Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley attack each other
A still from CNN's January 10th Republican debate with Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley

Ron DeSan­tis and Nik­ki Haley trashed each oth­er, trad­ed talk­ing points, and took issue with fron­trun­ner Don­ald Trump’s false claims of a stolen 2020 elec­tion tonight, dur­ing a fero­cious debate staged in Des Moines five days before Iowa’s Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial caucuses.

The stakes in this Repub­li­can brawl could not have been higher.

Either DeSan­tis or Haley will sur­vive the Iowa and New Hamp­shire bat­tle­grounds to take on Trump. The oth­er will be rel­e­gat­ed to polit­i­cal Palookaville.

The result saw fire con­cen­trat­ed on each other.

Pres­i­dent Biden was not denounced until near­ly nine­ty min­utes into the debate, which was tele­cast on CNN. Exchanges were relent­less­ly nasty.

Nei­ther can­di­date came across as the least bit likeable.

In DeSan­tis’ words, Haley is a “mealy-mouthed” politi­cian who “caves” to the left, whose foot-in-the-mouth gaffes amount to “bal­lis­tic podiatry”.

In turn, Haley made no few­er than four­teen ref­er­ences to her web­site and mocked him for blow­ing through $150 mil­lion in a cam­paign that has gone down­hill. “If he can’t han­dle the finan­cial parts of a cam­paign, how is he going to han­dle the econ­o­my when it comes to the White House?” she asked.

The can­di­dates had sub­stan­tive clash­es. Haley said she would raise the retire­ment age for Social Secu­ri­ty “to reflect what life expectan­cy should be.” To which DeSan­tis replied: “I don’t see how you can raise the retire­ment age when our life expectan­cy is col­laps­ing in this coun­try. That’s a huge prob­lem in itself.”

“You would cut Social Secu­ri­ty ben­e­fits for sev­en­ty-year-olds while you pay the pen­sions of Ukrain­ian bureau­crats,” DeSan­tis charged.

Haley respond­ed by again mock­ing DeSan­tis’ cam­paign, say­ing: “You’re so des­per­ate, Ron, you’re just so desperate.”

Both can­di­dates were selec­tive­ly tough on Trump. They argued that the ex-pres­i­dent would take bag­gage into the Novem­ber elec­tion. They refrained from call­ing him an insur­rec­tion­ist although DeSan­tis said Trump engages in “word vom­it.” Restraint was under­stand­able. DeSan­tis used a Trump endorse­ment to win his 2018 Flori­da guber­na­to­r­i­al pri­ma­ry. Haley was gov­er­nor of South Car­oli­na when plucked by Trump to become Unit­ed Nations ambassador.

DeSan­tis pre­dict­ed that Trump would lose his defense claim that he is immune for crim­i­nal actions for actions on Jan­u­ary 6th, 2021.

“What are we going to do as Repub­li­cans if Trump is the nom­i­nee” (and is con­vict­ed before the Novem­ber elec­tion) asked the Flori­da gov­er­nor. “If Trump is the nom­i­nee, it’s going to be about Jan­u­ary 6, legal issues, crim­i­nal tri­als.” And he added, “The Democ­rats with the media would love to run with that.”

“What hap­pened on Jan­u­ary 6th was a ter­ri­ble day,” said Haley. “Trump will have to answer for it. Trump will have to answer for it.” She also debunked the ex-pres­i­den­t’s false claims of vot­er fraud, say­ing: “That elec­tion, Trump lost it. Biden won that elec­tion.” And when it comes to Trump’s gov­ern­ing style, said Haley: “When it goes to Don­ald Trump, we go through four more years of chaos.”

The Repub­li­cans’ grow­ing split on aid to Ukraine was reflect­ed in the debate. Haley is the hawk. She argued that Chi­na would be encour­aged with a Russ­ian vic­to­ry. “Dic­ta­tors always do what they say they’re gonna do,” she argued. “This is about pre­vent­ing war.” (Chi­na’s Pres­i­dent Xi has late­ly deliv­ered aggres­sive sound­ings about Taiwan.)

“We need to find a way to end this,” DeSan­tis said of the Rus­sia-Ukraine war. He fault­ed that Haley “does­n’t artic­u­late how this comes to an end.” The Flori­da gov­er­nor repeat­ed­ly tried to depict his foe as an inter­na­tion­al­ist – a mor­tal sin in Repub­li­can cir­cles. Said DeSan­tis: “You can take the ambas­sador out of the Unit­ed Nations, but you can’t take the Unit­ed Nations out of the ambassador.”

The MAGA-era Repub­li­cans have seized on a curi­ous bun­dle of issues of late, which was reflect­ed in tonight’s debate. There was a curi­ous amount of indif­fer­ence to cli­mate dam­age, even though ris­ing sea lev­els threat­en the state of which DeSan­tis is gov­er­nor. “On day num­ber one, we will take Biden’s Green New Deal and throw it in the trash can,” DeSan­tis said in the debate. Not to be out­done, Haley promised: “We’ll roll back all of Biden’s green subsidies.”

Amer­i­ca, as a coun­try, has been built by immi­grants and has served as a home for refugees. Many nowa­days are flee­ing a social­ist regime in Venezuela. They were promised no mer­cy last night. What to do with the eleven mil­lion undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants in the Unit­ed States? “We have to deport them,” said Haley. “That is actu­al­ly what will get them to stop com­ing, is when they do real­ize they get to the wall, and they real­ize they have to turn around and go back.”

DeSan­tis took aim at those who have fled to the Unit­ed States and those who help them. “We’re going to crack down on sanc­tu­ary states and sanc­tu­ary cities,” he promised. He pledged that the “num­ber of peo­ple that will be amnestied when I’m pres­i­dent is zero.”

As well, no Repub­li­can gath­er­ing goes by these days with­out attacks on trans­gen­der Amer­i­cans. DeSan­tis was ready to push the hot but­tons, say­ing: “I have always fought to pro­tect kids. I have ways said that boys need to go to boys’ bath­rooms, girls need to go to girls’ bath­rooms, that we should­n’t have any gen­der tran­si­tions before the age of eighteen.”

The DeSan­tis-Haley slugfest had com­pe­ti­tion. While the brawl was under­way on CNN, Fox News pro­duced a com­pet­ing card. A spe­cial billed as a “town hall” saw Don­ald Trump bask in adu­la­tion with Fox per­son­al­i­ties ask­ing soft­ball questions.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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