Ron DeSantis confronts narrowed field, narrow path in Iowa debate

DeSantis CNN debate
Way down in polls, the Governor battled his competition for second place on national television.

Gov. Ron DeSantis returned to Iowa for a pivotal CNN debate against Nikki Haley ahead of the ultimate test for his Hawkeye State strategy.

However, questions loom about what happens after the Jan. 15 vote, and have loomed for some time. And it’s by no means clear that Wednesday’s two hour telecast changed the dynamics in any meaningful way, particularly for DeSantis who needed the boost the most.

The exit of Chris Christie was largely seen as a boon to Haley, with the former candidate caught in a hot mic moment saying the Florida Governor called him up and sounded “petrified.”

DeSantis didn’t address this claim at the top of the debate, instead relying on familiar talking points.

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

“I’m the only one who’s running who has beaten The Left time and time again,” he said, going on to call Haley a “mealy-mouthed politician” who owed her donors, disparaged Iowans, and extolled Hillary Clinton as an inspiration.

Haley cited the need for a “new generational” leader, before talking about “Ron’s lies” and promoting the DeSantisLies.Com website, describing his campaign as “exploding.”

“Every time he lies, don’t turn this into a drinking game because you will be overserved by the end of the night,” Haley said.

DeSantis said Haley was also a liar, and that she was unwilling to “fight” for conservatives.

The two carried on in this vein, accusing the other of being deceptive about their records. They both found it much easier to call each other liars than they did the front runner in the race.

Contrasts with the absent Trump (holding a town hall on Fox News at the same time) were more muted, as exemplified early by Haley saying she wished Trump was “up here on this stage.”

“He’s the one I’m running against,” she said.

Moderators moved the discussion to the economy, with DeSantis countering a Haley claim.

“We don’t need an accountant in the White House. We need a leader in the White House,” he said, blasting Haley for trying to “raise the gas tax” as Governor of South Carolina, and presenting “the pale pastels of warmed-over corporatism.”

Haley took DeSantis’ record to task: “Why does Florida have the highest property insurance in the country? Why is it that Florida is named the American hot spot for inflation? Why is it that his state is now known to have the highest cost of living increases? And why is it that they’re saying senior citizens can no longer afford to live in Florida?”

DeSantis had no answer to that, talking about tax relief for items for babies, which he said led to “strong families and a strong country.”

The two also bickered about border policy, with DeSantis claiming Haley “ridiculed” the border wall pitched by Trump in 2016.

“Go to,” Haley said, noting she said “you can’t just build a wall” and bashing her “desperate” opponent.

Ukraine back and forth followed, with DeSantis called Haley a “carbon copy” of Joe Biden, and saying people like her “care more about the Ukraine border than the Southern Border” of the United States.

“Supporting Ukraine is 3.5% of our (defense) budget,” Haley said, saying supporting Ukraine and Israel was actually a move to “prevent” war.

“You can take the Ambassador out of the United Nations, but you can’t take the United Nations out of the Ambassador,” DeSantis quipped, leading Haley toward commentary about his campaign burn rate.

“He’s spent more money on private planes than on ads to get Iowans to vote for him,” Haley snarked, equating campaign largesse with DeSantis’ stewardship of Florida.

Haley brought up DeSantis’ campaigning with anti-Israel Rep. Thomas Massie as an example of his poor foreign policy judgement thereafter, a comment the Governor called “cheap garbage” but did not meaningfully refute otherwise.

“But it’s really rich that Ron is going to act like he suddenly cares for Israel when he brought the person to Iowa that’s the most anti Israel Republican in (Congress). The person that went and voted against Israel’s right to exist in Congress. The person that voted with the squad against antisemitism on college campus. And you brought that person to Iowa to go and campaign with you.”

Haley then referred to Rep. Randy Fine having “left (DeSantis’) campaign because he wasn’t dealing with the neo-Nazi marches or with antisemitism properly.”

Disney material led off the second hour, with DeSantis painting Haley as enthralled to the company.

“Haley sided with Disney. She invited them to South Carolina even though they were involved in transing kids.”

Haley noted that Disney was “woke for a long time” but given “corporate subsidies” by DeSantis anyway.

DeSantis countered by saying Haley opposed a bathroom bill in South Carolina, and said she was the “new John Kerry, you’re for it before you’re against it.”

This led Haley back to criticism of the DeSantis campaign’s underperformance.

“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 that he spent and blown through $150 million and gone down in the polls is because he spent more time trying to lie about me than he is about telling the truth about himself.”

Haley used a similar argument soon thereafter, continuing to trash

“What I will tell you is, look, if you can’t manage a campaign, it’s been a revolving door of political people in and out of his campaign,” she said. “People coming to blows with each other because they can’t all agree. $150 million (spent). And he spent more on private planes than commercials.”

(Ironically, DeSantis would bash John Kerry for his own use of private jets by the end of the debate).

“You have to understand it’s not your money, it’s other people’s money and you have to know how to handle it. If he can’t handle the financial part of the campaign, how is he going to handle the economy when it comes to the White House?”

She accused DeSantis of a “one-state” campaign for President, a critique the Governor would call mere “political process stuff.”

