Duking It Out In Des Moines: Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley Go Head-To-Head

But the real action was off-stage as Donald Trump, Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie made themselves heard …

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Throughout 2023, everyone from media pundits to everyday voters bemoaned the lack of excitement in the GOP presidential race – which has until recently resemble a foregone conclusion. Then Wednesday rolled around, and that complaint went right out the window. It seems the political gods waited till January 10, 2024 to get involved — and then proceeded to go into overdrive to make up for lost time.

The 2024 Iowa Caucus — the initial round of voting in the primary phase of the campaign — is now just days away. With last year’s four officially sanctioned Republican National Committee debates in the rearview, CNN stepped in at the last minute to the fill the sudden void in the campaign calendar.

The self-proclaimed “world’s most important network” quickly arranged a two-hour encounter just ahead of the January 15, 2024 caucuses. Since runaway frontrunner Donald Trump passed on participating in the first four debates, there was never any reason to suspect he would join in the fifth. And he stayed true to form. Only two other candidates met CNN’s qualifying criteria: Florida governor Ron DeSantis and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley.

That left former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson and – most significantly (according to the polls) – entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy out in the cold. The latter earned a reputation for getting under Haley’s skin during the preceding debates, and the political world was rife with speculation that Haley’s camp told CNN early on in negotiations, “If Vivek is on that stage, Nikki won’t be.” Hence, the speculation claimed, the qualifications for participation were rigged to intentionally exclude him.

Whatever transpired behind the scenes, the big Haley-DeSantis showdown was all set … which is when things got crazy.



First, Fox News made a bid to steal CNN’s thunder by announcing its intention to televise a Trump town hall which was held just two miles away from Drake University, where DeSantis and Haley were debating.

Counter-programming at its best, right?

Then, Ramaswamy made sure his campaign message would be felt in his absence. The entrepreneur bought a commercial spot which dropped at the very beginning of the CNN debate. In the spot, he bluntly warned viewers, “Don’t fall for their trick. They don’t want you to hear from me.”

“You can fix that,” Ramaswamy said. “Take your remote and turn that sh*t off.”

Here is his ad …

(Click to View)

Vivek Ramaswamy/ YouTube

Both Trump and Ramaswamy’s counter-programming had nothing on Christie, though.

The rotund #NeverTrumper picked Wednesday to toss a major curveball into the race. At a 5:00 p.m. EDT town hall in New Hampshire, Christie announced he was suddenly calling it quits. He suspended his campaign, refused to endorse anyone, and trashed Trump on his way out. Referring to his now former rivals, he said “their campaign is one that doesn’t play to win. It’s a campaign that plays to not offend (Trump).”

But that wasn’t Christie’s biggest bombshell.

Before his event began, he was conversing with a local supporter in Windham, New Hampshire when his comments were captured by a “hot mic” – and then carried over his campaign’s own livestream.

Christie’s comments were not favorable to Haley – or her chances to win the GOP nomination.

“She’s spent $68 million so far, just on TV,” Christie said. “Spent $68 million so far – $59 million by DeSantis – and we’ve spent $12 (million). I mean, who’s punching above their weight and who’s getting a return on their investment, you know? And she’s gonna get smoked – and you and I both know it – she’s not up to this.”

Listen for yourself …

(Click to View)

NewsNation/ YouTube

“She’s not up to this …”

All of a sudden, there was an entirely new dynamic to this race heading into the twin televised events in Des Moines four hours later.

As for Trump’s town hall, it was exactly what Republicans have come to expect from their two-time standard bearer. The former president alleged Joe Biden has been a terrible failure, the 2020 election was stolen, and that he can set everything right if voters return him to the Oval Office. Trump did make one bit of news; he hinted he knows who he wants his running mate to be if he wins the GOP presidential nomination for a third time this summer.

Who is it? He didn’t say.

Could it be Haley? As we noted in our latest Palmetto Political Stock Index, the escalating anti-Haley acrimony emanating from big-name conservatives urging Trump not to do so “signifies sufficient smoke is billowing from this particular prospect that a fire must be burning somewhere.”

