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Drake hosts CNN Republican Presidential Debate

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Courtesy of CNN.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley competed in the CNN Republican presidential debate at Drake University on Jan. 10, the final debate before the Iowa Caucuses.

Haley and DeSantis were the only two Republican candidates that participated in the debate, held inside Sheslow Auditorium, with businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson not qualifying. Front-runner and former President Donald Trump qualified but elected not to participate.

DeSantis and Haley spoke about issues important to Republican voters, including the economy, the Israel-Hamas war and whether Trump should have presidential immunity. The number one issue for Iowa caucus-goers this year is the economy, according to a poll from the Des Moines Register

During the debate, DeSantis and Haley discussed what they would do differently as president if they were elected.

“It’s time we have an accountant in the White House,” Haley said. 

She said she aims to “eliminate the federal gas and diesel tax in this country and cut taxes on the middle class and simplify those brackets” and make tax cuts on small businesses permanent.

DeSantis fired back at Haley.

“We don’t need an accountant in the White House. We need a leader in the White House,” DeSantis said. 

He later described his track record, claiming that, since he became governor of Florida, the state has paid down 25% of its debt and eliminated sales taxes on every baby item.

“We want families to be able to prosper in this country,” DeSantis said.

Regarding the Israel-Hamas war, CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked the candidates to comment on their support for Israel and their recommendation of the “complete elimination of Hamas.” 

“I think to be a good ally, you back them in the decisions that they’re making with Gaza,” DeSantis said. “Look, there is a lot of pluses and minuses with how you’re doing this. But for us to be sitting in Washington second-guessing them, I don’t think that’s the right way.” 

When asked if he supported the mass removal of Palestinians from Gaza, DeSantis said he wouldn’t advise Israel to do that if he were president.

“I think there’s a lot of issues with that. But if they make the calculation to avert a second Holocaust, they need to do that,” DeSantis said.

Haley talked about her experience working with Israel while she served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 to 2018. 

“I fought every day for Israel,” Haley said. “If you would have listened to what I said at the United Nations, a two-state solution wasn’t something that was possible because Israel would always come to the table and the Palestinians wouldn’t.”

When asked if a president should have immunity for any conduct in office, DeSantis said that he doesn’t believe Trump would get through the charges brought up in a Washington D.C. appeals court.

“If Trump is the nominee, it’s going to be about January 6, legal issues [and] criminal trials,” DeSantis said.

Haley also said she didn’t believe that Trump should have immunity in response to a moderator’s question, even when calling for the assassination of a political rival.

“You can’t go and kill a political rival and then claim immunity from a president,” Haley said. “We don’t need this chaos anymore. We need someone who’s going to be a new generational leader that brings sanity back to America.”

Each candidate had a chance to make a closing statement at the end of the debate. Haley said “we can’t go through four more years of chaos,” and highlighted that she defeats President Joe Biden by 17 points in a general election poll by The Wall Street Journal. DeSantis highlighted how he visited all 99 counties in Iowa and said that Trump is “running for his issues,” Haley is “running for her donors’ issues” and he is “running for your issues, your family’s issues and solely to turn this country around.”

Prior to the debate, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who suspended his campaign on Jan. 10, Christie was overheard on the campaign’s livestream broadcast saying, “DeSantis called me, petrified that I would…” before the audio cut out.

After the debate ended, The Times-Delphic asked a representative from the DeSantis campaign about this incident. The DeSantis campaign said they didn’t know what was discussed in the phone call, but DeSantis was later asked on CNN after the debate if he was petrified, to which he replied he wasn’t.

Christie was also caught on the hot mic talking about Haley, saying “she’s gonna get smoked, and you and I both know it.” Former 2024 Republican presidential candidate Will Hurd, who has endorsed Haley, responded to Christie’s comment.

“She’s showing momentum…and that has been the case since day one,” Hurd said. “I think she did show that she’s tough, she showed that she’s smart and she showed that she’s not gonna take crap from anybody.”

Five days after the debate was held, the Iowa Caucuses took place on Monday, Jan. 15. Trump won the caucuses with 51% of the vote, DeSantis with 21% and Haley with 19%. Trump won every Iowa county, besides Johnson County, where Haley beat him by one vote. Haley received 1,271 votes in Johnson County, while Trump received 1,270 votes. 

Ramaswamy and Hutchinson both ended their campaigns after the Iowa Caucuses, narrowing the field of GOP candidates to three. Ramaswamy would later go on to endorse Trump before the New Hampshire primary. Trump would win that primary with 54% of the vote, while Nikki Haley received 43% of the vote

Editor’s note: DeSantis suspended his presidential campaign on Jan. 21. He offered his endorsement to Trump.

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