The third Republican presidential primary debate of the 2024 election campaign, hosted by NBC News, took place in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday evening.
For this debate, the stage was narrowed to five candidates: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Former US President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination, skipped the debate as he had done with the previous two.
Early in Wednesday’s debate, the issue of Israel’s war against Hamas came up, with candidates asked what they would tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if they were President.
Haley said, “The last thing we need to do is to tell Israel what to do. The only thing we should be doing is supporting them in eliminating Hamas."
DeSantis commented on the Israel-Hamas war and said, "I will be telling Bibi, 'Finish the job once and for all with these butchers Hamas, they're terrorists.'"
He also argued that there would have been more hostages in Gaza had he not scrambled state resources to help evacuate 700 people.
“We had Floridians that were over there after the attack. [US President Joe Biden] left them stranded. They couldn’t get flights out. I scrambled resources in Florida. I sent planes over to Israel, and I brought back over 700 people to safety. There could’ve been more hostages had we not acted. We acted, and we saved lives,” said DeSantis.
Ramaswamy said, "The founding vision of Israel was based on the idea that they don’t want to depend on anybody else’s sympathy or direction in defending themselves. So what I would tell Bibi is that Israel has the right and the responsibility to defend itself. 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.”
Senator Scott responded to the same question by saying, "As president of the United States, my foreign policy is simple: You cannot negotiate with evil, you have to destroy it." As such, he opined, the US should strike in Iran as it is “the head of the snake”, as he put it.
Christie said, "The first thing I would say to Prime Minister Netanyahu is pretty simple: America is here no matter what it is you need at any time to preserve the state of Israel."
The issue of rising antisemitism, particularly on US campuses, also came up at the debate. DeSantis noted that the Biden administration is fighting Islamophobia while not taking antisemitism as seriously.
Biden “is launching an initiative to combat so-called Islamophobia. No, it’s the antisemitism. It’s spiraling out of control. That is what we have to confront. We are not gonna stand for this on college campuses any longer.,” DeSantis said.
Haley said, "If the KKK were doing this, every college president would be up in arms. This is no different. Antisemitism is just as awful as racism."
Ramaswamy said the answer to combating antisemitism, specifically on college campuses in the United States, is leadership — not censorship of free speech.
“Leadership means filling that void through purpose and meaning. Dilute this wokeism and antisemitism to irrelevance," he said, adding, “These kids, they have no idea what the heck they are even talking about."
Ramaswamy said that that people who side with Hamas over Israel are “fools."