Republican presidential candidates Wednesday fought over how to handle the war in Ukraine as the clearest divisions yet on managing the conflict among the 2024 primary field — minus front-runner former President Trump — emerged on the debate stage.
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley joined former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in staunchly backing Ukraine in its war against Russia, arguing the fight is vital to U.S. national security.
Haley said the U.S. must protect its allies, build relationships abroad and defeat the “unholy alliance” among Russia, Iran and China.
“There is a reason the Taiwanese want us to support the Ukrainians,” she said. “We have to see the combination of the three.”
Christie compared the war in Ukraine to World War II.
“The last time we turned our back on a shooting war in Europe, it bought us just a couple of years,” he said. “This is not a choice. This is the price we pay for being the leaders of the free world.”
But entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis voiced intense criticism of continued backing for the war.
Ramaswamy blasted Ukraine as corrupt, saying the Russian-occupied territories are Russian-speaking regions.
“To frame this as some kind of battle of good versus evil: Don’t buy it,” he said. “Ukraine is not a paragon of democracy.”
And DeSantis scoffed at President Biden’s request for billions of additional dollars to Ukraine and said the U.S. should focus on the U.S.-Mexico border and the Indo-Pacific.
“We need to bring this war to an end,” he said.
The divisions over Ukraine come as polls are showing more skepticism in the American public for supporting the war as the two-year mark of the conflict approaches and as Kyiv struggles to make advances against Russian forces.
Republicans in particular have questioned ongoing Ukraine aid, and the GOP-controlled House has stalled on passing more funding to the embattled nation.
GOP presidential candidate and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) on Wednesday took a middle path, questioning whether there was accountability for the weapons but also supporting the mission of reducing Russian power.
“Everyday we get closer to the degradation of the Russian military, and that’s good news,” he said. “But the American people are frustrated that they do not have a president who reminds us and tells us where is the accountability [on weapons]. We need those answers for us to continue to see support for Ukraine.”
—Updated at 10:15 p.m.