Republican Contenders Pledge Allegiance to Israel and Clash on China and Ukraine in the Third Debate

by Chloe Baker
Presidential Candidates

At the first debate held amidst the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, Republican presidential hopefuls collectively expressed unwavering support for Israel. However, they found less common ground on the issues of China and Ukraine, amid increasing urgency to narrow the lead of the absent Donald Trump.

The tension was palpable between Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, the latter of whom has been polling closely behind DeSantis’ second-place standing in several national surveys. The candidates prioritized discussions on foreign policy rather than focusing on Trump’s legacy.

Ex-South Carolina governor and ex-UN ambassador, Haley, pledged to sever trade with China “until they halt the flood of fentanyl that is killing Americans — a commitment she pointed out DeSantis had not made.” DeSantis retorted by highlighting Haley’s previous welcoming stance on Chinese investments in her state, referencing a particular land deal during her governorship.

The candidates are feeling the heat with the Iowa caucuses approaching in just over two months, as they seek to erode Trump’s substantial lead in the 2024 primaries and position themselves as the definitive Trump alternative. However, it remains uncertain if Republican primary voters are seeking such an alternative. Trump’s conspicuous absence from the debate is seen as a strategy to divert attention from his competitors.

Trump’s relevance was underscored when the moderators’ opening question asked each candidate to present their case against him. DeSantis argued that Trump should be present to justify why he deserves another term, suggesting that Trump’s effectiveness has diminished since his 2016 victory. DeSantis accused him of not fully executing his “America First” agenda.

In a debate that was marked by few direct confrontations, Haley and DeSantis continued to spar, this time over China — a familiar target in GOP primaries. Their respective super PACs have been trading accusations in early primary states, each alleging that the other is too lenient on Beijing.

Haley also labeled DeSantis a “liberal” on environmental issues due to his opposition to fossil fuel extraction through fracking along Florida’s coast. DeSantis countered that while he supports fracking, he opposes oil drilling in the Florida Everglades, a sentiment he believes is shared by most Floridians.

Abortion emerged as a contentious topic following the Democrats’ recent victories in several state elections, where abortion rights were a key issue. DeSantis, having signed into law a six-week abortion ban in Florida, acknowledged the anti-abortion movement’s lack of mobilization. Haley, noted for her approach to discussing abortion, called for Republicans to acknowledge the absence of Congressional support for a national abortion ban, proposing instead to seek common ground on issues such as late-term abortion bans and contraception access without punishing women who seek abortions.

Other candidates who graced the stage included Sen. Tim Scott from South Carolina, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Scott invoked his faith, aligning with the Christian electorate in Iowa, while Christie stood firm on supporting Ukraine against Russia’s aggression, framing it as the cost of global leadership. Meanwhile, Ramaswamy, known for challenging his opponents, clashed with Haley, particularly over the TikTok controversy.

All candidates vocally backed Israel in response to the recent hostilities initiated by Hamas, but the debate did not address the humanitarian implications for Gaza’s civilian population. The candidates did, however, express intentions to address antisemitism on college campuses.

Despite Trump’s lead, his attempts to contest the 2020 election results, his support for the January 6 Capitol riot defendants, his multiple criminal indictments, and a civil fraud case, his campaign remains focused on overwhelming DeSantis, especially in Florida, and on clinching early primary states to secure the nomination.

Trump, showcasing his Latino voter support, held a rally in Hialeah, endorsed by figures such as Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, comedian Roseanne Barr, and fighter Jorge Masvidal. He dismissed the debate’s significance, boasting about the rally’s challenges compared to a debate stage.

The aftermath of the debate saw Trump’s senior adviser dismissing it as futile, while the Republican National Committee chairwoman anticipated Trump’s continued absence from future debates, emphasizing his unique campaign strategy.

This report is supplemented by contributions from Big Big News reporter Adriana Gomez Licon in Hialeah, Florida, and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Presidential Candidates

What were the main topics of discussion in the GOP presidential candidates’ debate?

The main topics of discussion in the GOP presidential candidates’ debate included unwavering support for Israel, differences in policies towards China and Ukraine, and domestic issues such as abortion and environmental concerns.

Why was Donald Trump absent from the debate?

Donald Trump was absent from the debate, which was the candidates’ first since the Israel-Hamas conflict, as a strategic move to divert attention from his competitors and maintain his significant lead in the 2024 primaries.

What were the key arguments between Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley?

Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley clashed primarily over their stances on China, with Haley pledging to sever trade relations until China addresses the fentanyl issue, and DeSantis highlighting Haley’s past welcoming stance on Chinese investment in her state.

How did the candidates address the abortion issue?

Ron DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban in Florida, but he acknowledged that the anti-abortion movement was slow to mobilize. Nikki Haley emphasized the personal nature of the abortion issue and called for seeking consensus on late-term abortion bans, contraception access, and avoiding punitive measures for women seeking abortions.

What were the candidates’ views on foreign policy?

The candidates discussed foreign policy topics, with Chris Christie defending U.S. support for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion and all candidates expressing strong support for Israel during the recent hostilities with Hamas.

Did the debate address the humanitarian situation in Gaza?

No, the debate did not address the humanitarian situation in Gaza, despite the recent conflict. The candidates mainly focused on their support for Israel and did not delve into the implications of the conflict on Gaza’s civilian population.

What was the outcome of the debate?

The outcome of the debate did not lead to a clear alternative to Donald Trump, who maintained a significant lead in the 2024 primaries. The candidates aimed to challenge Trump’s lead, but it remained uncertain if Republican primary voters were seeking such an alternative.

More about Presidential Candidates

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Trump4Ever November 9, 2023 - 12:13 pm

Trump skipped the debate, he rallies instead, says it’s harder, he still on top. MAGA!

ForeignPolicyGeek November 9, 2023 - 10:02 pm

Foreign policy discussed, Christie supported Ukraine, all backed Israel, but what ’bout Gaza’s ppl?

JohnSmith88 November 10, 2023 - 2:34 am

wow, this debate was hot! no Trump, but they kept on fightin’ bout Israel, China, Ukraine. Dems won the election last time, now Repubs fightin’ among themselves.

AbortionDebateGuy November 10, 2023 - 6:20 am

Abortion talk again, Desantis signed ban in FL, but they ain’t got votes for nat’l ban, Haley said it’s personal, no judgin’.

PoliticalJunkie2024 November 10, 2023 - 9:38 am

haley vs desantis, dey fought real hard on China, he said she welcomed Chinese money, she said he soft on fentanyl.


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