Nikki Haley and Tim Scott talk Trump, take on federal abortion limits at 1st GOP debate
Eight Republican presidential hopefuls sparred in the first GOP debate over foreign policy, the former president and abortion restrictions after the S.C. Supreme Court upheld South Carolina's six-week ban.
Donald Trump was nowhere near the Milwaukee debate Aug. 23.
And the eight Republican presidential candidates largely avoided talking about the former president.
But they couldn’t completely escape the party front-runner, and questions about whether his Vice President Mike Pence — who stood on the debate stage with them — did the right thing on Jan. 6, 2021.
“Absolutely,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
“I do think that Vice President Pence did the right thing, and I do think that we need to give him credit for that,” said Nikki Haley, former S.C. governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The party hopefuls sparred on stage for two hours, trying to persuade a national audience that each holds the presidential credentials to tackle the economy, foreign and abortion policies and climate change.
Meanwhile, Trump, who declined to participate in the debate, sat down with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson for a one-on-one interview broadcast via X, what was Twitter.
Haley, who first raised Trump’s name at the Aug. 23 debate, said the public needs to face that Trump is “the most disliked politician in America,” and the Republican Party can’t win a general election that way.
“When it comes to whether President Trump should serve or not, I trust the American people. Let them vote. Let them decide,” Haley said. “But what they will tell you is that it is time for a new generational conservative leader. We have to look at the fact that three-quarters of Americans don’t want a rematch between Trump and (President Joe) Biden.”
But in an awkward show of hands, Haley joined colleagues and raised hers when asked by Fox News moderator Bret Baier whether they’d support Trump as the GOP nominee if he’s a convicted criminal.
The only two candidates who declined to back him were former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who initially appeared to raise his hand but later wagged his finger and shook his head, indicating he would not.
Scott backs federal abortion ban that Haley says will have uphill battle
The debate highlighted key differences between the candidates over personality and policy, particularly whether they’d support a federal abortion ban.
States have handled the legislative impacts after the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2022 overturned federal-level protections for abortion access, including in South Carolina which now has one of the most restrictive bans on the books.
The GOP-controlled S.C. Legislature passed a revised six-week ban this year after the state Supreme Court overturned the law, deciding it violated the state Constitution’s privacy provision. At the time, the court had one female justice, Kaye Hearn.
Hearn retired this year due to the state’s mandatory retirement age for judges, 72, and in her place, state lawmakers elected Gary Hill. The court is now made up of all men.
The same day as the GOP debate, the new court upheld the state’s revised six-week ban.
On stage, Scott voiced his support for a federal 15-week abortion ban — a proposal his Senate colleague U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham pushed for in Congress.
“We must have a president of the United States who will advocate and fight for a 15-week limit,” Scott said. “We can’t leave it to Minnesota. We can’t leave it to Illinois. We must solve that issue with a 15-week limit, at a minimum.”
Haley, who as South Carolina’s governor signed the state’s previous 20-week ban, struck a more general election tone as the only woman on stage and the only woman in the race.
Noting her husband, Michael, was adopted and her difficult pregnancies, the self-described “unapologetically pro-life” candidate said the party needs to “stop demonizing this issue.”
And when it comes to a conversation over a federal ban, she added, candidates need to be honest.
“It will take 60 Senate votes; it will take a majority of the House. So, in order to do that, let's find consensus,” Haley said. “Let's treat this like the like a respectful issue that it is and humanize the situation and stop demonizing the situation.”
In response, Pence said “consensus is not leadership,” calling abortion limits not just a “state’s only issue.”
“A 15-week ban is an idea whose time has come,” Pence said. “It’s supported by 70% of the American people. But it’s going to take unapologetic leadership, leadership that stands on principle and expresses compassion for women in crisis pregnancies.”
That’s not being honest with voters, Haley told Pence.
“We haven’t had 45 pro-life senators in over 100 years. So, no Republican president can ban abortions any more than a Democrat(ic) president could ban all those state laws,” Haley said. “Don’t make women feel like they have to decide on this issue when you know we don’t have 60 senate votes.”
The second Republican Party debate will be held Sept. 27 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Simi Valley, California.