On Wednesday, four Republican presidential hopefuls – Vivek Ramaswamy, Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Ambassador Nikki Haley, and former Gov. Chris Christie – were on stage at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the fourth GOP primary debate moderated by Megyn, NewsNation anchor Elizabeth Vargas, and The Washington Free Beacon editor-in-chief Eliana Johnson.
The two-hour debate covered a wide-range of topics, but one that ended up on the cutting room floor was free speech – specifically as it relates to hate speech and college campuses.
Immediately following the debate, Megyn headed to the Spin Room and was joined by Ramaswamy to discuss the issue and their dustup on X in the wake of the October 7 Hamas terror attacks in Israel.
Free Speech ‘Fault Lines’
Overall, Ramaswamy said he was “pleased” with the debate and felt his performance was “fluid” and didn’t “have much restraint.” He did, however, believe there were a couple of topics he wished were included. “I think there’s some issues that we do need to discuss that we didn’t get to in this debate that I think are deep ideological fault lines in the GOP primary,” he shared. “I think free speech is one of those issues.”
Megyn noted that free speech was, in fact, on the agenda, but the questions had to be cut due to time constraints. “Free speech was on our list, but, you know, everything dies as a result of something else that lives,” she shared. “You have to strike the balance because if we just stay rigid to our questions and get through every single topic, you guys don’t get to debate each other.”
In Ramaswamy’s view, “divide number one” amongst Republicans is foreign policy and how involved the U.S. should be abroad. “Divide number two,” he said, is “what do you have the right to say in this country – do you actually have the right to engage in heinous speech or not?” He noted that he considers himself “a free speech absolutist” but said the GOP has “candidates on both sides of that issue.”
Post-10/7 Free Speech
In the immediate aftermath of the 10/7 attacks, a coalition of student groups at Harvard University released a statement that blamed Israel for the terrorism. In turn, hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman shared that CEOs of major corporations were looking for a list of the students in those organizations to avoid hiring them in the future.
At the time, Megyn supported Ackman’s call. Ramaswamy, meanwhile, defended the students. On X, he posted that those who co-signed the anti-Israel letter are “simple fools,” but colleges “are spaces for students to experiment with ideas” and “sometimes kids join clubs that endorse boneheadedly wrong ideas.”
While Megyn and Ramaswamy found commonality questioning the constitutional grounds of Gov. DeSantis’ October directive to state universities in Florida to disband pro-Hamas groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, there is a secondary layer to the conversation. “There’s this separate cultural debate that we have that doesn’t have to do with the law,” Ramaswamy noted.
From an administrative perspective Ramaswamy said the way students sign up for groups on campus is not scientific. “The way you’re a member of a college student group is you actually just put your name on some student group group list,” he noted. He said students have admitted to him that they don’t know if or how they’d be considered members of a group and, therefore, “affiliated with the statement.”
Megyn recognized that possibility, but said students in that position could make “clear” they are not aligned and out of the group. Ramaswamy agreed they could “disavow” it but maintained that “creating blacklists based on what a 19-year-old kid has or hasn’t said” is a “slippery slope.”
In his view, ‘slippery slopes’ are what “these cultural free speech incursions” are all about. “If we do it for this issue, we’re going to be doing it for somebody who denied climate change, somebody who questioned the wisdom of using fossil fuels, somebody who claimed [January 6] was actually an inside job,” Ramaswamy said. “I think that people should be able to speak their mind freely on these topics.”
Ultimately, Ramaswamy said the threat of retribution would lead to “students being less likely to discover who they are and what they think,” but Megyn thinks there is potential upside. “I actually think this could lead to better alignments with the students and their employers,” she concluded.
You can check out Megyn’s full interview with Ramaswamy by tuning in to the Post-Debate Spin Room Special on YouTube. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.