Republican presidential debate: Foreign policy to be in focus in big night without Trump

Eight candidates for their party's 2024 presidential nomination will take part in the debate

The eight Republican candidates set to participate in the party's first debate on Wednesday. AP
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Eight Republican presidential candidates will have their first opportunity to introduce themselves to all US voters during a debate on Wednesday night that will not include former president Donald Trump.

But with the former president opting to miss the debate for an alternative media opportunity and with the event likely to draw fewer viewers as a result, the first major event of the primary season gives candidates the opportunity to burnish their policy credentials.

That includes foreign policy, where relations with North Korea, Iran and China, as well as the war in Ukraine, remain important issues in the US.

Here, The National takes a look at where the eight debaters stand on foreign policy.

Doug Burgum, North Dakota governor

Recent comments about the war in Ukraine suggest North Dakota Governor sees China as the biggest threat to the US. While on the campaign trail in Iowa, Mr Burgum said Russia cannot win the war because it would be a win for Moscow and Beijing.

He also said the US is “absolutely in a cold war” with China, though it has yet to outline a strategy on how he would counteract China.

Chris Christie, former New Jersey governor

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has tried to separate himself from Mr Trump over Ukraine.

“I have to tell you the truth: I don’t want to be the apple of Vladimir Putin’s eye,” Mr Christie said in response to a recent comment made by the former president.

He also made a surprise visit to war-torn Ukraine earlier in his candidacy but maintains that America's biggest rival is China and not Russia.

Mr Christie said continuing to support Ukraine financially would send a message to Iran and other nations that the US would defend its allies.

As a candidate during the 2016 election, Mr Christie accused then-president Barack Obama of “lying” to Americans when touting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Ron DeSantis, Florida governor

Ron DeSantis has worked hard to build his foreign policy chops in just a short period of time. In April, Mr DeSantis travelled to Japan, South Korea, Israel and the UK in an effort to bolster his international credentials.

While the trip was billed as a trade mission as part of his job as Florida governor, it was obvious Mr DeSantis, a former Lieutenant in the US Navy, where he spent time at Joint Task Force Guantanamo and deployed to Iraq, was trying to show voters he had what it took to be America’s leader on the International stage.

Like many US politicians before him, Mr DeSantis has made Israel a focal point of his foreign policy. While in Israel in April, he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He has criticised the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying it “flooded Iran with money that rejuvenated their economy, and that led to the funding of terrorism all across the Middle East”.

Nikki Haley, former UN ambassador

The former South Carolina Governor turned US Ambassador to the United Nations has a strong foreign policy resume.

Ms Haley was a prominent face of US foreign policy during her texture, taking a hard stance against Russia’s involvement in Syria and lambasting the UN for its treatment of Israel.

She has also been a vocal critic of China. In June, Ms Haley gave a speech, in which she criticised both Mr Biden's and Mr Trump’s handling of the rival power.

She called China “the biggest threat we’ve had since Pearl Harbour” on CNBC.

Nikki Haley announces 2024 US presidential campaign

Nikki Haley announces 2024 US presidential campaign

Asa Hutchinson, former Arkansas governor

Mr Hutchinson is an outlier in the current Republican field. He’s less about America First and more about returning America to its role as a global leader. He believes the US should welcome refugees and that the Republican party is in a fight for its “soul.”

The former two-term governor of Arkansas believes China is the most pressing threat facing the US. “If America is to be the best, then we cannot yield to China in terms of global leadership,” Mr Hutchinson said in a speech announcing his candidacy.

Mike Pence, former US vice president

As vice president under Mr Trump, Mike Pence defended the former president's decision to assassinate Qasem Soleimani, a major figure in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Since leaving office, Mr Pence has broken with his former boss by saying no one should praise North Korean leader Kim Jong-un or Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Pence has also touted his support for Ukraine, which he visited earlier this summer. The former vice president has tried to make the claim that stopping Russia's advancement would also prevent the need for American servicemembers to be involved in the fighting.

Vivek Ramaswamy, entrepreneur

The conservative entrepreneur, who made a name for himself bashing liberal “woke” culture has taken a strong America First stance throughout his campaign, which influences his foreign policy agenda.

Mr Ramaswamy has said that if elected he would end the war in Ukraine “that will advance American interests”. As part of his plan, Nato would commit to not allowing Ukraine to join the organisation.

He believes “The Russia-China military alliance is the top threat that we face today.”

He has especially divisive views on Taiwan.

“We will defend Taiwan until we have semi-conductor independence in this country, which is where I will lead by the end of my first term in office after which point our commitments by definition will and should change,” he said.

Tim Scott, US Senator

Much of Tim Scott's tenure in the US Senate comprises of domestic affairs before joining the Foreign Relations Committee this year.

Like fellow Republicans, Mr Scott has talked up China as the biggest rival to the US. But he did not provide an answer to NBC News when asked how he would respond if China attacked Taiwan.

In 2017, Mr Scott was among 22 Republican senators who signed a letter urging Mr Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords.

Updated: August 23, 2023, 5:05 AM