‘Transgenderism Is a Mental Health Disorder’: Republicans Hold Second 2024 Debate
Republican presidential hopefuls upheld parental rights, dismissed gender ideology, and challenged Donald Trump to defend comments that pro-life laws were “terrible” during an often chaotic, two-hour long debate on Wednesday night.
Seven of the eight candidates who debated last time — all but former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson — cleared the Republican National Committee’s criteria to show up on the dais at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. The debate got off to a bumpy start when moderator Stuart Varney stumbled pronouncing the name of co-moderator Ilia Calderón of Univision. The two, with Dana Perino, promptly lost control of the GOP hopefuls, who spent much of the ensuing debate talking over each other and rebuffing Perino’s entreaties to attack one another.
As in the first debate, Fox News moderators gave little time to cultural issues. Topics such as abortion and extreme gender ideology did not appear until the second hour, when Perino asked if candidates would support a bill requiring public schools to notify parents if their children begin to identify as a member of another gender. A total of 10.7 million students attend the 1,044 school districts that agree to conceal children’s gender transition from their parents, according to a list compiled by Parents Defending Education.
“Transgenderism, especially in children, is a mental health disorder. We have to acknowledge the truth of that for what it is,” replied businessman Vivek Ramaswamy. “Gender dysphoria” remains listed in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5-TR.
“Parents have the right to know” if their children are affected, especially since the Left claims gender dysphoria “increases the risk of suicide,” he said. “We stand for parental rights.”
Ramaswamy went on to discuss meeting two young women — including 19-year-old detransitioner Chloe Cole — who had a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy, respectively, before changing their minds. “One of them will never have children, and the fact that we allowed that to happen in this country is barbaric. So, I will ban genital mutilation or chemical castration.”
“It is not ‘compassionate’ to affirm a kid’s confusion. That is not compassion; that is cruelty,” he said.
Cole, who is suing the facility that removed her healthy breasts, thanked the candidate after the debate “for bringing the issue of mutilating children to the presidential debate. Americans deserve a president that advocates for common sense age restrictions on these gender denying interventions.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence also knocked an Iowa school district that allowed children to request a “gender transition plan” without their parents’ knowledge. “That’s not bad policy; that’s crazy,” said Pence. “We’re going to stand up for the rights of parents, and we’re going to pass a federal ban on transgender chemical or surgical surgery anywhere in the country. We’ve got to protect our kids from this radical gender ideology agenda.”
On the far-left end of the dais, last-ranked North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum replied, “I think it’s a states issue” that should not become the subject of federal legislation. “That’s why we have 50 platforms of innovation. That’s why we have states,” replied Burgum, who went on to sing the praises of 4H and the Future Farmers of America.
Under this debate’s rules, not every candidate got to answer every question, and lower-ranked candidates got fewer questions. To make up, candidates on the wings frequently erupted into a verbal free-for-all the moderators could not stop.
The highest-ranked candidate on the stage, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, brushed the issue later, noting that under his reform plan for higher education, colleges would likely decide not to “expand the gender studies department.”
DeSantis Challenges Trump to ‘Look into the Eyes’ of Pro-Lifers and Call their Policies ‘Terrible’
DeSantis challenged Republican front-runner Donald Trump to defend his attacks on pro-life legislation such as Florida’s Heartbeat Protection Act, which DeSantis signed.
“I reject this idea that pro-lifers are to blame for midterm defeats,” said DeSantis. “The former president — he’s missing in action tonight — he’s had a lot to say about that.”
Trump blamed Republican messaging on abortion for the lack of a red wave in the 2022 midterms. More recently, Trump called a Florida bill protecting unborn children from abortion after they have a heartbeat “terrible” during an interview on “60 Minutes.”
Trump “should be here, explaining his comments to try to say that pro-life protections are somehow a terrible thing. I want him to look into the eyes and tell people who have been fighting for a long time,” DeSantis stated. “We’re better off when everybody counts, and I think we should stand for what we believe in.”
