Haley And DeSantis Bickered For 2 Hours, And Everybody Seemed To Hate It

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Reagan Reese White House Correspondent
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In a Republican presidential debate that should have left CNN with more criticism than the candidates, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley chewed up their screen time taking shots at each other, much to the distaste of some viewers.

While Haley and DeSantis took the CNN stage at the first GOP debate not sanctioned by the Republican National Committee (RNC) on Wednesday, the clear front-runner, former President Donald Trump, joined Fox News for a town hall. Despite being the overwhelming favorite and skipping the opportunity to debate his challengers, Trump was out of sight and out of mind for Haley and DeSantis. (RELATED: ‘Continually Fail’: GOP To End Debate Season In Disney’s Arms)

Even despite Jake Tapper and Dana Bash’s best efforts to bring Trump into the conversation on the debate stage, mentions of the Iowa leader were kept to a minimum.

Tapper’s first two questions focused on Trump, beginning by asking candidates to explain why Iowa caucus voters should choose them over Trump. The candidates instantly engaged in back-in-forth less than a few minutes into the program. 

“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,” Haley concluded her opening statements, plugging her campaign’s site “DeSantislies.com.”

“We don’t need another mealy-mouthed politician who tells you what she thinks you want to hear, just to try to get your vote, then to get into office and to do her donors’ bidding,” DeSantis quipped.

“Rather than have him go and tell you all these lies, you can go to DeSantisLies.com, and look at all those … there’s at least two-dozen lies that he has told about me, and you can see where fact-checkers say exactly what’s going to happen,” Haley responded in her remarks.

Just nine minutes into the program, social media users seemed displeased with the bickering.

“[H]ave to say – the early squabbling, while not unexpected, made them both seem fairly small. they landed barbs that thrilled campaign operatives but the tenor may not have been what voters are looking for,” Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist, tweeted.

Tapper then tried again, asking candidates if they believe Trump has the character to be president a second time.

DeSantis listed off a few areas where Trump fell short of his promises in office, such as building a border wall and cutting the debt, before pivoting his answer to bash Haley.

“I debated the governor of California Gavin Newsom, I thought he lied a lot, man, Nikki Haley gives him a run for his money, and she may even be more liberal than Gavin Newsom is,” DeSantis said, switching his response to attack the candidate on stage.

The candidates continued to take swipes at each other before the moderators put them in direct opposition, asking Haley if she believes DeSantis shares her commitment to back Ukraine.

“People like Nikki Haley care more about Ukraine’s border than she does about our own southern border, which is wrong,” DeSantis said after Haley advocated for continuing to arm Ukraine.

While Haley continued to plug her website detailing fact checks on DeSantis’ past statements in numerous answers, a cheery Trump joined Fox News to drum up attention and speculation as he teased his potential pick for vice president.

“Let me just ask you a follow up on that about who would be in your cabinet – in your administration. If you are the nominee, which I know you expect to be, who would be in the running for vice president?” Fox moderator Martha MacCallum questioned.

“Well, I can’t tell you that really. I mean, I know who it’s going to be,” Trump responded.

Into the second hour of the debate, the candidates went nearly twenty minutes without hardly mentioning the front-runner, until DeSantis finally admitted that he agreed with Haley on something — that Trump should be on the debate stage.

But the moment of peace did not last long before Haley continued to alternate between answering questions, criticizing DeSantis’ spending on private planes, calling out his campaign and plugging her website, “DeSantislies.com.”

“It’s a shame we had to put up DeSantislies.com,” Haley said while DeSantis claimed the former South Carolina has flip-flopped on keeping bathrooms segregated on the basis of biological sex.

The arguing was so constant that at one point DeSantis used his time meant for a response to a question about his education record to fire back at a previous Haley remark.

”I’ll get to that in a second,” DeSantis said before claiming Haley never was able to implement school choice in South Carolina while she was governor.

Many didn’t seem charmed by Haley’s website plug, or DeSantis’ attempt to challenge her track record as governor. Most social media users were turned off.

“I [now] understand the general message of this debate. It’s this: We’re all dead, and this is our Hell,” John Podhoretz, a New York Post columnist, wrote on Twitter.

“Doubtful that so many rapid-fire accusations of lying back and forth make an impression on anyone,” Rich Lowry, National Review’s editor-in-chief, tweeted.


Poking fun at the constant tension and bickering occurring on stage, Tapper and Bash made an attempt to conclude the debate by asking Haley and DeSantis to name something they like best about each other. But even the question didn’t draw out the love the moderators were looking for.

“There’s a lot of great people there and I think to be able to have been able to be governor there is a great achievement and I really appreciate everyone I’ve gotten to meet in South Carolina,” DeSantis said.

“I think he’s been a good governor,” Haley simply said, which CNN reported drew “quiet laughs.”