Soros backed. In August, the Florida governor suspended Orlando-area State Attorney Monique Worrell, a Democrat and the only Black woman serving as a local prosecutor in the state, according to NBC News. Worrell was elected in 2020 with donations that included more than $2 million from the Soros-backed Our Vote Our Voice Political Action Committee.

A statement from DeSantis’ office claims Worrell was “neglecting her duty to faithfully prosecute crime in her jurisdiction.” Worrell referred to her suspension as a “political hit job.” DeSantis also dismissed Tampa-area prosecutor Andrew Warren in 2022 for “refusing to enforce Florida law,” according to a statement from his office. Warren, like Worrell, was elected in 2020 with help from a Soros-backed committee.

-Brad Sylvester

Nikki Haley claim: Unemployment in South Carolina fell from 11% to 3%

“We moved unemployment from 11% to 3%.”

Haley is slightly overstating how far that rate dropped, according to numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The unemployment rate in South Carolina was 10.8% when Haley was sworn in as governor in January 2011.

But that rate never reached 3% during her term, BLS statistics show. Rather, it bottomed out at 4.4% in January 2017 when she left office.

– Joedy McCreary

Support of Israel in war with Hamas unwavering for most candidates

Israel’s war with Hamas is nearly two months old, with fighting ramping up again after a humanitarian pause that allowed for the release of hostages held by Hamas and prisoners held by Israel.

Most of the candidates on stage tonight have continuously offered support for Israel, which Hamas attacked on Oct. 7. Chris Christie said degrading Hamas’s military capabilities must be Israel’s highest priority in the war. Ron DeSantis has remained staunchly supportive of Israel, calling for defunding the United Nations after it called for a ceasefire without the body condemning Hamas.

Nikki Haley has been looking ahead, questioning whether a two-state solution would be viable after the conflict ends.

Vivek Ramaswamy remains an outlier among the debate participants, openly questioning how much financial support the U.S. should provide Israel and for how long.

Misinformation about the conflict continues to spread. Here are some claims we have debunked:

– Nate Trela

US aid to Ukraine divides Republican candidates

Nearly two years after Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, there remain differing views among Republican presidential candidates about continuing U.S. support for Ukraine's defense.

Trump, who is again choosing to skip the debate, has repeatedly suggested the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine. He has also refused to say whether he wants Russia or Ukraine to prevail in the conflict.

DeSantis has been skeptical of U.S. support for Ukraine, saying in a March statement that the war is a "territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia" and not one of the country's "vital national interests."

In a Fox News interview, Ramaswamy said the U.S. has done enough to help Ukraine, while Christie has said he supports continuing U.S. support for Ukraine.

Haley, though, has said U.S. support should not come in the form of cash or troops on the ground, but through collaborating with allies to be sure Ukraine has "the equipment and the ammunition to win."

Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers have been increasingly split over continuing to provide standalone aid to Ukraine and Israel. Some Republicans have called for aid to be tied to funding for border security and cuts to the IRS.

The war in Ukraine has frequently been the subject of misinformation:

– Chris Mueller & Hannah Hudnall

Talk of Trump indictments, civil trial persists despite absence

Former President Donald Trump continues to loom large over the four Republican hopefuls on the debate stage.

Trump has not taken part in any debates during this election cycle and is holding a private fundraiser instead of participating in this one. Yet he remains the party’s central figure in light of both his commanding lead in the polls and his unprecedented legal troubles.

Much of Trump’s focus has been on his civil fraud trial in New York, where prosecutors claim he committed fraud by inflating the value of his assets and are seeking an estimated $250 million in damages, among other penalties. A gag order was restored against the former president who has called the trial a “scam” and a “disgrace” and asserted the judge who ruled he committed fraud knew nothing about him.

The series of prosecutions against Trump began in March, when he was indicted for allegedly falsifying business records related to hush-money payments intended to silence two women before the 2016 election. Trump also faces charges for allegedly mishandling classified documents and allegedly conspiring to steal the 2020 presidential election, including his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Trump and several allies were indicted in August by a Georgia grand jury that accused them of trying to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state, where Trump lost to President Joe Biden by about 12,000 votes.

Both Trump's candidacy and his legal woes have been the subject of an array of false or misleading claims on social media:

– Joedy McCreary

Jan. 6 riot remains part of campaign

The Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot continues to loom over the field of GOP presidential candidates, even though none of the debate participants had direct ties to the storming of the Capitol or the certification of election results that day.

Former President Donald Trump has won legal battles over the past month to keep from being kicked off the ballot in Michigan, Minnesota and Colorado. Each effort was based on the claim that Trump bore responsibility for the attack on the Capitol and should be disqualified under a post-Civil War-era clause of the 14th Amendment that bars anyone who "engaged in insurrection" after taking an oath to uphold the Constitution from holding higher office.

The candidates participating in tonight’s debate have largely agreed that those responsible for the events at the Capitol should be held accountable, although Ron DeSantis has balked at calling it an insurrection and Vivek Ramaswamy has been circumspect about whether Trump bears any responsibility for what happened.

Speaker Mike Johnson has brought the events forward again by releasing footage from the Capitol, a process slowed by his decision to blur the faces of rioters. The released video has already been co-opted into the steady flow of misinformation surrounding the riot.

Here are some claims we’ve previously debunked:

– Nate Trela

Abortion sparks debate, misinformation after Roe v. Wade ruling

Abortion rights are likely to be a key issue for voters as the 2024 presidential election nears.

Since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in June 2022, eliminating the constitutional right to have an abortion, more than a dozen states have banned, or attempted to ban, abortion. Meanwhile, progressive organizations and activists have scored seven straight victories in statewide ballots, most recently in Ohio.

Democrats have sought to use the issue to mobilize voters ahead of the 2024 election. Republican presidential candidates have generally been opposed to the procedure, but vary in how they would try to regulate it if elected.

Trump has suggested he would work with “both sides” of the abortion issue and has denounced total restrictions on abortions. He criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing of legislation banning abortion after six weeks in his state.

At the third GOP presidential debate in Miami, Haley said she considers herself "pro-life" but believes abortion is “a personal issue for every woman and every man," while Christie has called for leaving the matter up to individual states.

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy has said he does not support a federal ban on abortion and believes the matter is a state issue but lamented the abortion referendum recently passed in his home state of Ohio.

Abortion has sparked a flurry of misinformation online:

BrieAnna Frank & Hannah Hudnall

Election integrity remains focus for GOP candidates

The next election is less than a year away, but the fight over the results of the last one continues.

A key issue for the four candidates on the debate stage remains whether they trust the election process in the U.S.

Allegations of voter fraud from Trump and his allies are at the root of two indictments against the former president, who is accused of trying to steal the 2020 election. His claims have resonated throughout the Republican Party and eroded confidence in the process, even as state-level reviews of the 2022 midterm elections found no indication of systemic problems with voter fraud.

Some of the candidates taking part in the debate have made moves in their states to enhance the integrity of elections.

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis created Florida’s Office of Election Crimes and Security. A year ago, his administration accused 20 felons ineligible to vote of illegally casting ballots in 2020 and charged them with third-degree felonies.

  • Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as governor signed a law in 2011 that requires South Carolina voters to show photo ID.

  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill in 2016 that would automatically register New Jerseyans to vote when they obtain or renew their driver’s license, calling it “a cocktail of fraud,” NJ.com reported.

Misinformation has circulated about the integrity of the elections. Here are some that have been debunked:

Joedy McCreary

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republican debate fact check: what candidates got right (and wrong)