(Bloomberg) — Wars in the Mideast and Ukraine, along with demands to ban the TikTok video-sharing app, dominated the third Republican presidential debate on Wednesday, with candidates mostly stressing substance over personal attacks.
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Each of the 2024 hopefuls — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — was more willing to take on former President Donald Trump than in previous forums. The moderators focused their first questions on the absent GOP frontrunner, who held his own rally 11 miles away.
The candidates in Miami sparred over the US role in world affairs in the wake of the deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza. Some vitriol did still manage to creep in: Ramaswamy took swipes at Haley, calling her “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels” and accusing her daughter of using TikTok. Haley called Ramaswamy “scum” in response.
Here are the key takeaways:
In Israel’s Corner
The candidates sought to outflank each other with full-throated support for Israel’s goal to eradicate Hamas, which the US and the European Union have designated a terrorist organization, and raised the possibility of US military force against Iran.
DeSantis said he would advise Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “finish the job once and for all with these butchers.”
Haley said she told Netanyahu right after the attack to wipe out Hamas.
“The first thing I said to him when it happened was I said finish them, finish them,” she said.
Fed Overhaul Floated
DeSantis called for an overhaul of the US Federal Reserve’s role, saying he would “rein in” the politically independent central bank over what he said was a failure to combat inflation.
He didn’t specify what changes he’d make. The Fed is charged with adjusting interest rates to keep unemployment low and prices stable.
“They have helped create with their reckless monetary policy what we have faced since the Covid-19 pandemic. They botched it,” DeSantis said.
The aspirants spoke in favor of baning TikTok, a position that’s unlikely to earn them friends among young voters.
The video-based social network, owned by Chinese company ByteDance Ltd., “is not only spyware, it’s polluting the minds of American young people” Christie said.
In addition to military and economic strategies for countering China, DeSantis said it was also necessary to address “their role in our culture.”
The federal government has already banned the app on government devices, but prohibiting it for all Americans would likely draw backlash, particularly among young people, who are voracious users of the platform.
In one of his sharpest critiques of Trump, DeSantis blamed the former president for a string of electoral losses — most recently on Tuesday when Democrats outperformed the GOP in off-year elections with an abortion rights constitutional amendment in Ohio and a Democratic sweep of the Virginia General Assembly.
“He said Republicans were going to get tired of winning,” DeSantis said, referencing an oft-repeated Trump campaign promise. “Well, we saw last night, I’m sick of Republicans losing.”
“We’ve become a party of losers,” Ramaswamy added.
After voters in Republican Ohio enshrined abortion rights Tuesday, Haley highlighted her nuanced position on access to the procedure.
“I don’t judge anyone for being pro-choice, and I don’t want them to judge me for being pro-life,” Haley said. “There are some states that are going more on the pro-choice side. I wish that wasn’t the case but the people decided.”
Haley’s position has earned her praise from women and moderates — whose support could be pivotal if she were to beat Trump for the nomination — but could work against her in the primary.
The candidates cited protests on college campuses over Israel’s treatment of Palestinian civilians in Gaza as evidence of what they said was a permissive culture that’s allowing antisemitism to fester.
“You’ve got kids’ dorm rooms who are being set on fire because they have something related to Israel on their doors,” Haley said. “If the KKK were doing this, every college president would be up in arms.”
“Antisemitism is just as awful as racism,” she added.
Scott said public universities could lose federal funding if he were president.
Split on Ukraine Aid
Ukraine funding was the most divisive issue, pitting Christie, Haley and Scott — who back continued aid to fend off the Russian invasion — against Ramaswamy and DeSantis, who urged less US involvement.
Ramaswamy and DeSantis said they would instead focus resources on sending US military troops to reinforce the Mexico border.
“We are not going to send your sons and daughters to Ukraine. I am going to send troops to our southern border,” DeSantis said.
Scott said he backed continuing aid to Kyiv, but only after a system of greater “accountability” and a review of “the overall Russian military.”