Republican Presidential Candidates Back Israel at Latest Debate – In their recent debate amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, the Republican presidential contenders voiced strong support for Israel. While Donald Trump was absent, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley took center stage, engaging in debates over China and Ukraine, with Haley gaining ground against DeSantis in some national polls.
Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, declared she would end trade relations with China “until they stop murdering Americans from fentanyl — something Ron has yet to say that he’s going to do.” In response, the Florida governor claimed Haley “welcomed” Chinese investment in her state, citing land and economic development deals.
In return, Haley accused DeSantis of altering official websites to conceal Florida’s efforts to attract Chinese businesses. Onstage, with the Iowa caucuses approaching, candidates aimed to diminish Trump’s lead. They criticized each other, seeking to emerge as a viable alternative. While emphasizing foreign policy differences, they also criticized Trump for his comments on the Israeli prime minister and the intelligence of a group attacking Israel after the Hamas attack.
The debate opened with each candidate explaining why they were the right person to defeat Trump. “He owes it to you to be on this stage and explain why he should get another chance,” DeSantis stated. Haley, who is pulling some voter and donor interest from DeSantis, said Trump “used to be right” on supporting Ukraine but “now he’s getting weak in the knees.” Joining DeSantis and Haley on stage this Wednesday were South Carolina Sen.
Tim Scott, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. They all expressed strong support for Israel’s offensive in Gaza following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that claimed over 1,400 lives. Humanitarian aid for Gaza’s civilians wasn’t discussed despite the escalating death toll, surpassing 10,500, including more than 4,300 children.
Additionally, some candidates pledged to address antisemitism on college campuses. The rivalry between DeSantis and Haley intensified, focusing on issues like the Israel-Gaza conflict and the U.S.-China relationship. The two candidates have taken different stances on abortion rights, posing a political dilemma for Republicans post the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Advocates for abortion rights gained momentum on Tuesday as election results in various states favored their cause. The DeSantis and Haley campaigns have been engaging in a months-long battle, primarily centered around China—a contentious issue in GOP primaries. Their associated super PACs have aired ads in early primary states, accusing each other of being lenient on Beijing.
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Ramaswamy, positioning himself as a challenger, actively entered the debate. He targeted other candidates, particularly Haley. Initially silent, she responded during a discussion about TikTok, a social media app many Republicans aim to ban in the U.S. due to its parent company’s Chinese ties. Ramaswamy accused Haley’s daughter of having had her own TikTok account until recently.
Despite Trump’s attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss, his popularity remains strong, with significant leads and ongoing legal challenges. Meanwhile, DeSantis, as governor, has shown support for Israel through various actions, while Haley emphasizes her experience as Trump’s U.N. ambassador. The leading candidate, not participating in the debate, suggests a focus on maintaining their substantial lead in polls, prompting Trump’s campaign to propose halting debates in favor of direct support.