Republican presidential candidates gathered for a forum Friday evening, exclusively livestreamed by The Daily Signal.

The 2023 Presidential Thanksgiving FAMiLY Forum in Des Moines, Iowa featured Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Here are some of the highlights from their conversation.

  1. The Privilege of Having Two Parents

The candidates were asked how to restore the values of marriage for the next generation and make family central again.

Ramaswamy said that it wasn’t just going to be “one silver bullet” that turns things around. He said that part of the problem is that the government pays people more money “not to have a man in the house,” as a part of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs.

What we need to begin with is to stop paying people not to start a nuclear family, he said, while calling the nuclear family unit “the greatest form of governance known to mankind.”

Ramaswamy said that people ask him if he grew up in privilege. His parents were immigrants with little money, but he said he did have the privilege of having two parents in the house who focused on education and instilling a belief in God.

“I think it’s perfectly right for us, for whoever is the next president of the United States to want to set an example so that every kid in this country can enjoy that same privilege and I don’t think we should apologize for it,” he said.

2. Black Lives Matter Riots

“We didn’t have [BLM riots] in Florida because I called out the National Guard and said it’s not going to happen in my state,” said DeSantis.

3. ‘America’s Not Racist, We’re Blessed’

Haley said she was alarmed about the “national self loathing that has taken over our country, the idea that they say America’s bad or rotten or racist.”

“America’s not racist, we’re blessed,” the former South Carolina governor continued. “Our kids need to know to love America. THey need to be saying the Pledge of Allegiance when they start school every day.”

4. ‘You Have a Right to Go to Church’

DeSantis spoke about the COVID-19 lockdowns and addressed what he would do during a future, similar crisis.

The Florida governor said that he could be trusted in a crisis because he did “what was right” during the pandemic.

“What bothers me is how wrong all these people were, all these agencies, the federal government, [Anthony] Fauci, on almost everything about this, about these lockdowns, masks, school closures, vax mandates, on and on down the line,” he said, referring to the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

DeSantis said that even though all these people and groups were wrong, he and the few state governors who got it right were “getting lambasted by the Left, by the media, and even by a lot of Republicans.”

“People like Fauci were telling people not to go to church,” he said. “I had some local governments that were not trying to not let people go to church so I immediately did an executive order that said ‘you have a right to go to church, you have the right to worship, and government can’t infringe on your right to worship.”

He said that it’s “easy to lead when the wind is at your back. The question is that when you are leading into the teeth of the media machine, the bureaucracy, the Left, all these different things, are you going to be willing to stand strong or are you going to fold your tent?”

5. Ramaswamy Shares What His Hindu Faith Means to Him

Ramaswamy welcomed a question about his Hindu faith, referring to it as an “elephant in the room.”

“I’m Hindu. I believe there’s one true God. I believe God put each of us here for a purpose. My faith teaches me that we have a duty, a moral duty to realize that purpose, that we’re God’s instruments,” the entrepreneur said.

He continued:

My parents taught me family is the foundation. Respect your parents. Marriage is sacred. Abstinence before marriage is the way to go. Adultery is wrong. Marriage is between a man and a woman.

Divorce is not just some preference you opt for. That when you get married, you get married before God. And you make an oath to God and you make an oath to your family. 

That the good things in life involve a sacrifice. That there’s more to life than the aimless passage of time. We’re here for a purpose.

He also said he believed the United States was “founded on Judeo-Christian values.”

“They’re values that I deeply share, not as a pastor, but as a president,” Ramaswamy said. “I think it’s my responsibility to make faith and family and hard work and patriotism, but faith included, cool again in this country for the next generation.”

6. DeSantis: My Kids Will Bring Homework, Not Cocaine, to White House

Alluding to the cocaine found earlier this year in the White House, the Florida Republican pledged it wouldn’t occur if he was elected.

“My wife and I will raise our kids in the White House,” said DeSantis. “I can tell you with [them being ages] 6, 5, and 3, the only thing they’re going to be bringing back to the White House is homework, not cocaine. Don’t worry about that.”

7. From Welfare to Work

Haley talked about how she moved people from welfare to work as governor of South Carolina.

