China Was Watching US Divisions on Display in GOP Debate, Burgum Says

(Bloomberg) -- North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, a 2024 Republican presidential hopeful, said China was closely watching the divisions and infighting that were on display in last week’s GOP debate.

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Burgum, a longshot candidate for the party’s nomination, pivoted to China when asked if Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, who has been charged in four criminal cases, should drop out of the presidential race.

“It’s up to any candidate to decide whether they want to stay in or stay out of the race, but I’ll tell you I know who was watching that debate last week and who watches our country closely and that’s China,” Burgum said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “We’re in a cold war with China, we’re in a proxy war with Russia, and divisiveness is a huge business.”

The governor has made taking a tougher stance on Beijing a centerpiece of his campaign, previously saying that China’s policies are damaging the US economy and costing US workers jobs. In last week’s debate, he argued the US should use its energy policy to punish both China and Russia, and called for giving Taiwan more anti-ship missiles.

Burgum said the talk of indictments and the 2020 elections were keeping the US from discussing its real challenges.

“We’ve got China’s economy’s falling apart, and we have a dictator whose economy is falling apart both into real estate trash and unemployment for young people, what do you do to rally the troops? You invade somebody else. You start a war,” he said.

Burgum sought to draw a comparison to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“That’s what Putin did to hang onto his power. Why wouldn’t China do the same thing,” Burgum added. “Particularly when we say to Taiwan we’ll help you with Harpoon missiles to sink those Chinese ships but we’re not sending them until 2026.”

Burgum was one of eight candidates to participate in last Wednesday’s first GOP presidential debate of the cycle, despite suffering an Achilles tendon injury while playing basketball the day before.

At the debate, though, he failed to obtain a breakout moment with higher-polling rivals such as entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence and ex-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley dominating the forum at times.

A survey from Emerson College Polling released Monday showed Burgum at 1% support, and the RealClearPolitics polling average shows him at 0.6% — for eighth place in the field, well behind Trump.

Trump, who skipped the event and was also booked for the fourth time last week was at 50% support, down six points in the Emerson poll.

Burgum qualified for the debate stage after his campaign offered $20 gift cards for a $1 donation to meet the Republican National Committee’s requirement for 40,000 individual donors. The RNC also required candidates to meet polling thresholds and to sign a pledge that they would support the eventual nominee.

The RNC is tightening the criteria for the second debate, slated to be held on Sept. 27, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

Burgum expressed confidence that he’ll make the cut. He became a billionaire after selling his software company to Microsoft and is largely self-financing his campaign. He is capitalizing on his business experience, focusing on energy policy, the economy and national security, in hopes that will resonate with voters as he looks to qualify for the second debate.

--With assistance from Gregory Korte.

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