2024 Divide: Republican presidential candidates spar over Israel-Hamas conflict

The sneak attack by Hamas on Israel — the deadliest assault on the Jewish State in decades — instantly rocked the 2024 White House race, altering the conversation on the presidential campaign trail.

While the Republican presidential candidates have tried to one-up each other in placing blame with President Biden for the horrific attack and showcasing their support for Israel, the Hamas assault has also quickly become a wedge issue in the GOP nomination fight.

Hours after Hamas militants swarmed into Israel, former Vice President Mike Pence took aim at Biden, decrying what he called American’s ‘retreat on the world stage.’ 

But the former vice president, on the campaign trail in Iowa, seemed to save his most scathing rebuke for three of his rivals for the nomination.

Pence pointed fingers at ‘voices of appeasement like Donald Trump, Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis that I believe have run contrary to the tradition in our party that America is the leader of the free world.’

The growing schism in the Republican Party over America’s role policing the world — evident in GOP fight over continued support for Ukraine in its year and a half long war against Russian aggression — may be spreading to Israel, where Republicans have long showcased their unyielding support for Jerusalem.

It’s no surprise that Pence was the first to take aim at other GOP White House hopefuls and has repeatedly criticized some of his rivals, including his former running mate, over their lack of support for Kyiv.

‘This is also what happens when you have leaders in the Republican Party signaling retreat on the world stage,’ Pence argued. Evoking the late President Ronald Reagan, as he often does, Pence emphasized that ‘it’s time to get back to peace through strength.’

Another part of the rift in the Republican presidential primary between the GOP’s growing isolationist wing and more traditional conservatives pushing for a muscular U.S. role overseas, could be seen in a speech Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina delivered Tuesday afternoon at a think tank in Washington D.C., and in an ensuing interview on the Fox News Channel.

While blasting Biden for having ‘blood on his hands,’ and claiming that the president’s weakness ‘invited the attack’ by Hamas, which was supported by Iran, Scott targeted DeSantis and Ramaswamy.

‘Vivek Ramaswamy has said that the definition of success is reducing America’s support for Israel,’ Scott argued. He accused the multi-millionaire biotech entrepreneur and first-time candidate of proposing ‘that we surrender Taiwan to the Chinese Communist Party as long as we’ve relocated some factories.’

Scott also blasted the Florida governor, noting that ‘DeSantis once dismissed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as just some ‘territorial dispute.’’

‘The last thing we need is a Joe Biden wing of the Republican Party on foreign policy,’ he argued.

Scott, who has been running a positive and uplifting conservative campaign, for months avoided criticizing his rivals, including Trump — the commanding front-runner for the GOP nomination as he makes this third straight White House run. 

But the senator has turned up the volume against his rivals in recent weeks, as his standing in polls has flat lined.

DeSantis, campaigning in Iowa on Monday ahead of the Scott speech, pushed back at Pence.

‘If Mike Pence wants to blame me for what’s happening, I think that most people would just laugh at that. What a joke,’ DeSantis told reporters.

And on Tuesday, the Ramaswamy campaign fired back at Scott.

‘We understand Tim Scott is attempting to gain some semblance of relevance in this race, but lying in the face of these barbaric atrocities isn’t an effective way to do so,’ spokesperson Tricia McLaughlin wrote in a statement. ‘Vivek has offered a clear, rational response that supports Israel while avoiding another U.S.-led disaster in the Middle East.’

Ramaswamy also fired away at former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the first two years of the Trump administration.

Haley, who knocked the 38-year-old Ramaswamy at the first Republican presidential nomination debate in August by arguing ‘you have no foreign policy experience, and it shows,’ urged earlier this week that Israel ‘needs to eliminate Hamas without question’ during an interview on Fox News’ ‘Hannity.’

Ramaswamy on Tuesday emphasized that ‘I am disappointed and deeply concerned by the remarks of certain presidential candidates including Nikki Haley who have irresponsibly called the Hamas attack an ‘attack on America’ and rabidly shout ‘FINISH THEM!!’ repeatedly without offering a pragmatic path forward.’

Doug Heye, a veteran Republican strategist and communicator, offered that blowup of warfare in the Mideast was an unexpected development on the campaign trail.

‘I think that there’s sort of a figuring it out as we go along part of this because clearly what happened this weekend was a surprise to everyone,’ Heye, who’s neutral in the 2024 GOP presidential nomination race, said. 

Heye noted that the ‘candidates can take swipes at each other, but this is an opportunity for them to demonstrate leadership as well.’

‘I look at this as an opportunity for candidates with foreign policy experience to shine,’ he said. And Heye pointed to Haley and Pence ‘as the two obvious examples.’

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