Five Republican candidates were on stage Wednesday night for the third GOP presidential debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.
NBC News’ Lester Holt and Kristen Welker were moderators for the two-hour debate, along with conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt of “The Hugh Hewitt Show.” The Republican Jewish Coalition co-sponsored the debate, along with NBC News and the Salem Radio Network.
Despite being the leading GOP candidate according to polling, former President Donald Trump was again absent from the debate stage, choosing instead to hold a rally in the Miami suburb of Hialeah, Florida.
The stage was less crowded than the two previous debates. Since the second debate on Sept. 27, former Vice President Mike Pence withdrew from the race. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who participated in the first two presidential debates, did not meet the polling threshold to qualify for the third debate. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson did not qualify to be on stage for Wednesday night’s face-off or for the previous debate.
Candidates who did qualify for, and participated in, the third debate were Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The following are some of the most noteworthy answers and exchanges from the debate.
1. Abortion: ‘Culture of Life,’ ‘Culture of Losing’
The candidates discussed where they stood on abortion toward the end of the evening.
“We’re better off when everybody counts,” DeSantis said. “We’re better off when we can promote a culture of life.”
The Florida Republican also addressed pro-abortion ballot measures that special-interest groups are pushing in states across the country.
“You’ve got to do a better job on these referenda,” he said, referring to pro-abortion ballot measures such as Ohio’s Issue 1 on Tuesday. “Of all the stuff that has happened to the pro-life cause, they have been caught flat-footed on these referenda, and they have been losing the referenda.”
Scott emphasized his support for a national ban on abortions after 15 weeks of gestation. In response, Haley criticized Scott’s stance, suggesting that he was not being honest with the American public, adding: “I would support anything that would pass” the Senate.
Ramaswamy lamented Ohio voters approving a constitutional amendment that “now effectively codifies a right to abortion all the way up to the point of birth without parental consent.”
He slammed a “Republican culture of losing” for conservatives not proposing an alternate amendment. He also emphasized other issues he suggested might prevent abortion—“access to contraception, adoption, and—here’s the missing ingredient in this movement—sexual responsibility for men.”
2. Troops to Southern Border
DeSantis promised that if he becomes president, U.S. troops would not be sent to Ukraine, but he will send troops to the U.S. southern border.
“If you look at the threats that we face, terrorists have come in through our southern border,” he said. “I’m going to shut it down. I’m going to have the military, and I’m going to deport the people who’ve come, particularly under [President Joe] Biden, who’ve come from the Middle East, come from all these places.”
The Florida governor said the money Biden has proposed spending on the border is primarily for the processing of “illegal aliens into this country.”
“How is that solving the problem?” DeSantis asked.
Later in the night, DeSantis pledged he would build the border wall and said he would designate the Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations or something like that.
“But I’ll tell you this, if someone in the drug cartels is sneaking fentanyl across the border when I’m president, that’s going to be the last thing they do. We’re going to shoot them stone-cold dead,” he said.
According to Scott, “for $10 billion, we can close our southern border.” For an additional $5 billion, the senator said, technology can be implemented at the border to stop the flow of deadly fentanyl into the country.
Christie encouraged more support for law enforcement at the southern border, but also said more treatment options are needed for addicted Americans to reduce the demand for drugs.
Haley said that as president, she would send “special operations in to take out the cartels.”
“We’ll put 25,000 more Border Patrol and [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents on the ground and let them do their job,” she said. “We will defund sanctuary cities. We will go back to the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy so that everybody stays in Mexico, and they never get here in the first place.”
3. Acting Against College Antisemitism
A representative of the Republican Jewish Coalition asked the candidates what they were prepared to do as president in response to antisemitism from students and professors on college campuses.
Scott and DeSantis threatened to pull funding from universities that allowed antisemitism to put Jewish students in danger.
“Federal funding is a privilege, not a right,” Scott said.
DeSantis described funding universities that shielded antisemitic attacks and property damage as using “tax dollars to fund jihad,” then criticized the Biden administration for launching an initiative to “combat so-called Islamophobia” instead of focusing solely on the rash of antisemitic activity.
Both Scott and DeSantis threatened to deport foreign nationals here on study visas who participated in antisemitic protests on campuses.
“To all the students on visas who are encouraging Jewish genocide, I would deport you from those campuses,” Scott said. “We have to stand strong with our Jewish Americans.”
