It quickly got personal. Then it turned ugly.
One of the most emotional moments of the Republican debate on Wednesday unfolded when Vivek Ramaswamy said he wanted to laugh at Nikki Haley’s pledge to ban TikTok over national security concerns.
Mr. Ramaswamy, the Ohio entrepreneur, scolded Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, for allowing her adult daughter to use the app, which Mr. Ramaswamy defends.
“She made fun of me for actually joining TikTok while her own daughter was actually using the app for a long time,” Mr. Ramaswamy said. “So you might want to take care of your family first before preaching to anyone else.”
“Leave my daughter out of your voice,” Ms. Haley snapped back.
The wording from Ms. Haley evoked, however fleetingly, Will Smith’s outburst at the Academy Awards just after he had slapped Chris Rock, yelling at the comedian to keep Mr. Smith’s wife’s name out of his mouth.
Ms. Haley entered the night with momentum after strong performances in the first two Republican debates, which have put her neck-and-neck in the polls with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida in the race to become former President Donald J. Trump’s chief primary rival.
If Ms. Haley’s goal was to close that gap and take down Mr. DeSantis, the exchange with Mr. Ramaswamy was a distraction. But it’s unlikely to hurt her significantly. Mr. Ramaswamy has managed to irritate some of his rivals as well as some primary voters, and Ms. Haley’s verbal slap seemed to come out of an instinct to defend her family. Some in the audience appeared to applaud her for it.
Onstage, Ms. Haley listened as a smattering of boos erupted as Mr. Ramaswamy referenced her daughter.
“You have her supporters propping her up — that’s fine,” Mr. Ramaswamy said of the boos.
Ms. Haley, unlike Mr. Smith, kept her hands to herself.
“You’re just scum,” she told Mr. Ramaswamy.