“You’re invisible in New Hampshire, you’re invisible in South Carolina. You’re in fifth place (in New Hampshire. You’ve (spent) $150 million and you’ve gone down in the polls.”

Haley went on to describe Florida as an “inflation hot spot,” saying senior citizens were leaving the state because they couldn’t afford it. The Governor weakly muttered that was “not true.”

“You’re so desperate. You’re just so desperate,” Haley said, arguing that “Ron’s lying because Ron’s losing.”

The two did find common ground on Medicaid; neither South Carolina nor Florida expanded it, unlike Iowa, which has.

Haley said she preferred “block grants” to states over Medicaid expansion. DeSantis talked about block grants also, along with “accountability for the pharmacy benefit middlemen” and the state’s pilot program to source prescription drugs from Canada, one contingent on that country’s socialized medicine.

“Expanding Medicaid leads to less private coverage. It doesn’t necessarily increase access to quality care,” DeSantis said.

The two found disagreement soon enough on Black Lives Matter, with DeSantis accusing Haley of “virtue signaling” in the wake of George Floyd’s death with a tweet; Haley said DeSantis had a similar tweet, which DeSantis denied.

The two were compelled toward the end of the debate to say what they admired about their opponent.

The praise was guarded.

Haley said DeSantis has been a “good Governor.”

DeSantis lauded Haley for speaking out on “some key issues” while United Nations Ambassador, and credited Haley for having been Governor of South Carolina as a “great achievement.”

With the debate over, it’s worth noting that Haley is seen as six times more likely than DeSantis to win the Presidency, per Election Betting Odds.

Haley is afforded a 9% chance. DeSantis is at 1.5%, tied with Vivek Ramaswamy at this writing. Of course, Ramaswamy didn’t make the cut for this debate, suggesting that gamblers are even less bullish on DeSantis’ White House chances than people participating in the polls.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


  • MH/Duuuval

    January 10, 2024 at 11:19 pm

    The evening might have gone better for Dee if CNN had allowed him to put one of his doofus messages on the front of the podium.

  • Dont Say FLA

    January 10, 2024 at 11:30 pm

    Rhonda did pretty good, I thought. Rhonda always does better when it’s just a woman he’s up against. Wonder why that is?

    • MH/Duuuval

      January 11, 2024 at 10:48 am

      At least Dee didn’t stalk Nikki onstage like DJT did Hillary.

      • Dont Say FLA

        January 11, 2024 at 1:05 pm

        I bet Nikki would of beat Rhonda down if he tried that Trump Shadow nonsense

  • Michael K

    January 11, 2024 at 6:26 am

    What an embarrassment the Republican Party has become.

    • Tom

      January 11, 2024 at 7:56 am

      It does make me smile when they call each other RINO’s given how far from actual conservatism they’ve drifted. They seem to have something of an identity crisis since trump turned up. I’ll be curious to see what shakes out now that Christie has dropped out.

  • Earl Pitts "Sage Political Expert Emeritas" American

    January 11, 2024 at 6:49 am

    Good mornting my “Besty Leftys”,
    The time has arrived to condition yourselves for “Eight Glorious Years” of “The DeSantis Administration”. After last nights “Steller Performance” of Ron in the debate the inaguration of Ron and Casey should be abundanrly clear even to the most “Dook 4 Brains” amoungst us.
    “Great question random Besty Lefty”, said Earl.
    “Without your properly preperation you, one and all, will loose your ability to speak due to constantly screaming at the sky for 8 long years”, said Earl.
    Begin by repeating “Out Loud” these “Sage Words” 10 times just prior to your bed-time:
    “President DeSantis, President DeSantis, ….. President DeSantis” (for 10 times) prior to you going to sleep each night” said Earl.
    For now; everyone is ordered to “Do As Earl Says” and I, Earl Pitts American, will adapt your preperation for The DeSantis Administration as we get closer to Ron and Casey’s “Sage Inaugration”.
    You are welcome “My Besty Leftys”. And even though we nay have been on seperate teams my, Earl Pitts American’s, Sage Love is here for you even after “Our Team Kicked Your Team’s 8utt”.
    As usuall everyone may now “Relax Your Sphincters”, flush twice, and have an “Earl Pitts American” Day!!!!
    Earl Pitts American

    • rick whitaker

      January 11, 2024 at 9:22 am


  • Enough of this absurd stuff

    January 11, 2024 at 8:17 am

    The insanity of our governor stating that one of the state’s largest and most popular employers is “transing” (?!?!) kids is totally stunning.

  • PeterH

    January 11, 2024 at 8:55 am

    With Christie out of the running …..his supporters will migrate to Haley ….. making her competitive in Iowa and winning the nomination in New Hampshire. If she wins NH ….. she’ll be in the money! Donations will flow in her direction!

    • Dont Say FLA

      January 11, 2024 at 1:08 pm

      And she WILL win NH. That’s precisely the reason Christie dropped out and why he did it the day he did it.

      Christie and Haley are only two G0P’s in this race that GAF about the USA. The other three goofs are in it for themselves.

      A Haley/Christie is so crazy it just might work.

      But the MAGAs are probably too crazy to go with a good plan that can actually work versus their “perfect” plan of, ahem, Trump Again, which just ain’t happening in November.

Comments are closed.


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