(Bloomberg) -- A growing rift in the Republican party over foreign policy was exposed to the harsh light of a national stage when two presidential candidates had a tense exchange over whether the US should continue supporting Ukraine.
Most Read from Bloomberg
The barbs between former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and entrepreneur and political novice Vivek Ramaswamy in Wednesday night’s first GOP debate underscored a deepening divide between the party’s more hawkish members and those championing a less interventionist approach to the world.
Ramaswamy invoked the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the specter of Vietnam and accused Haley of aspiring to a seat on the board of defense contractors Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon. Haley told Ramaswamy, who made his fortune in biotech investments, that he had no foreign policy experience “and it shows.”
The exchanges echo the emerging debate in Congress over whether the US should continue funding Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion that began in February 2022 as GOP presidential candidates strive to differentiate themselves from former President Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner.
The US has already committed almost $77 billion to Ukraine’s defense, and President Joe Biden has asked Congress to approve an additional $13 billion for Ukraine war costs as part of a $40 billion supplemental spending request. Conservatives in the House have threatened a government shutdown over the spending package and vowed to oppose any “blank check” for Ukraine.
Ramaswamy’s positions and those of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — who said Europe needs to “pull their weight” on Ukraine — are closer to those of Trump, who has expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and as president threatened to pull the US out of NATO unless its member countries increased their defense spending. Trump has said that, if reelected, he would have a “deal done in one day” to end the war.
But the applause for Haley’s response to Ramaswamy’s positions indicates there’s still support within the GOP for a more traditional view of foreign policy and defense spending.
“You can’t be so narcissistic to think America doesn’t need allies,” Haley said in an interview on Bloomberg Television Thursday. “We do need allies. And when you have an ally, you take care of them.”
While former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie expressed their support for Ukraine and pushed back against some of Ramaswamy’s ideas, the most forceful push came from Haley, who invoked her credentials as a former United Nations ambassador to bolster her arguments for continuing to support Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.
“Economic aid should come from the Europeans but equipment, military ammunition, we should be sending that,” Haley said. “And when we send it, let’s keep in mind, it is less than 3.5% of our defense budget that has gone to Ukraine.”
“Ukraine is not a priority for the United States of America,” Ramaswamy said during the debate. “You cannot start another no-win war. And I do not want to get to the point where we’re sending our military resources abroad when we could be better using them here at home to protect our own borders.”
His campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request Thursday for further comment.
--With assistance from Annmarie Hordern and Joe Mathieu.
Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.