The Republican Candidates On Foreign Policy

How the top GOP contenders for 2024 stack up on Ukraine, China, and Mexico

The lowdown: Republican presidential candidates appeared particularly hawkish on foreign policy earlier this month during interviews with Tucker Carlson. Here’s a breakdown of where the top five polling candidates stand when it comes to three key countries — Mexico, China, and Ukraine.

Why it matters: Mexico, China, and Ukraine each present distinct problems to the United States. Mass immigration at the southern border sparks concerns over drug trafficking and violence, among other things; how the U.S. handles China and Taiwan has serious implications for the American economy; and the Ukraine-Russia conflict requires the U.S. to decide if the neoconservative policy of throwing billions of taxpayer dollars to a foreign country is an effective strategy for peace.

Mexico

With millions crossing through the southern border, fentanyl killing tens of thousands of Americans per year, and the cartel’s surge in strength, America’s southern neighbor has become a top geopolitical issue.

  • Donald Trump: The former president has supported the deployment of the military to the southern border and a declaration of war on the cartels — which are tightly interwoven with the Mexican government. He said he would “take down the cartels” using similar strategies the U.S. used against ISIS.

  • Ron DeSantis: The Florida governor has indicated he would place sanctions against drug cartels; use military force against cartels and others attempting to smuggle drugs across the border; complete the construction of the border wall; and reintroduce the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

  • Vivek Ramaswamy: The tech entrepreneur has called for a hawkish “shock and awe” campaign against the cartels, hitting them “Osama Bid Laden-style.”

  • Nikki Haley: Similar to Trump, the former ambassador to the United Nations has said the U.S. should deal with the cartels as it did ISIS, utilizing special operations and cyber warfare.

  • Mike Pence: The former vice president has stopped short of calling for military action against the cartels, sticking with stronger border security as the best option to respond to the border crisis.

Key takeaway: All major candidates have supported some sort of military action against the cartels, except for Mike Pence, who would prefer to focus solely on border policy. In a similar vein, DeSantis has criticized Trump for not finishing the border wall. Trump, Ramaswamy, and Haley call for tactics like those used against terrorists to combat the cartels.

China

All candidates are particularly hawkish on China, some from an economic standpoint, others from a purely militaristic angle.

  • Donald Trump: Trump supports tariffs on certain Chinese goods, which he imposed during his presidency. He maintains strategic ambiguity on support for Taiwan but has called for tariffs against it as well, saying the country “took” America’s semiconductor business away.

  • Ron DeSantis: DeSantis has reportedly surrounded himself with China hawks, believing that China is America’s greatest geopolitical threat, not Russia. He calls Taiwan a “critical interest” in reining in China’s growth.

  • Vivek Ramaswamy: Ramaswamy has warned that U.S. policy and the war in Ukraine has pushed China toward Russia. The candidate supports economic “independence from China.”

  • Nikki Haley: The former South Carolina governor ********************has criticized Trump’s “zeal to befriend” Chinese President Xi Jinping and not doing enough to “rally our allies against the Chinese threat.” She says Beijing is preparing for war and that the U.S. should follow suit.

  • Mike Pence: Pence has called China an “evil empire,” called for the U.S. to improve its military power, and reiterated support for Taiwan.

Key takeaway: While GOP views on China diverge, every contender agrees: Beijing is an adversary to watch. Trump stands out with a tangible China strategy, featuring tariffs and a complex Taiwan posture. Other candidates, DeSantis included, identify China as America's top geopolitical nemesis but wrestle to offer unique policy alternatives to Trump's approach.

Ukraine

The Russia-Ukraine war has served as a key political battleground for those who want peace as soon as possible and neoconservatives who are determined to send more money and weapons to ensure a Ukrainian victory.

  • Donald Trump: Trump has said he would cut aid to Ukraine in order to achieve a peace deal but would continue to arm Ukraine as much as needed if no peace deal were reached. He maintains that his toughness toward Russian President Vladimir Putin would have prevented the invasion in the first place. Trump has also argued that European countries should pay their fair share to defend themselves.

  • Ron DeSantis: DeSantis billed himself as “tough on Russia” and supported arming Ukraine as a congressman in 2014. He has recently called Putin a “war criminal,” which Trump refused to do, but maintains that “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of” America's vital interests.

  • Vivek Ramaswamy: Ramaswamy has proposed allowing Russia to retain its seized territories in Ukraine and reinstating economic relations. In return, he would demand Moscow end its partnership with Beijing and comply with the New START treaty on nuclear weapons.

  • Nikki Haley: Haley, a neocon, has said she would support adding Ukraine to NATO during the war, which would force other members, including the U.S., to respond with boots on the ground.

  • Mike Pence: The former veep believes it is in “our national interest” to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” but stops short of supporting Ukraine’s ascension to NATO until after the war ends.

Key takeaway: Trump and Ramaswamy have focused on ending the war with a peace deal that might leave Russia with the territories it has seized. DeSantis has been somewhat ambiguous in his policy preferences but does not want endless war. Pence and Haley would support Ukraine indefinitely.

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