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DeSantis and Haley call each other liars in last GOP debate before Iowa caucuses

Des Moines, Iowa — In a CNN debate Wednesday night with just days before the Iowa caucuses, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis accused each other of lying in their attacks on each other and of shifting their positions on certain issues.

Groups tied to both candidates have been spending millions of dollars on attack ads in Iowa leading up to Monday's caucuses and a majority of the topics in those ads — such as each others' records on China, taxes and immigration — were points of contention on the stage at Drake University Wednesday night.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.S. U.N. Ambassador and ex-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley point fingers — literally — during the fifth Republican presidential primary debate, at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 10, 2024. JIM WATSON / AFP via Getty Images

In 16 instances, according to the CNN transcript, Haley pointed to her campaign's creation of a website, "," featuring fact checks on attacks from DeSantis. 

"You're gonna find out tonight that there's gonna be a lot of Ron's lies that have happened. There's at least a couple of dozen so far that he's done. What we're going to do is, rather than have him go and tell you all these lies, you can go to ','" she said. "Every time he lies, Drake University, don't turn this into a drinking game because you will be overserved by the end of the night."

DeSantis pointed to his own campaign's website and repeatedly said there was video of Haley making comments about immigration, China and state taxes. Haley is a former governor of South Carolina. 

"One good rule of thumb — if she says she's never said something, that definitely means she's said it," DeSantis said. After the debate, DeSantis deputy campaign manager David Polyansky referred to Haley's repeated mention of the website as a "crutch."

"That's a tool we use in this business for congressional races and sometimes Senate campaigns. On the presidential stage, if you rely on it 12 times in a debate, that's ... not a tool, it's a crutch," Polyansky asserted.

Some context on some of the attacks between the two:


Earlier this week on a Fox News town hall, DeSantis said Trump "is not pro-life" and brought up Trump's comment that Florida's six-week abortion ban is a "terrible, terrible" thing. Asked if she agreed with DeSantis, Haley said she thought Trump "did some pro-life things when he was president. You'd have to ask him. That's why he should be on the debate stage. Don't ask me what President Trump thinks."

DeSantis has also gone after Haley in the past on abortion and said during the debate that Haley has "been confused on the issue. I think she's trying to speak to different groups with different things."

He then referenced a comment from Haley in June 2023 in which she said that "no state law should put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty for having abortion." 

"No one I've ever met thinks that that's something that's appropriate," DeSantis said. "We've got to have compassion for those situations. But I think when she starts bringing that in, that's using the language of the left to try to attack pro-lifers."

In response, Haley said she is "unapologetically pro-life" and raised the fact that her husband was adopted and said she had trouble giving birth to her two children. She also pointed out that there is legislation that's been proposed in South Carolina "that would put a woman in jail if she got an abortion."

Haley was referring to the South Carolina Pre-Natal Equal Protection Act , introduced in 2023, that classifies having an abortion as murder, unless a woman's life is at risk. Women could face 30 years in jail, up to the death penalty. The bill remains in the state House.


DeSantis hit Haley on being "weak on immigration," arguing she opposed the construction of a border wall back in 2016, a key Trump campaign promise, and that she said "there shouldn't be a limit on immigration." 

"I said you can't just build a wall. You have to do more than build a wall. It was having the wall and everything else," Haley countered.

The alleged opposition to a border wall stems from Haley's 2015 remarks at a National Press Club luncheon saying "because a wall is not going to do it." 

Haley, however, went on to say during the remarks, "You've got to have commitment of ground troops, equipment, money, all of that to bring it together."

Throughout her recent campaign stops, Haley has been adamant about calling for a broader approach to stopping illegal immigration, such as adding ground troops and technology.

Completing the southern border wall has been a big part of DeSantis' pitch that he would be more effective in implementing ideas from Trump's 2016 campaign that he has said repeatedly Trump did not complete.


When asked by CNN moderator Dana Bash if she believes DeSantis shares her commitment to a Ukrainian victory in their war with Russia, Haley responded, "Nobody knows what he believes because when President Obama was in office, he supported foreign aid to Ukraine. Now he's (DeSantis is) copying Trump and trying to act like he doesn't want to support Ukraine."

As a congressman in 2014, DeSantis voted for HR 4278, a Republican-sponsored bill that showed support for the sovereignty of a "democratic Ukraine" and a "condemnation of Russia's armed intervention into Ukraine." 

In response, DeSantis pointed to his support for Trump's policy on Ukraine when Trump was president and said Haley's position on Ukraine is a "carbon copy" of President Biden's. 

"It's an open-ended commitment. They want another $108 billion," DeSantis said, referencing Mr. Biden's supplemental funding request to Congress for support for Israel and Ukraine. 

When asked by voters about Ukraine on the campaign trail, often about how he'd aim to end the war and U.S. involvement, DeSantis has criticized the way funds already sent are spent, saying there's not enough oversight and that the money should be used for U.S. domestic issues instead, such as immigration.

"People like Nikki Haley care more about Ukraine's border than she does about our own southern border, which is wrong," DeSantis said. 

He has also claimed there is a "real risk" Haley would send "American troops to Ukraine to fight."

As a key part of her campaign message, Haley denounces sending any country any amount of money if there is no oversight of its use but argues the U.S. must support Ukraine by providing necessary equipment and technology so it can fight its own war. 

Haley has defended the U.S. role in supporting Ukraine and Israel, arguing that having strong allies serves as a deterrent against American enemies, thus preventing war. 

Throughout her campaign stops, however, Haley has rejected the idea of sending U.S. troops, adding that her own husband is on his second deployment in Africa. 

"This is about keeping our military men and women from having to fight a war,"  Haley said.

Haley has also spoken against the current debate on whether to support Israel, Ukraine, or the U.S. southern border, arguing all three can be done since they all have roles in U.S. national security.

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