In a spirited exchange at the third Republican debate in Miami on Wednesday, the five presidential candidates present made their stance on banning TikTok crystal clear. With concerns about the app’s ties to China’s communist government and, most recently, its role in spreading pro-Hamas propaganda, the debate moderators Hugh Hewitt, Kristen Welker and Lester Holt asked about calls to ban the app owned by China-based company ByteDance.
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Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was the first on the roll, labeled TikTok as “spyware” that was “polluting the minds of American young people all throughout this country.” Christie expressed grave concerns about the deliberate promotion of anti-Semitic content by TikTok’s algorithms, attributing it to China’s attempt to divide the United States.
In a characteristic fashion, Christie brought Trump into the conversation, adding, “And this is one of the big failings, among many, of the Trump administration. He talked tough about TikTok. I heard him do it many times. But when it came down to it, he did not ban them when he could have and should have. And now since then, we’ve had an additional, nearly six years of this type of poison being put out throughout the United States, even putting aside the spying, which we know is going on, and the theft of American personal data and information.”
“In my first week as president, we would ban TikTok. They wanna go ahead and sell it? Let them go ahead and sell it,” he declared, going on to criticize the openness of the United States to Chinese influence compared to the strict restrictions China places on U.S.-based social media companies like Facebook and X.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in his response, echoed the sentiment that China represents a top threat to the United States. He stressed the importance of not just a military approach but also economic and cultural strategies to counter China’s influence. DeSantis, as a parent, expressed concern about the data collected from young Americans, warning against the pollution of their minds.
“And as the dad of a six, five, and a three-year-old, I’m concerned about the data that they’re getting from our young people, and what they’re doing to pollute the minds of our young people. These kids get these devices, and they have a mind of their own,” he stated.
He added that banning TikTok is part of “a full spectrum approach” the U.S. needs to be able to fend China off. For him, winning when it comes to “military deterrence” and “economic decoupling,” but losing the cultural battle is not enough.
When former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was asked to respond, she didn’t respond but instead shifted the focus to DeSantis’s record on dealing with China, prompting a strong pushback from him. The debate heated up further when pharmaceutical executive Vivek Ramaswamy entered the fray, expressing his amusement at Haley’s evasive response and raising the stakes of the debate.
“In the last debate, she made fun of me for actually joining TikTok while her own daughter was actually using the app for a long time. So you might wanna take care of your family first before preaching to the audience…,” he stated, while she interrupted him, saying, “Leave my daughter out of your voice.”
While Ramaswamy moved on, Haley said, “You’re just scum.”
Ramaswamy eventually answered the question, supporting not only a ban on TikTok but the prohibition of U.S. companies from transferring data to China. He named Airbnb as one of the companies that transfer U.S. user data to the Chinese Communist Party.
After another round of heated exchange between Haley and Ramaswamy, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) closed the discussion with a resolute stance, declaring, “What we should do is ban TikTok, period.”
He emphasized that if an outright ban wasn’t possible, eliminating the Chinese presence on the app should be the goal. Scott also proposed a “Parents Bill of Rights” to allow parents to control their children’s access to such apps.
“I think it’s incredibly important for us as Americans to take back control of the information, especially of our kids. Where does it go? We should know that. One of the ways that we get to know that is by having a parental consent. But if we can eliminate TikTok, that is a first step,” he said, further emphasizing the importance of stopping China from “buying farmland near our bases” and “stealing our intellectual properties.”