A little more than a month after the horrific attacks of October 7 by Hamas, Republican presidential candidates spoke passionately about critical issues involving the Israel-Hamas war, antisemitism and whether or not they’d use force against Iran. The debate in Miami, run by NBC on November 8, did not include front-runner, former President Donald Trump, who sees no need to participate with a huge lead. A CBS poll had Trump with 61% of the vote with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in second with 18%.
Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley spoke about the problem that has been seen at American universities that has shocked some.
“You look at the country and the country is all out of sorts,” Haley said. “Look at what these kids are dealing with on college campuses. What makes me so angry is not only do you have the (Jewish) kids barricaded in the library, they said they were gonna shoot up the kosher dining hall, you’ve got kids dorm room being set on fire because they have something related to Israel on their doors. No person should ever feel in danger like this and this is what I would say about our college presidents, is if the KKK were doing this, every college president would be up in arms. This is no different. You should treat it exactly the same. Antisemitism is just as awful is racism.”
Haley referenced a group of Jewish students who for their safety were locked in the library at Cooper Union in Manhattan as protestors banged on the doors, a threat against students at Cornell University, and a student at Drexler University who’s dorm room door has been set ablaze.
She also had a message for any students protesting in favor of Hamas.
“Hamas said Death to Israel and Death to America,” Haley said. “They hate and would kill you too…”
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said antisemitism is a symptom of a greater cancer and took a shot at some college students.
“These kids, they have no idea what the heck they’re even talking about when they’re siding with Hamas over Israel,” he said. “They’re fools.”
But he said he was against censorship or disbanding any groups.
The candidates were asked what they would tell the Israeli Prime Minister to do at this moment. Though there was strong support immediately after October 7, after the IDF launched its ground invasion there have been calls for a ceasefire which the Israeli government said it would reject.
“I would be telling Bibi to finish the job once and for all with these butchers Hamas,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said. “They’re terrorists. They’re massacring innocent people. They would wipe every Jew off the globe if they could. He cannot live with that threat right by his country. The Hamas should release every hostage and they should unconditionally surrender…”
He also said he arranged flights to bring 700 Americans from Israel to Florida during this war and criticized President Joe Biden for not doing so.
Haley said Hamas had to be eliminated, Israel should get whatever support it needs and the hostages should be returned. She said nobody should tell Israel what to do and America should have Israel’s back.
Ramaswami said the founding vision of Israel was based on not needing help or sympathy from anyone.
“I would tell him to smoke those terrorists on his Southern border and then I’ll tell him as president of the United States I’ll be smoking the terrorists on our Southern border,” he said, without specifically saying who he was referring to.
The strange insult of the night was when he asked the crowd if they wanted “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels,” essentially calling Haley and DeSantis candidates who would too quickly jump into war for financial profit without having a proper exit strategy or plan.
Republican Tim Scott, a South Carolina senator (who dropped out of the race on October 12) has a blistering attack on former President Obama and Biden.
“I would say to President Biden, diplomacy only is a weak strategy,” Scott said. “Appeasement leads to war. From President Obama to President Biden – Obama sent million to Iran, frankly, President Biden has sent billions to Iran. That is why I said, there is blood dripping from the hands of President Obama and President Biden.”
He said to make a difference against Iran, “you actually have to cut off the head of the snake and the head of the snake is Iran and not simply their proxies…you cannot negotiate with evil. You have to destroy it.”
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he would tell Bibi to protect Israel, not compromise security and make sure Hamas can never launch such an attack again. He also said it was essential to isolate Iran.
Matthew Brooks, CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition asked in the wake of two dozen American servicemen being attacked by Iran’s proxies, would they support the use of force against Iran?
Haley said “we need to understand this is Iran giving the green light telling them what to do…Iran responds to strength. You punch them once and you punch them hard and they will back off.”
She criticized Biden for unfreezing $6 billion for Iran to get five hostages back and said America should not ask Israel for a pause or ceasefire and should attempt another nuclear agreement.
“You don’t respond to an enemy and a terrorist with fear, you respond with strength,” Haley said.
DeSantis, who served in Iraq, said it was a bad idea to put troops in harm’s way without defending them. He called them “sitting ducks” and charged that Biden was only taking “glancing blows” at Iran, which would incite more attacks.
“I would say you harm a hair on the head of an American serviceman, and you are going to have Hell to pay,” DeSantis said.
None of the candidates gave an example of what specific military action they would or would not take against Iran.
The candidates are likely angling for a cabinet nomination or the coveted slot of vice-presidential nominee. Unless one of his court cases leads to conviction and jail time, or perhaps some damning information that could skew voters, Trump is the presumptive nominee.
A question not asked at this debate is whether they thought Trump could have done better than Biden in foreign policy and kept Russia out of Ukraine and Hamas out of Israel. It is of course impossible to know. Fans of Trump point to the fact that he moved the embassy to Jerusalem despite being told it would create chaos. It didn’t. It was also thought that assassinating or a “targeted killing of” Qasem Soleimani in January 2020 could lead to significant strikes from Iran. It didn’t. But fans of Biden point out that Trump has an explosive personality. While he is credited with the Abraham Accords, where he worked well with Netanyahu, according to Israeli journalist Barak David, Trump used an expletive speaking about Netanyahu, feeling slighted that the Israeli leader congratulated Biden on being the new president earlier than Trump would have liked, with the election supposedly in dispute.
In the low point of the debate, Ramaswamy attacked Haley’s adult daughter for being on TikTok (Haley had previously criticized Ramaswamy for campaigning on it) and Haley called him scum and said to keep her daughter’s name out of his mouth.
An article in Newsweek posited that Israel was one of the winners in the debate and that Haley was the winner of the debate.