Five Republican candidates held the third GOP presidential debate on Wednesday in Miami, meeting to discuss U.S. foreign policy and the war in Israel.
Taking the stage Wednesday were Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson were not present at the debate, since the Republican National Committee tightened polling requirements to qualify.
On Republican fortunes
The first questions to candidates concerned Donald Trump's bid for the White House, his mounting legal troubles and how they would differentiate themselves from him as president.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized Trump for not attending the debates and defending his border policies. Nikki Haley criticized budget deficits under the Trump administration.
Candidates called out their own party's performance in Tuesday's elections, and pitched themselves as solutions to the GOP's problems.
“I’m sick of Republicans losing,” DeSantis said.
On the war in Israel
Candidates weighed in with messages they would convey to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the country battles Hamas.
"Finish them," Haley said of Hamas, adding that Iran, as well as Russia and China, shared some blame for the support of Hamas.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott concurred.
"You have to cut off the head of the snake. And the head of the snake is Iran," he said.
On the war in Ukraine
There were notable splits on the topic of U.S. assistance to Ukraine as it fights Russia.
While Rick Scott and Nikki Haley voiced support for the continued armament of Ukraine, and Chris Christie called doing so "the price we pay for being the leaders of the free world," Gov. DeSantis called for an end to the war, and highlighted a need to focus on border security instead.
Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy suggested that Russia should retain control of areas it's occupied in Ukraine.
The conflict is not "some kind of battle between good versus evil," he said.
On inflation and energy
Candidates proposed differing solutions to persistent consumer inflation.
DeSantis said he would scrub President Joe Biden's economic policies and "rein in the Federal Reserve," which has repeatedly increased its benchmark rate in an effort to tame inflation, bringing it from 9.1% in 2021 to 3.7% today.
Ramaswamy advocated to "increase the supply of everything," from housing to nuclear energy capacity.
Tim Scott said he would increase domestic production of oil and natural gas — which recently reached all-time highs during the Biden Administration.
Haley accused DeSantis of having a liberal approach to the environmental effects of exploiting energy reserves. She pointed to DeSantis' avoiding fracking off the coast of Florida.
DeSantis "has opposed fracking, he has opposed drilling," Haley said.
DeSantis countered that, saying "we are absolutely going to frack," but maintained that areas like the Florida Everglades should still be off-limits.
On Social Security and retirement
Candidates proposed increasing the retirement age and cutting benefits from the Social Security system in order to keep it solvent for longer.
A trustee's report shows that Social Security may not be able to make full benefit payments starting in 2023, unless benefits are reduced or taxes are increased.
Chris Christie proposed raising the retirement age for younger workers.
Nikki Haley agreed, and added that she would limit payouts for wealthy recipients.
Sen. Scott and Gov. DeSantis both called for faster economic growth to keep the program healthier for longer.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said near the end of the debate that he would do what Trump had promised and commit to building a wall along the southern border, and have Mexico pay for it.
Vivek Ramaswamy called for a second border wall on the U.S.-Canada border, highlighting concerns over trafficking drugs like fentanyl.
"Don’t just build the wall," Ramaswamy said. "Build both walls."
Vivek Ramaswamy claimed that the newly decided law governing abortion in Ohio "effectively codifies abortion all the way up until the moment of birth without parental consent."
But that law, which voters in Ohio changed on Tuesday night, does not alter the existing law that states minors in Ohio must have parental consent for most abortions.
Changing that parental consent law would likely require a challenge to work its way through the state's Supreme Court, where the current conservative majority would likely protect it.
The debate became personal when Vivek Ramaswamy called out Nikki Haley over TikTok.
“She made fun of me for actually joining TikTok while her own daughter was actually using the app for a long time,” he said.
“Leave my daughter out of your voice,” Haley replied.
After pausing a few seconds, Haley uttered, "You're just scum."
Trump holds separate rally
Former President Trump held a rally of his own near the debate venue in the Miami suburb of Hialeah, where he attempted to reach the state's Cuban community. Speakers addressed the crowd both in English and Spanish.
Trump is still widely considered the front-runner for the Republican nomination for President. In a Quinnipiac University poll released Nov. 1, Trump held a commanding overall lead among the expected GOP candidates, with 64% of Republican or Republican-leaning respondents saying they would vote for him.
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