Nikki Haley on Friday knocked out two of her Republican presidential rivals Donald J. Trump and Vivek Ramaswamy over their recent comments on Israel, underscoring the deepening divide within the party around the “America First” anti-interventionist stance that Mr. Trump made a core part of his first campaign.
Mr. Trump, Ms. Haley suggested, lacks moral clarity and has not left “the baggage and negativity” of the past behind, an apparent reference to Mr. Trump’s still-simmering animosity toward Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, over events that include his congratulating President Biden on winning the 2020 election. Mr. Ramaswamy, meanwhile, sounds more like a liberal Democrat than a Republican, Ms. Haley said.
“To go and criticize the head of a country who just saw massive bloodshed — no, that’s not what we need in a president,” Ms. Haley said of Mr. Trump, the former president and current Republican front-runner, in a news conference in Concord, NH, after filing to get on the state’s primary ballot.
Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador under Mr. Trump who has been running on her foreign policy experience, said the next president of the United States needed to be someone who “knows the difference between good and evil, “Who knows the difference between right and wrong.”
“You don’t congratulate or give any credit to murderers, period,” she said.
Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign accused Ms. Haley of using Democratic talking points and said that “there has been no bigger defender and advocate for Israel than President Trump.” But Mr. Trump has drawn scorn from both sides of the political aisle for referring to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group, as “very smart” while criticizing Israel’s prime minister and Israeli intelligence.
His tone shifted on Friday, though, as I have posted on his social media platform, Truth Social, that he had “always been impressed by the skill and determination of the Israeli Defense Forces.” TO second post said simply: “#IStandWithIsrael #IStandWithBibi.”
Tricia McLaughlin, a representative for the Ramaswamy campaign, dismissed Ms. Haley’s remarks on Friday as a scripted attack from a candidate whom Ms. McLaughlin sought to portray as beholden to special interests.
“Pre-canned quip brought to you by the Boeing squad,” she said in an email, invoking Ms. Haley’s tenure of less than a year on the corporate board of Boeing.
Ms. Haley’s dig at Mr. Ramaswamy on Friday escalated an ongoing feud between the GOP rivals that has pitted those with more traditional conservative positions, who believe the United States should play a greater role abroad, against those espousing anti-interventionist views, who want Americans to focus on issues at home.
Mr. Ramaswamy was sharply rebuked by his opponents over his conversation with Tucker Carlson on Xthe platform formerly known as Twitter, earlier this week.
He called the Republican response to Hamas’s attacks on Israel another example of “selective moral outrage” and argued that politicians on both sides of the aisle had largely ignored other atrocities, citing fentanyl deaths in the United States and the accusations of genocide of ethnic Armenians by Azerbaijan.
“It comes down in most cases — some people do have ideological commitments that are outdated that are earnest — but a lot of it comes down to money, the corrupting influence of super PACs on the process,” Mr. Ramaswamy said.
In a statement on Friday, Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, another Republican candidate in the race, condemned Mr. Ramaswamy’s remarks, saying that he was “pulling out the oldest and most offensive anti-Semitic tropes possible.”
He added: “To say that outrage is fueled by donor money and the media is beyond offensive. “It is morally wrong and it is dangerous.”
Mr. Ramaswamy accused critics and even conservative media outlets of taking his words out of context. Ms. McLaughlin, his campaign spokesperson, said in an email on Friday that he was talking about Azerbaijan, not Israel.
But Sean Hannity, the Fox News commentator, was not persuaded. In a tense exchange between the two men on Thursday night, Mr. Hannity said that Mr. Ramaswamy had a history of retreating from his incendiary statements and had made wild claims without backing them up.
“What are the financial corrupting influences that Nikki Haley is taking a position on?” he said. “We’ve got pictures of dead babies decapitated, burned babies’ bodies. We’ve got the equivalent of what would be, population-wise in the US, over 37,000 dead Americans. So, how much more evidence do you need? What are you talking about?”
Mr. Trump, during his time in the White House, virtually did not challenge Israel on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As his United Nations ambassador, Ms. Haley forcefully spoke out in support of the president’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as well as his decision to cut American funding to Palestinian refugees. She has since made her foreign policy credentials and established support for Israel pillars of her campaign. Her de ella sparring with Mr. Ramaswamy over foreign policy on the national debate stage in particular helped to boost her de ella in the polls, propelling her to the second position behind Mr. Trump in New Hampshire.
On the trail and on the Republican media circuit this week, Ms. Haley has been talking up her on-the-ground experience in the Middle East and calling for the elimination of Hamas. In town halls in New Hampshire on Thursday, she rattled up her criticism of Mr. Trump for his reaction to the Israel-Hamas war, saying the former president was too focused on himself.
In a small room crowded with reporters at the New Hampshire State House on Friday, Ms. Haley again pitched herself as “a new generational conservative leader” who knew how to negotiate with world leaders.
“I know what it takes to keep Americans safe,” she said. She later added: “You don’t just have Israel’s back when they get hit. You need to have Israel’s back when they hit back, too.”