Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley “another mealy-mouthed politician” who represents a “warmed-over corporatism” beholden to “woke” Wall Street donors, caves under pressure from the left, and so often says different things to different groups that she suffers from “ballistic podiatry, shooting herself in the foot.”
Ms. Haley said Mr. DeSantis has “switched his policies multiple times in trying to copy Trump,” is running an incompetent campaign with a top donor beholden to China, and lies so often, “you can’t trust what he says,” especially about her, as documented on a website created by her campaign exclusively dedicated to his claims.
The two Republican presidential candidates, competing to stand out as the primary challenger to the front-running former President Donald Trump for the GOP nomination, engaged in a slugfest during a two-hour debate at Drake University on Jan. 11. With little focus on policy, the debate was filled with snappy insults and slap-downs, occurring just four days before the Iowa caucuses kick off the 2024 election cycle.
In her opening salvo, Ms. Haley, a Trump administration United Nations ambassador, said Mr. DeSantis lies so often, that her campaign has created a website, DeSantisLies.com.
“Rather than have him tell you all those lies, you can go to” the site “and look at all of those,” she said, cautioning, “Drake University, don’t turn this into a drinking game because you will be over-served by the end of the night.”
Mr. DeSantis countered that “Nikki Haley has this tactic. If you hold her accountable to her record, first she‘ll say I never said that. Well, one good rule of thumb is, if she says she’s never said something, that definitely means she said it and then she’ll say you’re lying.
“I debated the governor of California, Gavin Newsom,” he continued. “I thought he lied a lot but Nikki Haley gives him a run for his money and she may even be more liberal than Gavin Newsom is.”
The exchanges barreled on with Mr. DeSantis scoring the best one-liners and Ms. Haley—at least a dozen times—firing back with her campaign’s website.
“Donald Trump’s running to pursue his issue. Nikki Haley trying to pursue her donors’ issues, I’m running to pursue your issues and your family’s issues and to turn this country around,” Mr. DeSantis said in his opening remarks.
He said Ms. Haley is backed by “the corporate element of the party” such as BlackRock and “major companies on Wall Street,”
“For example,” Mr. DeSantis said, “she supported $900 million in subsidies to Boeing when she was in South Carolina, and then, when she got out of office, she took a seat on their board and she made millions of dollars. Then she gave speeches, paid speeches, to a lot of Wall Street interests.
“Now they’re the ones funding her campaign,” he continued. ”We need to stand up for the people, and not bow down to woke corporations and we know Nikki Haley will cave to the woke mob, every single time.”
Ms. Haley said Mr. DeSantis is upset because those donors are backing her instead of him and “his campaign is exploding” and he’s sinking in the polls.
She said as a congressman, Mr. DeSantis said he would not vote to raise the debt limit, but then did so. Ms. Haley said he also claimed he “would never do anything with Social Security, yet he voted three times to raise the retirement age.” She added that although he previously supported Ukraine, he no longer does because “he’s trying to copy Trump.”
Ms. Haley said as governor, it took Mr. DeSantis five years to get the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature to adopt E-Verify. “I passed it in six months,” she said.
“Honestly, if he would spend as much time trying to prove why he thinks he would be a good president, he would be doing a lot better in the polls. The reason why he has blown through $150 million and is going down in the polls is because he spent more time trying to lie about me than he has about telling the truth about himself,” she continued.
“If you can’t manage a campaign, how are you going to manage a country?” she asked.
“This is a great window into leadership because she focused on a lot of political process stuff, things that no voter cares about,” Mr. DeSantis said, noting as South Carolina governor, Ms. Haley failed to get school choice adopted by state lawmakers.
“If you can’t do it in [the] red state of South Carolina, how are you going to be able to succeed in Washington, DC?” he asked.
That, Mr. DeSantis said, “is indicative of leadership [that] is about producing results. We’ve produced the results in Florida. We did universal school of choice. Everything I promised, I delivered. You can expect nothing less when I’m the president of the United States.”
Mr. DeSantis said Ms. Haley caters to “globalists” and has a “UN-way of thinking. 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.”
He said her Wall Street backers “make a lot of money in China. The elites in this country have sold out the middle of the country for China. She is part of that now.”
Conservatives cannot rely on Ms. Haley, Mr. DeSantis said. “When you need someone to stand and fight for you, don’t look for Nikki Haley. You won’t be able to find her if you had a search warrant,” he said.
As governor, Ms. Haley “promised she would never do the gas tax, then she tried to raise the gas tax on hardworking South Carolinians. We need to fly a flag of bold colors, carrying the banner of putting the American people first, not the pale pastels of the warmed-over corporatism of people like Nikki Haley,” Mr. DeSantis said.
“She even proposed a tax on groceries at one point. Have you seen your grocery bill lately?” he asked.
“We have never raised the gas tax,“ Ms. Haley said. ”We killed the gas tax multiple times. What we said is, ‘If you want to raise the gas tax, you have to reduce the income tax by five times that amount.’
“You just can’t trust what he says. I mean, that’s the biggest thing. We don’t have a grocery tax in South Carolina, and I never once raised taxes, period.”
Mr. DeSantis said Ms. Haley opposed the border wall and cautioned, “Do not trust Nikki Haley with illegal immigration. That’s like having the fox guard the henhouse.”
“First of all,” Ms. Haley shot back, “when I was governor of South Carolina, we passed the toughest illegal immigration law in the country. Obama sued over it and we won. We fought Obama on illegal immigration.”
Regarding the border wall, she said: “ I said you can’t just build a wall. You have to do more than build a wall. You can’t trust what Ron says, but this is a bigger issue. This is more than him just constantly being desperate and throwing things at me.”
After 110 minutes of back-and-forth insults, the candidates were asked what they “appreciate” about each other.
“At the United Nations, I did think that she spoke out strongly on some key issues,” Mr. DeSantis said, adding he also appreciates the state of South Carolina.
“I think he’s been a good governor,” Ms. Haley said curtly.