Expect Trump’s pronouncement in Iowa to pour gasoline on that fire …

Back at Drake University, Haley and DeSantis went at each other like a pair of Rock’em Sock’em Robots. Each went for the jugular in their opening remarks – with DeSantis hitting Haley hard on authenticity, painting her as a candidate who isn’t who she claims she is.

Haley hit back equally hard, calling her opponent a liar. And then repeating it. And then repeating it again. And again. And again. It was her main theme of the night. Her campaign had slapped together a special website to showcase DeSantis’ alleged untruths, and she must have set a new record for the number of times a URL address was mentioned in a single evening.

Haley apparently never learned the word “overkill;” it felt like she was sandwiching the website address into every third or fourth sentence, continually rattling it off like an auctioneer with a bad bladder.



Haley got in one — and only one — good zinger. “Every time he lies, Drake University, don’t turn this into a drinking game because you will be over-served by the end of the night.” 

But the encounter’s most memorable lines all belonged to DeSantis. His best was a tie between, “You can take the ambassador out of the United Nations, but you can’t take the United Nations out of the ambassador,” and “She’s got this problem with ballistic podiatry — shooting herself in the foot.”

Only one bit of new ground was covered. Haley repeatedly, and bizarrely, attacked the DeSantis’ campaign itself, calling it a “revolving door” and citing claims staffers had nearly had fistfights over strategy differences.

“How did you blow through $150 million in your campaign, and you were down in the polls?” she asked. “He spent more on private planes than on TV commercials.” 

How well that line of attack will play with voters is unclear, however.

“When middle-class families are struggling to afford groceries during this inflationary time, who the hell cares how much money politicians are spending on their campaigns?” a political operative unaffiliated with either campaign mused.

For their part, moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash did a surprisingly good job of keeping the questions on an even keel. There were none of the head-scratching questions that married previous debates, like a detour into Woke World when LGBTQ+ rights came up or the sheer imbecility of being asked to vote opponents “off the island.” But it was CNN, after all, so there were two questions about climate change in the final twenty minutes. But even those interrogatories were fairly tame by CNN standards.

The encounter ended on a civil note, with DeSantis and Haley each saying something nice about the other (although Haley seemed to do so through clenched teeth). Thus was the anticlimactic end to the busiest, wildest, and most interesting day of the 2024 campaign cycle so far.

A closing observation: It will be interesting to see the TV ratings when they come in. Did more viewers pick Trump’s town hall over the DeSantis-Haley debate? Or did a majority of them tune out both events? The answer could reveal much about how the race stands heading into Tuesday’s caucuses.

Which reminds me: As we go to press, Haley is narrowly leading DeSantis in the race for second place in Iowa – drawing 17.7 percent and 17.2 percent, according to updated polling averages from FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolling, respectively. DeSantis is at 16.2 percent and 15.2 percent in the same indexes, respectively.

Trump is dominating them both, though, polling at 53.6 percent according to RealClearPolling and 52.3 percent according to FiveThirtyEight.




Mark Powell (Provided)

J. Mark Powell is an award-winning former TV journalist, government communications veteran, and a political consultant. He is also an author and an avid Civil War enthusiast. Got a tip or a story idea for Mark? Email him at mark@fitsnews.com.



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Mark January 11, 2024 at 6:12 pm

In the end, Nikki and DeSantis will, like other Republicans before them, crawl on their hands and knees and beg Trump to forgive them. Republicans with backbone and integrity have already been kicked out of the party or left because they could not stomach what had become of the GOP. Christy and Liz Cheney saw what happens to Republicans with backbone in the age of Trump. Now there is nothing left but the MAGA cult who are all spineless cowards led by a man who thinks a President should be allowed to kill and imprison his political opponents; and do anything he wants to anyone. He argued that very point in court. They do not care about this country. None of them. It’s all about power and money.

