Trump, Biden contrasts on Ukraine, Israel to take center stage


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The Big Story 

The presidential debate Thursday will set out clear differences over the wars in Ukraine and Gaza between President Biden and former President Trump.

© AP

President Biden’s pitch for unity among traditional allies is expected to contrast with former President Trump’s tough talk and transactional foreign policy during Thursday’s debate.


And while Ukraine and Israel may not be the top priorities for U.S. voters according to polls, what the two candidates say could matter in a tight election race, especially as Trump seeks to make the case for change and Biden argues the Republican would harm U.S. interests.


Both Trump and Biden are seeking to appeal to undecided and independent voters in swing states, and the debate is a pivotal moment for each to do so.


A Pew Research Center poll in February found majorities of Americans see both wars as important to them: 59 percent say Ukraine’s war with Russia is important, while 65 percent say so of the Israel-Hamas war, noted Jacob Poushter, associate director of research at Pew.


The conflict in Gaza has hung over Biden and raised questions about whether it will hurt him with turnout of the Democratic base, particularly in swing states such as Michigan.


Biden will be challenged to win back Democratic and liberal voters who are critical that he has not done enough for Palestinians, even as Trump holds a record of denigrating and sidelining the Palestinians during his term in office. 


“Biden has to bring back that coalition of young voters, people of color, and for him to spell out why he is doing the things he’s doing with regard to Israel in particular,” said Dina Smeltz, vice president of public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. 


Smeltz said independent and undecided voters tend to hold a negative view of U.S. engagement abroad — something that could play to Trump’s favor.


“More say that the cost of the U.S. role in the world is greater than the benefit,” she said, citing an analysis of the polling.


Trump’s “America first” slogan is likely appealing to this group. Trump’s supporters also say the former president’s philosophy and blunt message that American involvement comes at a price pushes U.S. allies to take more responsibility for their own security and defense.


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