With the official start of the 2024 presidential nominating process just one month away (Iowa voters will caucus on Jan. 15, while New Hampshire will hold its primary the following week) the four remaining non-Trump Republican candidates faced off in their last GOP debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Former president Donald J. Trump has opted to skip all of this year’s primary debates, since he leads in most public opinion polls by 30 to 40 points over his opponents.
As expected, the Israel/Hamas war was the centerpiece of this final debate, with each candidate articulating strong support for Israel in the effort to eradicate Hamas.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was asked if he was president, how far he would go to secure the release of eight Americans held hostage by Hamas for over two months, and if his response would include sending American troops into combat.
“We have to look out for our people when they are hostages,” DeSantis declared. “As commander in chief, you have to do whatever you can to get it done.” But the Florida Republican then pivoted to criticism of the Biden administration trying to – in his words – “knee-cap” Israel: “The overall issue is this administration trying to hobble Israel from defending itself.”
Citing his own military service in Iraq, as well as his philosophy of foreign policy, DeSantis said the United States “should not try to direct Israel’s war effort. We should work together with them so they can bring Hamas to heel.” He added that under Biden’s policies, American troops in the region are “basically sitting ducks being attacked by Iran.”
“We stand with Israel,” DeSantis stated. He charged that the Biden administration should not let Iran continue to receive revenue from oil, which in turn goes to fund Iran’s proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, as they foment Jihad throughout the region.
Hamas, DeSantis said, wants nothing less than “a second Holocaust; they would wipe every Jew off the map and destroy the state of Israel.” And he warned all hostile parties: “You harm an American service member and you’re going to have hell to pay when I’m president.”
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie voiced his own strong support of Israel but blasted DeSantis for not directly answering whether or not he would commit U.S. troops on the ground to support releasing American hostages.
“He just gave a minute-and-thirty-second hosanna about his own military service but didn’t answer the question,” Christie told television viewers. “When you’re the president of the United States, you’re not going to have a choice whether to answer that question or not. Your generals…your Secretary of Defense…your Secretary of State and your National Security Advisor are going to present plans and ask, 'Do we go or not.' At that point, you can’t make a 90-second speech about your own military experience.”
Christie concluded that he absolutely would commit American troops: “You’re damn right I’d send them in there to get our people home.”
Another candidate – tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy – zeroed in on former UN ambassador Nikki Haley for recently saying that, as president, she would “finish” Hamas, calling the Oct. 7th terrorist assaults “an attack on America.”
“Finish them was purposely vague,” Ramaswamy contends. “What happened to Israel was dead wrong. What Hamas did was medieval. It was subhuman, It was immoral. But to call it an attack on America? Nikki, if you can’t tell the difference between where Israel is and the U.S. is on a map, I can have my 3-year-old son show you the difference.”
Ramaswamy feels that he had the strongest pro-Israel position on that debate stage.
“The founding vision of Israel – David Ben-Gurion, the George Washington figure of Israel – believed that Israel did not want to depend on the fleeting sympathies of the West and have its hands tied," Ramaswamy said.
"I believe Israel has the absolute right to defend itself to the fullest. Without the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union, or anybody else second-guessing their decisions as the Biden administration is now starting to do.”
Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was asked if she thinks now is the time to consider bombing Iran.
“No, but I can tell you I dealt with Iran every day when I was at the United Nations.” She noted that 140 strikes on American servicemen and women in Syria and Iraq have gone largely unpunished by the Biden administration.
“They (Iran) only respond to strength,” Haley says. “You’ve got to punch them and punch them hard. The way you do that is to go after their infrastructure in Syria and Iraq…that’s when they’ll back off.”
In addition to the Israel/Hamas war, domestic issues such as the economy, border security and how best to lead America away from failed Biden administration policies were hotly debated. But in the end, most political observers suggested the big winner was the candidate who wasn’t even in the room: Donald J. Trump.
TOWNHALL.com commentator Matt Vespa called the Alabama debate “an entertaining spectacle, although none of the candidates on the stage will be the 2024 Republican nominee or the next president of the United States. It was a fight club on stage, and Donald Trump was the only person left sitting atop the mountain.”
Andrew Prokop, senior political correspondent for VOX.com, observed: “Every minute these candidates are attacking each other and not Trump is another minute where Trump has gotten closer to becoming the GOP nominee again. So, he wins again, and his decision to skip the debates – maddening as it is – is vindicated again.”
Tom is a contributing editor for ALL ISRAEL NEWS. He has long served as vice president of News & Talk Programming for the Salem Radio Network and SRN News, the #1 Christian radio news network in the United States.