Unbelievably, Trump does not hide any of this, and the Republican voters are no better. They think Trump will do horrible things to minorities, non-Christians, gays, and other marginalized groups; and they are OK with that. Kill them all would be fine with them. It’s all about victimization and hate of those they blame for their not being where they want to be in life, and Trump loves nothing more than people who hate. They are so easily manipulated.

I pray God will spare the nation from this neo-fascist movement.

Independent Voters January 11, 2024 at 6:36 pm

Don’t worry, once again we’ll help the Democrats with another nationwide Blue Tsunami and a landslide defeat to Trump.

We’ll probably give the Dems the Senate and House too!

Frank January 12, 2024 at 11:36 am

Speaking of what Trump argued in court, do you think at any point in that hearing it occurred to the brain-addled old fart, that his attorney was arguing that Biden could order the Air Force to shoot down Trump’s plane and as long as 26 Democratic Senators refused to convict him in an impeachment hearing, he’s good to go. For that matter, with the Republicans holding only a two-vote majority in the house; with a couple of other incidents, there may not be an impeachment at all. Hmmm.

Frank January 12, 2024 at 5:17 pm

Actually, it’s 34 Democratic Senators, but I get your point. President Biden, I would like to thank you for considering this important opportunity to serve the people of this great nation in our time of need with your opponent’s blessing.

CongareeCatfish Top fan January 12, 2024 at 4:08 pm

I’m not here to waive flags for Trump, but your lefties really need to learn how to properly use your political slurs accurately. The quintessential core attributes of fascism are the coupling of centralized government with the major industries (i.e., big corporate business, labor parties, and the financial industry) so that they work in a controlled fashion to carry out the dictates and priorities of the State. Corporate propaganda at the behest of the State was also a major component. Fascism absolutely abhors a financially and socially independent middle class that is free to pursue their own priorities and happiness, and an upper class that simply acts on customary market motivators and not the dictates of the State. Those who don’t sing from the State’s music sheet so to speak get marginalized, harassed, and even thrown in jail. [GEE, now where have we been seeing that crap going on???] It is a historic fact that FDR and Mussulini, the father of fascism, had a penpal bromance and Mussolini absolutely gushed over what FDR was doing via the federal government in the 1930s and in fact right up to the brink of WWII. In fact, it got so thick between the two that FDR began to realize that it was not a good look for him on the domestic front and he had to ask El Duce to tell his Italian press to cool their jets on all the fanboy new coverage. Yeah, so while there probably is some argument to be made that the US went through a fascist period from about 1931 to the late 1950 that spanned both parties, the Democrat Party has long been the more “O.G.” fascist party with perhaps the exception of the merely inept Carter administration. So if you’re gonna hurl turds at MAGA, at least get your facts straight.

Hank January 12, 2024 at 5:48 pm

How can you not see that everything you said applies to Trump and the Republican Party? They are not interested in a middle class free to pursue their priorities. Trump wants a Russian-style Oligarchy where a few super-rich people run all the large industries and Trump is the dictator keeping them in power and getting a cut of everything while he and the rich guys steal everything in the country. Trump is already trotting out the old the press is the enemy of the people. They are lying to you. You can only trust me. Vote for me and I will make the Mexicans, the Muslims, the gays, the Jews , the lazy minorities, who are holding you down go away. We will kill your enemies. Hell Trump is using words directly from Hitler. Trump is clearly a fascist dictator wannabe.

The Democratic party has always been the only party interested in anything but how to benefit the mega-rich and billionaires. Every time the Republicans are in power, the middle class gets poorer and the rich get richer. They don’t even try to hide it. They just dupe the middle-class MAGA types into thinking they are being screwed by everyone except the people who are really screwing them.

Hank January 15, 2024 at 5:40 pm

For those who still think Trump is not a Dictator in waiting, over the weekend he said if he was elected he would change the constitution so that he would not be required to leave office in four years. When he was President, he commented on how great it was that China made XI President for life. He said we need that in the US. He is trying to make that dream come true, along with the right to kill anyone who opposes him.


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