“The focus was, how do we lift up everybody? How do we do somethign so that we can move them to a better place?” she recalled.

“We had thousands of people on welfare. And so I would take that person who would be sitting on the couch, and I would match them up with a business. And I told my businesses, if you will take this person and train them, I will pay for them for X number of weeks. And after that, you decide if you want to hire them. We moved 35,000.”

9. Hold China ‘Accountable’

Ramaswamy signaled he would take an aggressive approach to China. “We cannot depend on an enemy for our modern way of life,” he said.

If he had the opportunity to sit across from Chinese President Xi Jinping, it would be “a very different meeting that the one [President Joe] Biden had” earlier this week.

“You won’t buy land in this country,” Ramaswamy said he would tell Xi. “You won’t donate to universities in this country. We won’t actually even be in the WTO [World Trade Organization] anymore.”

“We will hold you accountable using every financial lever we have for unleashing that man-made virus on the world, or else we can expect even worse in the future,” he added.

10. The Problem of China

Haley spoke about the issue of how we deal with a rising China. She mentioned that they are an authoritarian regime that does not share our values.

The former U.N. ambassador said that food security is a huge issue, because many American foods are sent to China. 

“What we will focus on is having that move over to our friends, have that go to India, have that go to our other allies, so that our farmers never feel beholden to an enemy,” she said.

Haley said that we shouldn’t be dependent on China in any sense.

“If they pulled the rug out from under us tomorrow, would we be ready?” she asked.

She said this means we need to be dominant when it comes to energy, but ensure that we aren’t dependent on the Chinese regime before something happens. Right now we have a “perfect opportunity” to coordinate with other countries to become collectively less dependent on China, she said.

11. Western Civilization Came From Holy Land

DeSantis, who visited Israel in April, noted the impact visiting the nation had had on him.

“It will change you when you walk in the footsteps of where Jesus walked,” he said. “You can walk in the different way. My son came with us. He loves David and Goliath. We literally were in Israel in April. You can go to the valley where David fought Goliath. So it all comes to life.And it’s all something that’s very meaningful. And I think it just carries with it a significance that is unlike any place I’ve ever been to.”

DeSantis also discussed how western civilization came from the Holy Land.

12. Losing Children

Both Ramaswamy and DeSantis shared personal stories of losing a child to miscarriage—and of their joy of later having a healthy child who was born.

“Unfortunately, we lost that first baby and, it was a tough thing because this is something that we had so much hopes for, so much aspirations,” recalled DeSantis.

“But yeah, we just kept the faith. We just kept praying. We knew that there would be a path that God would lead us on. And, lo and behold, short time after, we did it, and we had our first baby girl.”

Ramaswamy shared that while he and his wife, Apoorva, hadn’t intended to get pregnant at the time, they soon started rejoicing about their new child.

“We wrote a letter to our child, what we wanted to impart, what were the stories from our parents and our grandparents we wanted to tell,” he said.

“About three and a half months in, Apoorva, one day she woke up—She’s bleeding. She had a miscarriage. We lost our first child, and that was the loss of a life.”

Later, the couple feared they were experiencing another miscarriage.

“I get the call that we dreaded. Apoorva was on the phone. She’s crying. She’s bleeding. And we lost our child in a miscarriage,” Ramaswamy recalled, before detailing the trouble the couple faced getting a doctor’s appointment.

“And so the next day I was waiting for a call. She goes in for the doctor’s appointment. I get the call. She’s crying. I’m getting ready to console her. And she said they found a heartbeat.”

“That was our son, Karthik. And [he] was alive, right? It’s this guy right here,” said Ramaswamy as his son joined him on stage.

13. America More United Than Media Shows

Ramaswamy also argued that his experience campaigning had shown him that there was less division in the United States than reported.

“I don’t think we’re nearly as divided as the media teaches us that we are, right? If you turn on the social media apps on your phone, or you watch cable television on a given night, sure, you’re led to believe that we’re divided. And I think the way we call the bluff on that national division is all of us starting to speak openly again.”

“There’s a gap between what people are willing to say in private and what they’re willing to say in public,” he continued. “I think that’s the measure of our country’s health. How big is that gap?”

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