DeSantis And Haley Faceoff In Heated GOP Debate

( – In a highly contentious showdown, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis engaged in a fiery exchange during the Wednesday Republican primary debate, intentionally steering away from discussing the absent front-runner, Donald Trump. Instead, they aimed to position themselves as the most formidable alternatives to the former president.

The atmosphere of the debate was charged from the outset, with both candidates opting to forego civility and launching accusations of dishonesty and character attacks within the opening minutes. Seizing the opportunity to go head-to-head without the interruptions of lower-polling rivals, DeSantis and Haley delved deep into critiques of each other’s policy proposals, even directing viewers to fact-checking websites established by their respective campaigns.

This unique one-on-one format allowed for a stark display of their sharp differences on a range of issues, from foreign policy to abortion, just days before the commencement of the Republican primary process in Iowa. However, the lingering question remains whether this debate will have the potency to reshape a race that has overwhelmingly been dominated by the Trump factor. Trump, meanwhile, had the stage to himself at a separate Fox News event in Des Moines, where he faced minimal challenges and teased the audience about his potential running mate.

Positioned at lecterns merely an arm’s length apart, DeSantis and Haley engaged in detailed critiques and exchanged sarcastic quips right from the start. Haley, at one point, interrupted DeSantis with a sharp retort, accusing him of desperation. In response, the Florida governor took a jab at Haley’s supposed tendency for self-sabotage, stating, “You’ve got this problem with ballistic podiatry, shooting yourself in the foot every other day.”

One of the most cutting critiques came from Haley, who ridiculed DeSantis for the turmoil within his political operation, citing numerous personnel changes, new strategies, and substantial expenditures on his behalf. “Why should we think you can manage or do anything in this country?” Haley questioned.

DeSantis, on the other hand, accused Haley of being beholden to major donors and of flip-flopping on conservative issues. He declared, “We don’t need another mealy-mouthed politician who just tells you what she thinks you want to hear just to try to get your vote, then to get into office and to do her donors’ bidding.”

A rare point of agreement emerged when both candidates expressed the belief that Trump should have shared the stage with them. However, when questioned about Trump’s 2022 comments calling for changes to parts of the Constitution, Haley displayed a bluntness not matched by DeSantis, stating unequivocally, “That election, Trump lost it. Biden won the election.” She also held Trump accountable for the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot, asserting that he would have to answer for it.

DeSantis, who has hinted at the possibility of the Republican Party needing to nominate someone other than Trump due to legal challenges, predicted that the former president might end up being convicted for criminal charges related to his efforts to overturn the election. “I don’t think he gets through that,” DeSantis stated, referring to one of Trump’s trials. “So what are we going to do as Republicans?”

The dynamics of the race took an unexpected turn hours before the debate when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced his withdrawal. As a prominent Trump critic within the Republican field, Christie’s departure carried significant implications. Christie, along with biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, did not qualify for the debate, having participated in earlier events.

Trump, seemingly unconcerned about Christie’s exit, echoed Christie’s pre-announcement sentiments, asserting that Haley is “going to get smoked” and is “not up to this.” The debate, therefore, held heightened importance for Haley, whose typically disciplined messaging had recently faced challenges, including her failure to acknowledge slavery as the root cause of the Civil War and a remark suggesting that New Hampshire voters could “correct” Iowa’s results.

For Haley, the debate provided a crucial opportunity to reset a campaign under fresh scrutiny from both GOP rivals and President Joe Biden, indicative of her emerging status as a formidable contender across party lines. DeSantis, focusing his campaign strategy on the Iowa caucuses, pledged to emerge victorious despite trailing in most state polls. His extensive visits to all 99 counties in Iowa and the endorsement of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds underscored his commitment to the state.

Both candidates sought to position themselves as leaders capable of addressing the challenges at the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly the surge in record-high numbers of migrants. DeSantis highlighted his state’s actions, including chartering a flight to transport migrants to Massachusetts, and committed to completing the border wall that Trump had made a central theme of his presidency. He criticized Haley for what he perceived as insufficient support for the wall.

Haley, in turn, pointed to her record as South Carolina’s governor, emphasizing laws she had enacted requiring businesses to check the immigration status of employees and job applicants. She also highlighted a law mandating local police to inquire about the immigration status of individuals they stopped, a move that drew a lawsuit from the U.S. Justice Department during the administration of former President Barack Obama—a fact that Haley noted with pride.

The international stage became a notable dividing line between the candidates, particularly in relation to the conflicts in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war. Haley passionately defended providing aid to both Ukraine and Israel, framing it as crucial for preventing war. DeSantis, however, accused her of prioritizing the Ukrainian border over the U.S. southern border, quipping, “You can take the ambassador out of the United Nations, but you can’t take the United Nations out of the ambassador.”

Haley countered, asserting, “This is about preventing war. You only do that when you focus on national security, not telling lies to the American people that they have to choose. That is wrong.”

In an unexpected twist just before the debate, the withdrawal of Chris Christie, a prominent Trump critic within the GOP field, introduced a curveball with far-reaching implications. The pressure on Christie to step aside had been intense, as opponents of the former president sought to unify behind a single candidate to enhance the chances of dethroning the front-runner.

In response to Christie’s exit, Trump expressed minimal concern, aligning his sentiments with Christie’s pre-announcement remarks about Haley’s purported shortcomings. Despite the unexpected developments, Trump’s dominance in the race remained a looming presence, further intensifying the spotlight on Haley’s need to navigate through recent controversies and reaffirm her standing as a formidable contender.

For DeSantis, the debate represented a critical juncture in his campaign strategy centered on the Iowa caucuses. Despite trailing in most polls, he continued to express confidence in his ability to secure a victory. His exhaustive visits to all 99 counties in Iowa and the endorsement from Governor Kim Reynolds served as testaments to his commitment to the state and his bid for the presidency.

As both candidates engaged in a fierce competition to position themselves as leaders capable of tackling the challenges at the U.S.-Mexico border, DeSantis touted his state’s initiatives, such as chartering a flight to transport migrants to Massachusetts, and pledged to complete the border wall that had been a cornerstone of Trump’s presidency. Simultaneously, he accused Haley of lacking sufficient support for this crucial border security measure.

Haley, drawing from her experience as South Carolina’s governor, emphasized legislative actions she had taken, including laws mandating businesses to check the immigration status of employees and job applicants.