DeSantis claimed to be the first presidential candidate with that policy and then reiterated: “If you are here on a student visa as a foreign national, and you’re making common cause with Hamas, I’m canceling your visa and I’m sending you home—no questions asked.”
Both brought up a disturbing incident at Cooper Union, a visual arts college in New York City, in which Jewish students had to be smuggled out of a library via tunnels after the university and the New York Police Department failed to protect the students from a mob of pro-Hamas protesters beating on the library doors in an attempt to gain entry.
Despite videos showing violent actions by the pro-Hamas protesters, the NYPD told The Daily Signal that “no threats of physical violence were made.”
“You have Jewish students fleeing for their lives at Cooper Union,” DeSantis said. “Joe Biden should have the Department of Justice on these college campuses and holding the universities accountable for civil rights violations.”
DeSantis pointed to his state’s crackdown on college students aligning with the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and criticized Biden for failing to aggressively hold universities accountable for civil rights violations.
“I already acted in Florida,” he said. “We had a group, National Students for Justice in Palestine. They said they are common cause with Hamas.”
“They said, ‘We are not just in solidarity. This is what we are,’” he said, adding, “We deactivated them. We are not going to use state tax dollars to fund jihad. No way.”
4. Deterring China on Taiwan
America has to rebuild its defense industrial base, but the “dirty secret,” according to Ramaswamy, is that “our actual defense industrial base depends on China for the supply chain, for the F-35 jets, for the ships that we’re building.”
Ramaswamy questioned why America is stockpiling military equipment and weapons if it’s not to be strong against enemies such as China, pointing out the inconsistency of being dependent on China to restore the defense industrial base.
America also depends on China for needs such as pharmaceuticals, the entrepreneur noted.
“Here’s why we can’t get tough with China: It’s because we depend on them for our modern way of life,” he said. “We have to declare economic independence from our enemy.”
“My message to [Chinese President] Xi Jinping is this: You are done buying land in this country. You will not donate to universities in this country. U.S. businesses won’t expand into the Chinese market until you play by the same set of rules … and you actually have to have accountability for the COVID-19 pandemic financially.”
Pressed for details, Ramaswamy said U.S. naval capacity should be increased by “at least 20% over the course of the next several years.”
Christie also weighed in on how he would deter China.
“The nuclear submarines in this United States Navy is the greatest deterrent to Chinese aggression, and that is the first place I would go to increase American naval power.”
In order to deter China from invading Taiwan, Beijing should not know how many U.S. nuclear submarines are in the South China Sea and are “ready to strike on them” if they move on Taiwan.
Ships would come next, according to Christie, but the primary focus would be on nuclear submarines.
5. Advice to Netanyahu, Israel
The candidates were asked to offer advice to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the Hamas terrorist attack and ongoing war in Gaza.
“I would be telling [Netanyahu], finish the job once and for all with these butchers, Hamas,” DeSantis said. “They’re terrorists. They’re massacring innocent people. They would wipe every Jew off the globe if they could.”
The Florida governor said that Netanyahu can’t allow the Hamas threat to continue and that he’s sick of hearing the media and others “blame Israel just for defending itself.”
“We will stand with Israel in word and in deed, in public and in private,” he said.
DeSantis lambasted Biden for not doing enough to help Americans stranded in Israel after the Oct. 7 attack. The Florida governor said that he sent planes over to help more than 700 people get out of the country.
Haley, who was a United Nations ambassador under Trump, said that not only must Israel wipe out Hamas, but we have to be aware that this attack was part of broader aggression in the region.
“The first thing I said when it happened was: ‘Finish them, finish them.’”
Haley said that she worked on this issue every day at the U.N. and that there are three steps that need to be taken: Eliminate Hamas, give Israel aid, and bring the hostages home.
Ramaswamy weighed in, saying that, ultimately, Israel alone is responsible for its fate.
“The founding vision of Israel was based on the idea that they don’t want to depend on anybody else’s sympathy and direction in defending themselves,” he said. “So, what I would tell [Netanyahu] is that Israel has the right and the responsibility to defend itself.”
He said that he would tell the Israeli leader to “smoke those terrorists on his southern border, then I’ll tell him that as president of the United States, I’ll be smoking the terrorists on our southern border.”
But Ramaswamy said that he wanted to avoid “making the mistakes of the neocon establishment of the past,” and he committed to avoiding wars that didn’t serve U.S. national interests.
Scott also said he supported wiping out Hamas.
