Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis clash in final Republican debate before Iowa caucuses

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, right, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, appearing at the CNN Republican presidential debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis Wednesday night clashed one-on-one in a final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses in which they hoped to derail former President Donald Trump’s seemingly unshakable grip on the nomination.

With each of them hoping to elbow out the other, Haley and DeSantis got their first chance to spar without the distraction of lower-performing candidates like verbal bomb thrower Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who dropped out hours before the clash. It gave voters a more unvarnished look at the two main rivals to Trump.


They wasted little time to start hurling harsh insults at one another, with Haley proposing a college drinking game to highlight supposed fibs made by the Florida governor.

“You’re going to be over-served,” Haley warned. “Don’t tell lies to the American people.”

“America doesn’t need another mealy-mouthed politician,” DeSantis retorted, calling her stances “warmed-over corporate pastels.”

The pair sparred over their records running their states and foreign policy, with Haley torching DeSantis for opposing aid to Ukraine after he previously backed it.

DeSantis said he opposes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and refused to rule out backing mass deportations of Palestinians to other Arab countries.

“You can take the ambassador out of the UN but you can’t take the UN out of the ambassador,” DeSantis said.

Despite the energetic back and forth, Trump remains the overwhelming favorite in Iowa and nationwide, despite his mushrooming legal woes.

The former president skipped the debate again, insisting he is already the presumptive GOP nominee even before Iowa or New Hampshire voters go to the polls.

He instead appeared at a town hall on Fox News at the same time as the debate.

Both candidates gently contrasted themselves with Trump, but took a notably lighter touch with him than with one another.

“I don’t have vengeance, I don’t have vendettas,” said Haley, referring to Trump’s angry campaign rants. “I don’t think Trump is the right president going forward. .. He’s the one I’m running against.”

DeSantis chided Trump for failing to implement some of his promises, including a plan to build a wall on the southern border and not “draining the swamp.”

“I’ll actually build a wall and Mexico will pay for it,” DeSantis said.

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