HomeWorld NewsAbortion, high heels and insults dominate latest Republican debate
Abortion, high heels and insults dominate latest Republican debate
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Washington: Republican 2024 presidential candidates are grappling with how their party should tackle abortion, after the contentious issue fuelled a string of Democratic wins in state elections across the United States.
As Donald Trump’s five biggest rivals faced off in Miami for the third Republican primary debate, Democrats in Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia were celebrating resounding victories for abortion rights that could lift US President Joe Biden’s chances of returning to the White House despite his dismal polling.
Former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley shakes hands with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as businessman Vivek Ramaswamy walks past.Credit: AP
In Ohio, more than 50 per cent of voters agreed to enshrine the right to abortion in the state’s Constitution when the issue was put to a referendum vote on Tuesday night. In Kentucky, the incumbent Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, was re-elected over his anti-abortion Republican opponent.
And in Virginia, Democrats won control of the state legislature after popular Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin campaigned for a “sensible limit” to abortion that would have meant most terminations banned after 15 weeks.
Considering the results – which sent shock waves through the Republican Party – women’s reproductive rights took centre stage at the often heated Republican debate on Thursday (AEDT).
So too did the economy, the wars in Gaza and Ukraine, and Trump himself, who once again skipped the event, this time in favour of a campaign rally to woo Latino voters in another part of Florida.
The AUKUS nuclear submarine deal was also raised as a means of deterring China in the Indo-Pacific. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said if he was elected president, he would somehow increase America’s naval capacity “by 20 per cent over the course of the next several years”.
But Ramaswamy added that “at minimum, we must be able to meet our AUKUS agreement standards”. “Right now, we are at risk of not even being able to meet our AUKUS standards with Australia and the UK,” he said.
On abortion, former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tried to find middle ground, saying that while she was “unapologetically pro-life”, she “doesn’t judge anyone from being pro-choice”.
While some in the party are pushing for a national ban, she argued there would never be enough votes in Congress to make that a reality, and politicians ought to be honest with the American people about what could be achieved.
Haley greets supporters after the debate.Credit: AP
“So let’s find consensus,” she said. “Let’s make sure we encourage adoptions. Let’s make sure we make contraception accessible, let’s make sure that none of these state laws put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty for getting an abortion.
“Let’s focus on how to save as many babies as we can and support as many mums as we can.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed a six-week abortion ban into law early this year, focused on the politics, noting that the pro-life movement had been “caught flat-footed” on the issue and needed to do better to beat the Democrats in future electoral races.
And South Carolina senator Tim Scott touted a “15-week federal limit” – deliberately avoiding the word “ban” after Republicans acknowledged this term was scaring off voters.
This debate had the smallest number of candidates so far, after several other presidential hopefuls – including former vice president Mike Pence – suspended their campaigns due to lack of support.
Asked why he should be the nominee and not Trump, who remains well ahead of his rivals, DeSantis took his biggest swing yet against the former president.
“I’m sick of Republicans losing. In Florida, I showed how it’s done,” he said, referring to his midterm election victory a year ago.
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie was far more critical of Trump, telling the audience: “Anybody who’s going to be spending the next year-and-a-half of their life focusing on keeping themselves out of jail and courtrooms cannot lead this party.”
With wars raging in the Middle East and Ukraine, foreign policy was also a contentious topic. Ramaswamy, who wants to cut military funding for Ukraine, used the opportunity to attack Haley, suggesting she had “sold off” foreign policy as UN ambassador.
“Do you want a leader from a different generation who is going to put this country first, or do you want Dick Cheney [former vice president to George W Bush] in three-inch heels? ” he asked.
Haley calmly replied: “They’re five-inch heels … and they’re not for a fashion statement, they’re for ammunition.” But she got visibly angry when Ramaswamy attacked her daughter’s use of Chinese-owned TikTok, telling him: “Leave my daughter out of your voice … You’re just scum.”
In terms of continuing military funding to Ukraine, the former ambassador replied: “No, I don’t think we should give them cash – I think we should give them the equipment and the ammunition to win. And I’ll tell you: if Biden had done it when they first asked for it, this war would be over.”
Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and Tim Scott, participated in the debate.Credit: AP
The debate was the most substantive and disciplined of the three so far, with a fourth due to take place later this month ahead of next year’s all-important caucuses.Despite Trump’s myriad legal woes, the twice-impeached, four times-indicted former president remains the overwhelming frontrunner to win the Republican nomination.
Such a win would set up a rematch against Biden, who suffered a major blow this week when a series of polls put the Trump ahead of him in five key battleground states that could decide who wins the White House.
Nevertheless, Democrats were buoyed by abortion remaining a stronger political force than the drag of Biden’s approval ratings.
“Americans once again voted to protect their fundamental freedoms – and democracy won,” Biden said.
Republicans, on the other hand, were shaken by the result, which showed some of their members were willing to switch their vote in protest against the restrictions being imposed on women’s reproductive freedom.
The ongoing abortion debate comes more than a year after the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 landmark ruling Roe v Wade and placed power over abortion in the hands of the states, many of which have severely curtailed women’s reproductive freedom ever since.
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