Instead of fighting pro-life Republicans, “I think we should hold Democrats accountable for their extremism, supporting abortion all the way up until the moment of birth,” said the Florida governor. “That is infanticide, and that is wrong.”
DeSantis rebutted Perino, who asked how he could “win over independent, pro-choice voters in Arizona,” if the state ballot has a referendum on abortion.
“The same way we did in Florida,” DeSantis replied. “We won the greatest Republican victory in a governor’s race in the history of the state, over 1.5 million votes. We were winning in places like Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach, that nobody thought was possible, because we were leading with courage and conviction.”
DeSantis got support from an unexpected corner: former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has a socially liberal record.
He boasted that he vetoed Planned Parenthood funding 14 times in eight years as governor, before saying he believes the matter should be left for each state to decide.
“I believe in life, but I also believe in states rights. And I think we fought hard against Roe v. Wade for decades to … say states should make these decisions, so we’re going to those fights in the states.”
The candidates also got into fights on the stage. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott got into a bizarre, heated, 80-second-long dispute with Nikki Haley about whether she bought expensive curtains as Trump’s UN ambassador. After conceding the Obama administration purchased the drapery, Scott asked, “Did you send them back?”
“Did you send them back” Haley retorted, although Scott plays no known role in the curtain acquisition process.
DeSantis interrupted the intraparty fight, stating, “I’m the only one up here who has gotten into the big fights and has delivered big victories for the people of Florida, and that’s what it’s all about,” including standing up for parents’ rights. “I’ve done it, while others have talked about it.”
The debate ended anticlimactically as Dana Perino challenged the hopefuls to a “Final Jeopardy” question, asking them to write down which of the six competitors on the stage should drop out of the race. DeSantis led the group in refusing. “I think that’s disrespectful to my fellow competitors,” said DeSantis. Perino then targeted DeSantis with a question about his struggle in the polls. Vivek Ramaswamy closed by defending Donald Trump as “an excellent president,” but that he could “take the America First agenda to the next level.”
Unusually, candidates did not get to make a closing statement.
Fox News Moderators Ask Left-Wing Questions
The panel asked numerous questions containing left-wing premises, particularly Calderón. “The Department of Homeland Security warns that violence against LGBTQ+ people is on the rise and intensifying. According to a recent study, members of that community are nine times [more] likely to become victims of violent hate crimes. As president of the United States, how would you protect this community from violent attacks and discrimination?” she asked Pence.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who identifies as a lesbian, praised Calderón, saying the 51-year-old native Colombian “distinguished herself by telling the listening audience tonight something they are not used to hearing on Fox.”
Maddow referred to Pence’s pledge to ban transgender procedures for minors as “a somewhat chilling threat.”
Calderón went on to ask if candidates would restrict gun rights to “prevent gun violence” and if they would offer amnesty to illegal immigrants who are currently “on limbo.”
Dana Perino asked Scott what he would do to “broaden eligibility for [federal] child care assistance” when “pandemic-era funding” ends “and 70,000 day cares could close.” Yet polls show most mothers of young children would prefer flexible working arrangements that allow them to raise children on their own.
Trump Skipped, Again
Trump, who holds a double-digit lead over DeSantis, skipped the debate, speaking to auto workers in suburban Detroit. Trump, too, promised to end “the mutilation of children” during a second term, calling the measure “not conservative” but “common sense.” A day earlier, President Joe Biden walked the picket line with members of the United Auto Workers.
Trump also sat out the first GOP primary debate, instead engaging in an extended interview with journalist Tucker Carlson. Carlson released an interview with his predecessor in the 8 p.m. hour at Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, which has garnered 7.9 million views as of this early morning writing.
NewsNation counterprogrammed the time slot with a town hall forum drawing attention to federal inaction after the February 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
A campaign aide reportedly told Bloomberg News that Trump plans to skip the third presidential debate, as well, and has said the event should be called off.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.