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GOP candidates debate Israel, abortion, and more

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump rallies in Florida

Republican presidential candidates at a debate Tuesday in Miami Associated Press/Photo by Rebecca Blackwell

GOP candidates debate Israel, abortion, and more

Five Republican presidential hopefuls returned to the debate stage Wednesday night, this time on the home turf of the two leading candidates. Since the last debate, the Republican National Committee again raised the threshold to qualify. Candidates had to win at least 4 percent of Republican voters’ support in two national polls and have at least 70,000 unique donors, including 200 from at least 20 states.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina narrowly made the cut last week. Former Vice President Mike Pence ended his campaign on Oct. 28. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson did not qualify. Former President Donald Trump declined to attend, holding his own rally nearby in Hialeah, Fla., instead.

Here’s a look at how each candidate fared during the debate. All polling numbers were taken from RealClearPolitics, which aggregates all major polls, from numbers published on Nov. 5. Federal Election Commission reports are current as of the Sept. 30 filing deadline and include all funds since Jan. 1, 2023. The “burn rate” refers to the amount of available funds used when compared to a candidate’s total contributions.

Ron DeSantis

On the stage, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis again touted his home state GOP victories and criticized Trump for skipping the debate. The Florida governor gained a key endorsement from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday. While Reynolds and most high-level Iowa lawmakers have avoided giving endorsements, her move is a significant win for DeSantis’ campaign even as he lags roughly 30 points behind Trump in the state. Reynold’s endorsement also breaks the tradition of Iowa governors remaining neutral until the January caucuses.

  • Iran: In light of the ongoing conflict in Gaza, DeSantis said the United States should hold Iran accountable for its financial support of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen. Moreover, Iran sells drones to Russia and oil to China. To DeSantis, these spheres of influence clash directly with American interests. Countering them means reimplementing aggressive sanctions against Iran and making it clear that the United States would use its full retaliatory capabilities to protect Americans across the Middle East.
  • TikTok: When asked whether he would ban the app, DeSantis said that he would, but also argued the issue goes beyond the practices of just one company. Current data collection policies do little to prevent companies—even those based in the United States—from sharing data with whomever they choose. DeSantis said as president he would work toward policies that protect American consumer data abroad. Additionally, he stressed that TikTok is as much a national security concern as it is a cultural phenomenon.
  • Domestic energy and immigration: DeSantis stressed that relying on countries like Venezuela for domestic energy needs made no sense while many of America’s best energy options remain off the table because of federal restrictions. He suggested that treating Venezuela’s government as a dictatorship with an adversarial relationship to the U.S. would help take a step towards addressing immigration stemming from the country. He pledged to authorize the use of deadly force at the U.S. southern border to deter transfers of narcotics like fentanyl.
  • Poll performance: 14.6 percent, up 0.2 percent from last debate (13.9 on FiveThirtyEight)
  • FEC reporting: $31,270,000 in receipts, $18,950,000 in disbursements, burn rate 60 percent
  • In his words: “I’ll tell you this: if someone in the drug cartel is sneaking fentanyl across the border when I’m president, that’s the last thing they’re going to do. We’re going to shoot them stone-cold dead.”

Nikki Haley

Haley again relied on her history as an ambassador to the United Nations to argue that she has the experience and the reputation to address current foreign policy issues. But she also often got pulled into personal rebuttals, most notably after Ramaswamy called her “Dick Cheney in 3-inch heels.” She fielded hits from DeSantis over her record as South Carolina governor and over Chinese businesses that set up in the state during her tenure. The day before the debate, Haley released a new video ad that attacked DeSantis on conflicting statements he has made about oil production and fracking.

  • Israel: Haley said that she recently called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after Hamas attacked Israel and told him to “finish them.” She also said her administration would target those who support Hamas, including Iran, China, and Russia, whom she called “an unholy alliance.” She supported sending embattled nations equipment if not funding. She criticized Biden’s response to Iran so far and insisted her administration would take out the country’s military infrastructure and stop attacks on Americans.
  • China: When asked how she would bulk up the U.S. Navy, Haley tempered expectations. She advocated modernizing the American military, specifically focusing on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, and space development. Haley also said she would end normal trade relations with China until the flow of fentanyl stops and that she would arm Taiwan with equipment and training. But she pushed back when moderator Hugh Hewitt asked for a specific number of how many ships she could add. Haley pointed out that within years “our interest expense will be bigger than our defense budget.” She said economic reform is linked with military readiness.
  • Economy: If elected, Haley said she would eliminate the gas and diesel tax. She also said she would recapture more than $500 million of unspent COVID-19 aid and recover fraudulently used emergency aid. Haley said the COVID-19 pandemic was an inflection point. She promised to veto any spending bill that does not restore the economy to pre-pandemic spending levels.
  • Poll performance: 9.4 percent, up 3.6 since last debate (9.0 percent on FiveThirtyEight)
  • FEC reporting: $18,700,000 in receipts, $7,070,000 in disbursements, burn rate 37 percent
  • In her words: “First of all, they’re 5-inch heels, and don’t wear them unless you can run in them. And they’re not for fashion, they’re for ammunition.”

Vivek Ramaswamy

Ramaswamy took an aggressive stance on the debate stage, both against the other candidates and even the debate moderators. In lieu of an opening statement, he turned a question to NBC moderator Kristen Welker instead, asking her to admit that stories about alleged collusion between Russia and Trump were disinformation. After he told Haley to “get your own house in order” because her adult daughter uses TikTok, Haley muttered, “You’re just scum.” He reiterated that he’s an outsider candidate who “hasn’t been bought” and can turn the GOP around. He just launched an eight-figure ad campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire to boost popularity as he struggles in the polls.

