Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis spar over facts in Iowa Republican debate

Former U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will be the only two participants in Wednesday's Republican primary debate, airing on CNN from Des Moines, Iowa. File Photo by Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA-EFE
1 of 3 | Former U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will be the only two participants in Wednesday's Republican primary debate, airing on CNN from Des Moines, Iowa. File Photo by Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA-EFE

Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis challenged each other's record in the first one-on-one Republican debate in the election cycle held in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday night. It was the final debate before Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus on Monday.

The candidates fact-checked one another throughout the evening, sparring over every question posed by CNN moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. The one thing they agreed on was that former President Donald Trump should have been on stage with them.


Tapper noted that Trump also qualified for the debate but declined to participate.

"I wish Donald Trump would be up on this stage. He's the one I'm running against," Haley said. "He's the one that has to defend his record."

Haley meanwhile targeted DeSantis for inconsistencies between his campaign promises and his voting record as a member of Congress from 2013 to 2018. DeSantis, in turn, alleged that Haley is driven by the corporate interests of donors.


Between the back-and-forth over both candidates' record, they also shed light on how their visions for governance differ.


Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, has said she seeks to curb government spending and borrowing and direct the Internal Revenue Service to prioritize investigating COVID-19 relief fraud. On Wednesday, she said she would also eliminate the federal gas and diesel tax and make tax cuts for small businesses permanent.

The federal gas and diesel tax generated about $40 billion in revenue, used for repairing roads, Tapper replied. Haley added that there are "strings attached" to the tax that allows the federal government to decide how it is spent.

DeSantis proposed a broad change to federal income tax that would institute a flat tax and eliminate the IRS. He added that there would be no tax for people earning $30,000 or $40,000 per year, though he did not clarify at what threshold a tax would kick in.

Border security

Border security has consistently been a topic in the debates and on the campaign trail.

On Wednesday, DeSantis said he would allow no amnesty for people who have immigrated to the United States illegally. He would resume construction on the wall at the southern border that was started during the Trump administration, increase deportations and charge fees on money sent to foreign countries by workers who have immigrated to the United States.


Haley supported making the E-Verify program a national requirement for employers. This would insure that employers are only employing workers who are legally allowed to work in the United States, she said.

Haley also said that all people who immigrated to the United States illegally must be deported.

Foreign conflicts

There were few topics discussed in which the candidates were further apart on than U.S. support for Ukraine.

DeSantis simply urged that the war must come to an end, without explaining how that could be achieved. He also redirected the focus to the southern border of the United States, saying that should take priority over any support for Ukraine.

Haley has staunchly voiced support for providing assistance to Ukraine, but she is not in favor of sending funding directly. Instead she would limit support to providing equipment and ammunition. She added that the United States could provide assistance to Ukraine and Israel for about 5% of the defense budget.

Haley and DeSantis were more aligned on their support of Israel in the war with Hamas.

DeSantis cast doubt that a two-state solution has ever been possible. On the prospect of Palestinians being removed from Gaza by the Israeli government, he said he would support any decision Israel makes.


Haley stayed consistent with what she has said in previous debates about the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

"We have to make sure Israel has the support it needs. Give them whatever they need to get the job done, eliminate Hamas and bring the hostages home," she said.

Donald Trump

After Haley and DeSantis sounded off about Trump's absence at several points, the focus of the debate officially turned to the candidate who was not on stage. Trump's "pro life" record was questioned, along with his understanding of the Constitution and his view of presidential power.

DeSantis has casted doubt that Trump has remained aligned with Republicans on abortion, citing the former president's past comments on the political risks associated with abortion bans.

He also challenged Trump's record as a "law and order" president, calling the protests of the summer of 2020 -- following the killing of George Floyd -- "the worst rioting in the modern history of this country."

"He sat in the White House and tweeted 'law and order,' but he did nothing to ensure law and order," DeSantis said.

When Haley was asked about Trump's stance, she replied "You'd have to ask him. He should be on this debate stage."


Haley delivered her biggest rebuke of Trump yet moments later. First she was critical of Trump's disproven claims that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen." And then she was critical of Trump's depiction of Jan. 6 as a "beautiful day."

"What happened on Jan. 6 was a terrible day and I think Donald Trump will have to answer for it," Haley said.

The fifth primary debate was held at Sheslow Auditorium at Drake University.

Wednesday's debate featured the fewest number of participants yet, giving Haley and DeSantis the stage to make their final push for support at the Iowa Caucus on Monday.

Haley, DeSantis and Trump are the only three candidates from the once-crowded field to meet the polling requirements for Wednesday's debate. Trump appeared on a Fox News town hall from Iowa, skipping a Republican debate for the fifth time.

Candidates needed at least 10% support on three national polls or Iowa polls of people likely to participate in the Republican caucus to meet eligibility requirements.

In previous debates, Haley and DeSantis have both been critical of Trump's unwillingness to participate. Trump said last summer that he did not intend to participate and went on to balk at the idea that he needed to. Instead, he suggested that the other candidates rally behind him to unseat President Joe Biden in the November presidential election.


The New Hampshire primary quickly follows Iowa, taking place on Jan. 23. The sixth Republican debate, also hosted by CNN, will take place in Goffstown, N.H., on Jan. 21. Candidates have until Tuesday to meet the requirements to participate in that debate.

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