Republican Debate Gets Heated on Topics of Ukraine, Israel

Haley to Ramaswamy: “It’s not that Israel needs America, America needs Israel. They are the frontline defense to Iran."
August 24, 2023
Republican presidential candidates, Vivek Ramaswamy (L) and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley participate in the first debate of the GOP primary season. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

One of the most heated exchanges between the eight candidates at the Republican Presidential Primary debate on Wednesday was between former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and businessman and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Their pointed clash on foreign policy touched on a number of issues in a span of two minutes, particularly Ukraine and Israel.

Ramaswamy was the only candidate who raised his hand when asked who, if elected President, would not support more U.S. funding for Ukraine. On August 9th, Ramaswamy appeared on the “Stay Free with Russell Brand” podcast, where he advocated phasing out U.S. financial aid for Israel:

“I want to get Israel to the place where it is negotiated back into the infrastructure of the rest of the Middle East,” Ramaswamy said. “We should not be worried about holding one nation or one region hostage over one particular question relating to Palestine. Go to Abraham Accords 2.0. That’s good for Israel, it’s good for the rest of the Middle East, it’s good for us such that, come 2028, that additional aid won’t be necessary in order to still have the kind of stability that we’d actually have in the Middle East, by having Israel more integrated in with its partners.”

Haley’s last government job was as United States Ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump Administration from 2017-2018. She has been on record as a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship. And Haley has also called out the claim from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that the War in Ukraine is merely a “territorial dispute.”

It all came to a head a little over two hours into the August 23rd Republican Primary Debate, when Haley took a foreign policy question from co-moderator and Fox News host Martha MacCallum.

MacCallum asked, “You have said of Governor DeSantis that you didn’t appreciate it when he initially called it a ‘territorial dispute.’ Why?” 

Haley responded, “First of all, the American President needs to have moral clarity. They need to know the difference between right and wrong. They need to know the difference between good and evil. When you look at the situation with Russia and Ukraine, here you have a pro-American country that was invaded by a thug. So when you want to talk about what has been given to Ukraine, less than 3.5% of our defense budget has been given to Ukraine. If you look at the percentages per GDP, 11 of the European countries have given more than the U.S. But what’s really important is go back to when China and Russia held hands, shook hands before the Olympics and named themselves unlimited partners. A win for Russia is a win for China. We have to know that Ukraine is the first line of defense for us.”

Haley then took a swipe at Ramaswamy.

“And the problem that Vivek doesn’t understand is [Vivek] wants to hand Ukraine to Russia,” Haley said. “He wants to let China eat Taiwan. He wants to go and stop funding Israel. You don’t do that to friends. What you do instead is you have the backs of your friends. Ukraine is the front line of defense. Putin has said if Russia … once Russia takes Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics are next, that’s a World War. We’re trying to prevent war. Look at what Putin did today. He killed (Wagner Group leader Yevgeny) Prigozhin. When I was at the U.N., the Russian ambassador suddenly died. This guy is a murderer and you are choosing a murderer over a pro-American country.”

As applause broke out, a load of crosstalk and finger pointing escalated between the two.

Ramaswamy told Haley, “Governor, I wish you well in your future career on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon.” She replied that she is not on the boards of the two companies.

“But the fact of the matter” he told her, “Boeing came off.”

Haley asked the biotech entrepreneur, “But you want to go and defund Israel? … You want to give Taiwan to China? You want to give Ukraine to Russia? He will make America less safe.”

Ramaswamy called Haley’s comments “the false lies of a professional politician.” He continued, “There you have it. So the reality is …” 

Haley interrupted him, adding emphatically, “Under your watch, you will make America less safe. You have no foreign policy experience and it shows.”

Ramaswamy, who repeatedly claimed the other candidates were bought and sold by Super PACS, said, “the foreign policy experience of the other candidates shows in the fruitless wars we’ve gotten into. You have to address that. So our relationship with Israel will never be stronger than by the end of my first term. But it’s not a client relationship, it’s a friendship. And you know what friends do? Friends help each other stand on their own two feet. So I will lead Abraham Accords 2.0. I will partner with Israel to make sure Iran never is nuclear armed. But you know what I love about Israel — and I’ve been there probably, in the last ten years, more than most people on this stage. You know what I love about them? I love their border policies. I love their tough on crime policies. I love that they have a national identity and an Iron Dome to protect their homeland. And so yes, I want to learn from the friends that we’re supporting, and what puzzles me…”

Haley interrupted, “you want to cut the aid off.”

Undeterred, Ramaswamy continued, “we have to learn from those and apply those to protect our homeland, Nikki. That is the answer…”

Haley responded, “It’s not that Israel needs America, America needs Israel. They are the frontline defense to Iran.”

The debate raged on for another hour. It should also be noted that Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson wore a lapel pin with the flags of Israel and the United States. During his two terms as Governor, Hutchinson visited Israel four times and has often praised the value of their relationship with the United States.

Other participants in the debate were North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. Former President Donald Trump chose not to attend the debate. An Emerson College poll from August 16-17th shows that Trump leads the field with a massive 56% support of surveyed voters. The same poll showed DeSantis and Ramaswamy tied at 10%, Pence at 3%, Haley at 2%, Christie at 3%, and Hutchinson and Burgum both at 1%.

This was the first Republican debate of the 2024 presidential campaign. The debate took place at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. The Republican National Convention will be held in Milwaukee. Wisconsin voted for the Democratic candidate in eight of the last nine Presidential elections—the state was carried by former president Trump in 2016.  Since 2000, four of the last six Presidential elections in Wisconsin were decided by less than 2% of the vote. President Barack Obama was the last candidate to win Wisconsin by a sizable margin, in 2008 and 2012.

The first test for the Republican candidates is on January 15, 2024 with the Iowa Caucus. The first Democratic primary will be in South Carolina on February 3, 2024. California’s Presidential Primary Election is on March 5, 2024.

The next Republican debate is scheduled to be held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley September 27th.

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