“I would tell the prime minister not only do you have the responsibility and the right to wipe Hamas off of the map. We will support you. We will be with you. We will stand shoulder to shoulder. There will be no daylight,” Scott said.
He added that he had a message for Biden, too: “Diplomacy is a weak strategy. Appeasement leads to war.”
Christie said that what’s happening in Israel is a massive and serious issue and that the first thing he would say to Netanyahu is that “America is here no matter what it is you need at any time to preserve the state of Israel.”
The former New Jersey governor said that Hamas absolutely wants to wipe out Israel and that Netanyahu needs to protect his country’s territorial integrity, protect its people, and finally ensure that Hamas can’t carry out a terrorist attack again.
6. Iran as ‘Head of the Snake’
Haley, Scott, Christie, and DeSantis brought up the power behind evildoers such as Hamas in the Middle East—namely, Iran.
“We need to be very clear-eyed to know there would be no Hamas without Iran,” Haley said. “There would be no Hezbollah without Iran. There would not be the Houthis without Iran, and the Iranian militias in Syria and Iraq trying to hit our military men and women if it hadn’t been for Iran.”
“Who is funding Iran now?” she asked. “China is buying oil from Iran. Russia is getting drones and missiles from Iran, and there’s an unholy alliance. We need to be clear-eyed.”
Haley called Israel “the tip of the spear when it comes to this Islamic terrorism” in the Middle East and urged the U.S. to defend it. “The last thing we need to do is tell Israel what to do. The only thing we should be doing is supporting them in eliminating Hamas.”
Scott did not mince words in blaming Biden for enabling Iran.
“[President Barack] Obama sent millions to Iran. Frankly, President Biden has sent billions to Iran,” the South Carolina senator said. According to a Daily Signal analysis, Iran has raked in $71 billion more under Biden than it would have under Trump.
“That is why I’ve said that there is blood dripping from the hands of President Obama and President Biden,” Scott added. He said he would tell Biden, “If you want to stop the 40-plus attacks on military personnel in the Middle East, you have to strike in Iran.”
“You have to cut off the head of the snake, and the head of the snake is Iran, and not simply the proxies,” he said, referring to Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Christie also encouraged the U.S. to support Israel and joined with the others in urging America to combat Iran.
“Make sure that we continue to isolate Iran,” the former New Jersey governor said. “Work with the reasonable nations in the Middle East, the other Arab nations who want to partner with you, and make sure we continue to isolate Iran so their only friends in the world are part of the evil foursome—China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.”
DeSantis recalled his time serving in the military in Iraq. “You had al-Qaeda in Iraq. You had Shia militias funded in Iran that were killing hundreds and hundreds of U.S. troops,” he said.
The Florida governor faulted Biden for delivering “glancing blows,” saying that is “inviting more attacks from the Iranians.”
7. ‘City on the Hill’
A loss of faith in America is part of the eroding of the United States, according to Scott.
“America does not work without a faith-filled, Judeo-Christian foundation,” Scott said in his opening remarks, adding that as president, he would help the nation “restore faith in God, faith in each other, [and] faith in our future.”
Without that solid foundation, the policy issues “don’t matter,” he said. “We have to get back to being the nation that is, in fact, the city on the hill.”
Republicans need a candidate who can “attract independent voters into our party,” the South Carolina lawmaker added, asserting that he is the candidate for the job.
8. Ramaswamy Rips Liberal Moderator
Ramaswamy attacked the liberal debate moderators fairly early on in the evening, questioning why the media that “rigged the 2016 election” is hosting the debate.
“Think about who’s moderating this debate,” he said. “This should be Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, and Elon Musk. We’d have 10 times the viewership, asking questions that GOP primary voters actually care about and bringing more people into our party.”
“And we’ve got Kristen Welker here,” he continued, gesturing toward her. “Do you think the Democrats would actually hire [Fox News’] Greg Gutfeld to host a Democratic debate? They wouldn’t do it.”
He then honed in on Welker, saying, “I’m going to use this time because this is about you and the media and the corrupt media establishment. The Trump-Russia collusion hoax that you pushed on this network for years, was that real or was that Hillary Clinton made-up disinformation? Answer the question. Go!”
“We need accountability because this media rigged the 2016 election,” he added. “They rigged the 2020 election with the Hunter Biden laptop story, and they are going to rig this election … . ”
Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email letters@DailySignal.com, and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the URL or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.