In an instant, the conversation in the race for the White House was altered as Hamas militants, supported by Iran, on Saturday launched the deadliest attack on Israel in decades.
And the surprise assault on Israel during the early morning hours of a major Jewish holiday immediately elevated foreign policy – which was one of many leading issues in the presidential race – to the center of the campaign spotlight.
Longtime Republican strategist and communicator Ryan Williams, a veteran of multiple GOP presidential campaigns, emphasized that ‘the tragic events in Israel have shifted the political discussion in the United States to foreign policy.’
Former President Donald Trump, in a campaign appearance Monday in New Hampshire, took aim at his successor in the White House, arguing that ‘today we have an all-out war in Israel, and it’s going to spread very quickly. What a difference a president makes.’
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration and is challenging the former president for the 2024 presidential nomination, told Fox News in an interview in Iowa that ‘our message to Hamas is, your days are numbered. Your days are numbered because we are not going to allow you to terrorize Israelis, Americans or anyone anymore. This terror is coming to an end.’
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a statement, emphasized that ‘we must not only stand with Israel, but we must support them as they hunt down and eradicate these barbarians.’
The presidential campaign for Sen. Tim Scott said that the South Carolina lawmaker will head to a well-known conservative think tank in the nation’s capital Tuesday to deliver a speech ‘about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel, wiping Hamas off the map.’
On Wednesday, GOP White House contender and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum will visit the same think tank – the Hudson Institute – to lay out what his advisers say is a ‘comprehensive foreign policy vision that will make America safer’ in the wake of the attack on Israel.
President Biden, pointing to what he called an ‘appalling terrorist assault against Israel’ that left over 900 Israelis dead and more than 2,000 injured, said in a statement Monday that ‘in this moment of heartbreak, the American people stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israelis.’
The assault by Hamas, in which at least 11 Americans in Israel were also killed, ignited a massive counterattack, which has left around 700 Palestinians dead and nearly 3,000 injured in the Gaza Strip.
Biden reiterated that ‘the United States and the State of Israel are inseparable partners’ and that Washington ‘will continue to make sure Israel has what it needs to defend itself and its people.’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s had his differences in the past with Biden, emphasized on Monday that ‘I want to thank President Biden for his unequivocal support,’ but his praise for Biden hasn’t stopped the Republican presidential candidates from blaming the president for the Hamas attack.
The criticism of the president comes from a recent $6 billion transfer to Iran, a complex prisoner swap deal announced by the Biden administration in September. Roughly $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets that were being held in South Korea were transferred to an account in Doha, Qatar, as part of the deal to free five Americans being held hostage in Iran.
The Biden administration has pushed back on GOP criticism by insisting that none of the funds transferred have been spent to date, but Republicans claim that the deal – and the funds – helped fuel the Hamas assault on Israel.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has emphasized that Tehran would spend the money ‘wherever we need it,’ to which the Biden administration responded it could freeze the assets again if necessary.
DeSantis claimed that Hamas was ’empowered by Joe Biden’s appeasement of Iran’ while Scott alleged the attack was ‘the Biden $6 billion ransom payment at work.’
Former Vice President Mike Pence blamed Biden, arguing that the current administration ‘projects weakness on the world stage.’
And Trump, who’s the commanding frontrunner for the GOP nomination as he runs for the White House a third straight time, charged Monday in New Hampshire that ‘Joe Biden betrayed Israel.’
The Biden 2024 re-election campaign fired back at Trump.
‘With each and every lie, Donald Trump further proves he is too dangerous to lead the United States on the world stage. The generals and other military leaders who served under Trump—those in a position to know—have repeatedly said he made our country less safe, not more,’ Biden-Harris 2024 Campaign National Co-Chair and military veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois said in a statement.
Williams, the Republican strategist, said that the elevation of foreign policy ‘works well for Trump’ in the GOP nomination race.
Pointing to Trump’s four years in the White House, Williams said ‘he’s the only Republican candidate that’s had that level of foreign policy experience, and he has a record to point to, where he can say that the way he was doing it in office was better than Biden.’
Pence and Haley are also spotlighting their chops on the world stage.
Besides criticizing Biden, Pence took aim at his rivals this past weekend in stating that ‘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.’
Williams emphasized that ‘if you have foreign policy experience, this issue helps you.’
But he also said, ‘I don’t think it necessarily sets Haley and Pence apart from Trump, because they were all in the same administration, but Trump gets to take credit for what he did in his administration.’