  • Social Security: When asked what changes he would make to Social Security benefits, Ramaswamy said he would keep the programs the same, but work to create new ways to make them affordable. To do that, he promised to cut down on overall government employees and departments.
  • College campus antisemitism: Squelching pro-Palestine protests on college campuses would be contrary to the principles laid out in the First Amendment, Ramaswamy argued. Unlike many of the other candidates on the stage who pledged to defund colleges and deport foreign students who aligned with Hamas, Ramaswamy said the answer to such displays is to lead from a position of culture and discourse, not censorship.
  • GOP messaging: Ramaswamy sharply criticized Republican National Committee leadership and called out its chair, Ronna McDaniel. He cited election losses in 2018, 2020, 2022, and 2023 as a failure by Trump and Republican leadership for their inability to gain traction with voters. When asked about abortion, he noted that Republicans had done a poor job in Ohio to offer an alternative to the ballot measure that enshrined abortion as a right in the state’s constitution.
  • Poll performance: 4.4 percent, down 0.7 since last debate (5.2 on FiveThirtyEight)
  • FEC reporting: $26,610,000 in receipts, $22,360,000 in disbursements, burn rate 84 percent
  • In his words: “I think there’s something deeper going on in the Republican Party here. We have become a party of losers at the end of the day. There is a cancer in the Republican establishment. I think we have to have accountability in our party.”

Tim Scott

Scott enjoyed more screen time in this debate compared to others. He kept to his practice of reciting Bible verses while also pushing his economic and foreign policy ideas, taking a more authoritative tone. Scott’s campaign announced he will focus on Iowa rather than New Hampshire leading up to the primaries. His campaign has already spent more than any other candidate in Iowa.

  • Economy: Scott said he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline on Day One as president. He clarified that energy independence can reduce inflation because it would spark better confidence in the markets. He promoted his “Made in America” strategy, which he said could add 4 million new jobs, especially in high-tech manufacturing. He invoked Proverbs 22:7 to criticize what he called overdependence on China as a lender of jobs and goods.
  • Abortion: Scott repeated his “100 percent pro-life” stance and called on Haley and DeSantis to join him in calling for a federal law that protects babies from abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. He said it is “unethical and immoral” for states like New York and California to allow abortion up to birth.
  • Israel: Scott warned university presidents and college students on visas that funding and paperwork “is a privilege, not a right.” He said he would deport students who encourage Jewish genocide and threaten other students. Scott was also firm on support for Israeli forces. He rebuked the notion of a cease-fire: “You cannot negotiate with evil, you have to destroy it.” He said he would send Israel the requested $14 billion, but he was hesitant about combining this with money to Ukraine. He said Americans need to see “accountability” on where all the Ukraine aid has gone and address the southern border before sending more.
  • Poll performance: 2.6 percent, down 0.2 since last debate (2.2 on FiveThirtyEight)
  • FEC reporting: $12,180,000 in receipts, $20,630,000 in disbursements, burn rate 169 percent
  • In his words: “It is a loss of faith in this nation that contributes to the challenges we see every day. You don’t have to be a Christian for America to work for you, but America does not work without a faith-filled Judeo-Christian foundation. I will be the president who helps restore our faith in God.”

Chris Christie

In contrast to the rest of the GOP field, Christie is ignoring Iowa, instead pouring his time and resources into New Hampshire. He also spoke at the Florida Republican Party’s Freedom Summit last week. He was booed upon his entrance and when he told pro-Trump attendees that their “anger against the truth is reprehensible.” Reacting to several Republican losses in off-year elections on Tuesday, Christie blamed Trump’s ongoing influence on the party. “The voters of Kentucky, a very red state, as you noted, gave their verdict on politicians who sell their soul to Donald Trump,” Christie said on CNN after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron lost his bid for governor.

  • China: To deter China’s increasing naval power, Christie argued the United States would need to invest in nuclear submarines. While ships are key to remaining competitive with China over the seas, submarines would need to take priority to ensure a Ukraine-like scenario did not develop in the Taiwan Strait.
  • Abortion: Christie was the only candidate on stage to stress a federalist approach to abortion policy. Instead of imposing a national, top-down approach, Christie argued pro-life advocates should focus their efforts at the state level. He said that messaging was consistent with the position of the movement prior to the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
  • Social Security: With Social Security rapidly running out of funding, Christie believes the president should make changes to the substance of the program. Only three factors decide the availability and financial viability of Social Security, Christie argued: retirement age, eligibility, and taxes. Without raising taxes or narrowing the eligibility of the programs, Christie said as president he would negotiate with Congress to raise the age of retirement. He declined to specify by how much he would change the threshold. The current age of retirement is 66 years old.
  • Poll performance: 2.6 percent, down 0.1 since last debate (2.9 on FiveThirtyEight)
  • FEC reporting: $5,440,000 in receipts, $1,520,000 in disbursements, burn rate 28 percent
  • In his words: “Look if we raise retirement a few years for folks that are in their 30s and 40s—I have a son who’s in the audience tonight who’s 30 years old. If he can’t adjust to a few years increase in Social Security retirement over the next forty years I got bigger problems with him than the security payments. We need to be realistic about this.”

Elsewhere in Florida

Former President Donald Trump took a break from his ongoing civil fraud trial in New York City to host a rally in Hialeah, Fla., just a little over 10 miles away. He brought Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his former White House press secretary, onto the stage to reiterate her recent endorsement. Speaking to roughly 5,200 people at the event, Trump mocked the other GOP candidates across town that his rally was larger and more popular. He focused especially on Cuban Americans in Florida and at the rally, promoting his foreign policy compared to Biden’s and calling for a more secure southern border. 

Clara York contributed to this report.

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD politics reporter based in Washington, D.C. He’s a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and has a degree in political journalism from Patrick Henry College.


Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


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