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Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis try to knock each other out in last Iowa debate

Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley went head-to-head Wednesday night for the votes of Iowa Republicans in the final debate before the Hawkeye State’s first-in-the-nation caucuses next week — with each seeking a come-from-behind victory over former President Donald Trump.

With five days to go before voting, the candidates spent two hours on CNN rehashing their differences on Ukraine aid, raising the retirement age and pressuring corporations such as Disney on social issues — when not making cutting personal attacks.

DeSantis, the governor of Florida, accused Haley of being a “corporatist” beholden to big-money donors who was likely to “cave” on social issues, while the ex-South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations mocked him as a “desperate” liar who had ran an incompetent spendthrift campaign.

Trump leads among Iowa voters by a massive margin according to public polling and stayed above the fray by skipping the forum in favor of his own Fox News town hall nearby.

The 45th president is supported by 52.2% of Iowa Republicans, according to the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls — trailed by Haley at 16.6% and DeSantis at 16.4%.

The identity of the runner-up could be significant even if Trump wins, however, since candidates who defy expectations could gain momentum heading into New Hampshire’s Jan. 23 primary, where recent polls show Haley within striking distance of Trump.

DeSantis opened the debate with an attack, saying: “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.”

Slamming Haley, he added, “We don’t need another mealy0mouthed politician who just tells you what she thinks you want to hear.”

The South Carolinian fired back, telling viewers at least 11 times they they should go to the website DeSantisLies.com, on which her campaign sought to counter his attacks — at one point adding a quintessentially Southern “bless his heart” before plugging the site yet again.

“He’s only mad about the donors because the donors used to be with him, but they’re no longer with him.,” she said. “His campaign is exploding”

Haley closed by warning Republicans that a second Trump administration would bring “four more years of chaos” and said that she could “make America proud again.”

On policy, the candidates laid out their stark differences on Ukraine aid — as President Biden seeks another $61.4 billion from Congress after $113 billion already has been appropriated.

Haley accused DeSantis of “copying Trump and trying to act like he doesn’t want to support Ukraine” and said funding Ukraine is “about preventing war” — including deterring a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

DeSantis answered that Haley “is basically a carbon copy of what Biden is” doing by supporting an “open-ended commitment to Kyiv” before adding that “a lot of people have died and we need to find a way to end this.”

On the question of whether to raise the Social Security retirement age for full benefits from the current 66 or 67, DeSantis said he opposed it due to declining US life expectancy,

“Under her administration, you would have seniors getting less cost-of-living adjustments, while your tax dollars are going to pay the pensions of Ukrainians,” he sniped at Haley, who said she would be willing to boost the retirement age for people currently in their 20s,

“They should plan on their retirement age being increased,” she said.

The candidates also diverged on DeSantis’ crusade against Disney after the entertainment giant opposed a Florida law that restricted discussion of sexual orientation and human sexuality in public schools.

Co-moderator Dana Bash asked DeSantis: “How does that square with the traditional conservative view that small, limited government is best?”

“The proper role of government, if it means anything, it’s to protect our kids,” DeSantis said. “It’s wrong to tell a kindergartener, like Disney wanted to do, that you can change your gender or tell a third-grader that you’re born in the wrong body.”

He segued into an attack on “corporate” Haley, saying, “she supported $900 million in subsidies to Boeing when she was in South Carolina. Then when she got out of office, she took a seat on their board and she made millions of dollars.”

Haley replied: “We are not woke in South Carolina … but one thing you don’t do is, government doesn’t bully our businesses and that can’t happen and Ron is determined — anybody that offends him, he goes after them.”

The candidates also jeered each other over campaign missteps, with DeSantis highlighting Haley’s recent remark that New Hampshire could “correct” Iowa’s results, which she has said was a joke.

“He has blown through $150 million — I don’t know how you do that — through his campaign and he has nothing to show for it,” Haley blasted. “He’s spent more on private flights than he has on commercials in Iowa … If he can’t manage a campaign, how are you going to manage a country”

DeSantis shot back that Haley may be “more liberal than Gavin Newsom,” the California governor, and said of the former diplomat’s job in the Trump administration: “You can take the ambassador out of the United Nations but you can’t take the United Nations out of the ambassador.”

Trump, meanwhile, drew attention by teasing at his Fox town hall that he’s already decided upon a running mate while seeking a rematch against Biden, who narrowly beat the 45th president in 2020.

Written by SaleemBaloch

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