DeSantis, Haley spar over leadership, policy as Iowa caucuses loom

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Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley pulled few punches during Wednesday’s GOP primary debate, the final one before Monday’s Iowa caucuses.

DeSantis and Haley, the only two GOP candidates to qualify for the CNN-hosted debate besides former President Donald Trump, outlined their accomplishments and attacked each others’ records. Trump declined to participate as he has in all previous primary debates.

“Donald Trump’s running to pursue his issues. Nikki Haley’s running to pursue her donors’ issues. I’m running to pursue your issues and your family’s issues and to turn this country around,” DeSantis said.

“I’m the only one running that’s delivered 100% of the promises I’ve made. We’ve delivered huge victories in the state of Florida, things Republicans have been asking for, for a generation. I’m also the only the one running that has beaten the left time and time again. We beat the teachers union on universal school choice. We beat [billionaire Democrat donor George] Soros on crime. We beat Fauci on Covid. We beat the dems on election integrity. And I beat the left by banning China from buying land in the state of Florida,” DeSantis continued.

He dismissed Haley as a “mealy-mouthed” politician who will not honor her promises.

Haley underlined the urgency for a “new generational leader.” She touted her “executive experience” as governor of South Carolina, transforming the state into an “economic powerhouse.” She also talked up her foreign policy experience as ambassador of the United Nations, engaging with American adversaries such as Russia, Iran and China.

The former South Carolina governor swiped at DeSantis, calling him a liar and saying that his donors abandoned his “exploding” campaign.

The Florida governor questioned Haley’s determination to fight for conservative policy goals, accusing her of dropping school choice policies at the behest of teachers unions.

“The reality is Nikki Haley is not somebody that has been willing to stand in and fight on behalf of conservatives. You know, she ran for governor, saying she was going to do universal school choice. And she caved to the teachers union. She didn’t deliver that. In Florida, I delivered the largest expansion of school choice in the history of the United States. I beat the teachers union. And you know what the results are? When she was governor of South Carolina, she was rated 50th in education, dead last. You know where Florida is under my watch? Number one in the nation,” DeSantis said.

Haley blasted DeSantis for supposedly reversing his promises on the debt ceiling and foreign policy.

“When Ron was representing Florida, he said that he promised not to raise the debt limit when he got to D.C. Yet, he raised the debt limit by hundreds of billions of dollars,” Haley said, “He used to support Ukraine. He supported Ukraine when President Obama was in office. Now, he’s trying to copy Trump in saying that he no longer supports Ukraine and doesn’t want to give them foreign aid anymore.”

Haley also lamented “wasteful spending” by both Democrats and Republicans, arguing the country needs “an accountant in the White House.”

“We have to have someone that respects taxpayer dollars, and we’ll start by clawing back $100 billion of unspent Covid dollars that are still out there. We’ll go in instead of 87,000 IRS agents going after middle America, we’ll go after the hundreds of billions of dollars of Covid fraud, one out of every $7” Haley said.

“We’ll stop the spending.We’ll stop the borrowing. We’ll eliminate the pet projects and the earmarks, and I’ll veto any spending bill that doesn’t take us back to pre-covid levels,” she continued.

Haley promised to nix the federal gas tax, reduce taxes for the middle class and small businesses.

DeSantis dismissed the notion that America needs an accountant, asserting that it needs a “leader” instead.

“The American dream is slipping away. People are working hard. They’re getting the most out of their god-given ability. They’re doing everything right and falling further and further behind,” DeSantis said. “Trying to afford a new home today, your monthly mortgage payment would probably be twice as much as it would have been if you were starting out five years ago.”

Haley passed DeSantis for second place in the GOP primary in the latest The Center Square Voters’ Voice Poll, with former President Donald Trump still holding a commanding lead over all of his rivals. Haley, however, has surged in New Hampshire primary polling in recent months, standing at 29.9% of voters compared to 42.4% for Trump, according to data compiled by FiveThirtyEight.

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