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Haley and DeSantis clash in Republican debate ahead of Iowa Caucus

By: Adam Beam 1/10/2024

Gov. Ron Desantis, R-FL, and Nikki Haley took to the stage at Drake University for one more debate before the Iowa Caucus. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

Ron DeSantis, R-FL, and Nikki Haley, were the only Republican candidates facing off at the CNN GOP Debate on Wednesday. The debate comes just four days before the Iowa Caucuses.

The debate between Haley and DeSantis looked much smaller than previous debates as the Republican ticket continues to dwindle. Hours earlier, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced he was withdrawing his name from the Presidential race.

Vivek Ramaswamy and Former President Donald Trump were both absent from Wednesday's debate, hosting their own separate town hall events. Ramaswamy said the debate would be "the most boring in modern history" in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter. Ramaswamy is currently polling with 5.8% of the voting average in Iowa, according to

Haley and DeSantis squared off on several topics that have driven the GOP ticket over the past few months, from the influx of migrants to the state of the economy, mental health, Medicaid, and several other issues that led to heated exchanges between the candidates.

One of the most heated exchanges was over the age of retirement. Haley supports raising the current age of retirement from 65, stating it's "too low." All the while, DeSantis claims that, "I would never raise the retirement age in the face of declining life expectancy."

Gov. Ron Desantis, R-FL, and Nikki Haley took to the stage at Drake University for one more debate before the Iowa Caucus. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

Despite both candidates having similar goals for both conflicts, how they look to achieve those goals is where they differed. A perfect example came when discussing the continued support of Ukraine and their ongoing war with Russia. Both candidates feel the U.S. should no longer be involved in the matter. Haley stated, "This is about preventing war. This is about keeping our military men and women from having to fight a war, and you only do that when you focus on national security, not telling lies to the American people that they have to choose."

DeSantis countered with a critique of Haley's UN connection, "This is the UN way of thinking that we're somehow globalist and have unlimited resources to do. You know, I think here's the problem. You can take the ambassador out of the United Nations, but you can't take the United Nations out of the ambassador."

Throughout much of the debate, Haley countered DeSantis' claims by telling voters and those in attendance to go to, even telling students at Drake University, "don't turn this into a drinking game because you will be overserved by the end of the night."

The looming shadow over Wednesday's debate was Donald Trump. Many of the questions directed at the candidates were how they would differ from the GOP frontrunner and if they support many of Trump's claims and promises on the campaign trail.

DeSantis echoed many of the sentiments the former president has been vocal about in recent months, while Haley went against the majority opinion on certain matters. When asked how a DeSantis presidency would handle the ongoing immigration issue, the Florida governor responded with, "We will build a wall. We will actually have Mexico pay for it in the way that I thought that Donald Trump was. We're going to charge fees on remittances that workers send to foreign countries. Billions of dollars will build the wall." He also added that, "They all have to go back. We have to enforce the rule of law in this country."

Haley vocally went against the former president in relation to the events of Jan. 6. Haley believes that Donald Trump was responsible and that soon, "he will have to answer for it." In regards to Trump's false claims of election fraud, Haley replied, "Trump lost it. Biden won that election and the idea that he's gone and carried this out forever to the point that he's going to continue to say these things to scare the American people are wrong. We've seen a lot of states come together and do more election integrity bills. We need to do more than that.

In regards to Trump as a candidate, Haley responded, "When you look at Donald Trump, I have said, I think he was the right president at the right time. I agree with a lot of his policies, but his way is not my way. I don't have vengeance. I don't have vendettas." She continues, "I don't think that President Trump is the right president to go forward. I think it's time for a new generational leader that's going to go and make America proud again. That's what I'm gonna try and do."

Gov. Ron Desantis, R-FL, and Nikki Haley took to the stage at Drake University for one more debate before the Iowa Caucus. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

Gov. Chris Christie was caught on a hot-mic earlier Wednesday discussing his thoughts on Haley and DeSantis. In the accidental moment, Christie said, "She's (Haley) gonna get smoked, and you and I both know it. She's not up to this." An individual not yet identified then added, "She's still 20 points behind Trump in New Hampshire, right? And he's gonna, he's still gonna carry Iowa, right?" to which Christie replied, "Yes. Oh, he's - I talked to - DeSantis called me, petrified that I would."

Currently, polling averages in Iowa still have Trump leagues ahead of his constituents with 52.2% according to DeSantis is in second place with 18%, and Haley is in third with 16.2%. The Iowa Caucus will kick-off the 2024 Presidential race on Monday, Jan. 15.

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