Foreign affairs, national security dominate third GOP debate
The contest represents one of the last chances for the non-Trump candidates to make their cases ahead of the Iowa Caucuses, which are slated for January of next year.
The third Republican primary debate in Miami, Fla., on Tuesday saw five candidates vie for support among the GOP electorate and spend much of their time addressing security and foreign affairs.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, tech mogul Vivek Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott all qualified to participate. Former President Donald Trump, currently the frontrunner, opted to hold a competing rally in Hialeah, Fla.
Moderating the debate were NBC journalists Lester Holt and Kristen Welker as well as radio host Hugh Hewitt. The contest represents one of the last chances for the non-Trump candidates to make their cases ahead of the Iowa Caucuses, which are slated for January of next year.
The World Stage
On foreign affairs, the debate witnessed the usually tense clashes between a hawkish Haley and the more reserved Ramaswamy and DeSantis.
The Florida governor and Haley, however, both expressed support for military action against either Iran or its proxy entities in the Middle East amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.
Haley emphatically called for meeting force with force as Iran-backed proxy organizations, such as the Yemeni Houthi faction, take potshots at American forces in the region.
"This is Iran giving the green light, telling them what to do," Haley said of such actors. "We need to go and take out their infrastructure that they are making those strikes with so they can never do it again. Iran responds to strength... what we don't need is Biden falling all over himself to get back in the Iran deal."
DeSantis, for his part, pointed to the deployment of American troops in the region, saying that Biden had largely failed to respond to attacks on their positions and vowed to pursue retaliation.
"I am not going to put our troops in harm's way unless you're willing to defend them with everything you have," DeSantis said. "You harm a hair on the head of an American servicemember then you are going to have hell to pay."
"We have to be strong and we have to defend the people who defend us," he concluded.
China and tech security
Most candidates on the stage were largely in agreement about banning the Chinese social media app TikTok, which they insisted was a tool of Beijing. Controlled by company ByteDance, the popular social media app has become popular with young Americans, but has also prompted concerns that the Chinese Communist Party may use the app to surveil Americans.
"What we should do is bank TikTok. Period," Scott said. "If you cannot ban TikTok, you should eliminate the Chinese presence on the app." He further proposed requirement parental permission for kids under 14 to use such apps.
"I think that China is the top threat we face," DeSantis said. "As the dad of a 6, 5, and a 3-year-old, I'm concerned about the data that they're getting from our young people and what they're doing to pollute the minds of our young people."
"We are gonna do that and we are gonna make sure to protect the American people," he went on. "Their role in our culture, if we ignore that, we're not gonna be able to win the fight."
Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, meanwhile, defended his use of the app to spread his political message to younger voters and highlighted its ability to influence American youths as part of the problem.
"The next generation of Americans are using it and that's actually the point," Ramaswamy said. He then excoriated Haley for criticizing his use of the platform while her own daughter maintained an account. Ramaswamy's reference to her daughter, prompted Haley to fume at Ramaswamy, who continued to talk over her.
"You're just scum," Haley said.
The southern border
Republicans uniformly vowed to bolster border security to target drug cartels trafficking fentanyl across the Mexican frontier.
"If someone in the cartels is sneaking fentanyl across the border while I'm president, that's gonna be the last thing they do," DeSantis said. "We're gonna shoot him stone cold dead."
"I'm even gonna build the border wall and make Mexico pay for it," he added, referencing former President Donald Trump's signature campaign issue in 2016. He further proposed taxing foreign remittances to secure funding for the project.
"Don't just build the wall, build both walls," Ramaswamy said, highlighting the ongoing security concerns at the nation's frontier with Canada.
"We should close our southern border. For $10 billion we could close our southern border. For an additional $5 billion, we could use the currently available military technology to surveil our southern border to stop fentanyl from crossing our border," said South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for his part, expressed optimism that the nation could down the fentanyl trade.
"We have to beef up what our law enforcement has in terms of technology... On day one, I would sign an executive order that would send the National Guard to partner with Customs and Border Patrol [sic] both at ports of entry and at the open points of our border."
"Customs and Border Patrol [sic] are overwhelmed," Christie said.
The RNC was put on notice
Ramaswamy made headlines immediately with his opening statement by inviting Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to resign on stage in the aftermath of the disastrous Tuesday night election results.
"There's something deeper going on in the Republican Party here and I am upset about what happened last night," he said. "We've become a party of losers... since Ronna McDaniel took over as chairwoman of the RNC in 2017 we have lost 2018, 2020, 2022, no red wave, that never came."
"We got trounced last night in 2023 and I think that we have to have accountability in our party," he went on. "For that matter, Ronna if you want to come up on stage tonight. You want to look the GOP voters in the eye and tell them you resign... I will turn over my time to you."
I’m sick and tired of this Republican Establishment that has made us a party of losers. Where is the accountability for years of losing: 2018, 2020, 2022 and now last night? I’m calling on @GOPChairwoman to resign tonight. pic.twitter.com/8hxVqWGlwL
— Vivek Ramaswamy (@VivekGRamaswamy) November 9, 2023
Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter.