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Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley met in a Republican debate on Wednesday night in Des Moines, Iowa. The Iowa caucuses will be held on Monday, and both of them are, nominally, running in that race, which will be won by Donald Trump.

The running is very nominal. Haley has not campaigned heavily in Iowa; she’s hoping that a decent second-place showing in New Hampshire on Jan. 23, which is not out of the question, will maybe lead to momentum in her home state of South Carolina, where she currently trails Trump by “only” 30 points, and that from there [waving hands vaguely] … hmm, let’s say his “inevitability” is “shaken,” yada yada yada, maybe he gets convicted in one felony trial or another, something like that. It’s a long shot, and in reality the best explanation for why Haley is still in the race is that outlasting DeSantis will put her in a good position to win the next primary that Trump isn’t involved in. If she really wanted to win this one, she’d be attacking Trump, and when invited to do so by CNN’s moderators on Wednesday, she answered that “the next president needs to have moral clarity.” Yeah, that’s not going to do it with the Republican primary electorate.

As to why DeSantis is still in the race when he trails by 35 in the one state he put all his chips on, with the Super PAC that had all his money having melted down last month … hey, sometimes you just get up in the morning and do the same thing you did the morning before without thinking about it too much.

He also does seem to have developed a real dislike of Nikki Haley, which she returns in kind. As NBC’s Sahil Kapur observed, both candidates have “memorized the oppo file on each other.” The event was dense with accusations and counter-accusations related to DeSantis and Haley’s records in office, which gave it a surreal feel; both candidates spoke, with ardent conviction, as if the number of times that Haley did or did not raise South Carolina grocery taxes, or that DeSantis supported changing the eligibility age for Social Security, is germane to who will win the 2024 primary nomination.

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Having found themselves in positions of irrelevance in a campaign that is unlike any other that they (or anyone else) have been a part of, DeSantis and Haley seem to have reverted to what they know: Employing a staff of campaign operatives and strategists to prepare memos about how they should “position” themselves and “define” their opponents, then trying to cram as much of that advice as possible through the television. (DeSantis accused Haley of representing “the pale pastels of warmed-over corporatism,” or something like that, three or four times. It’s nice to see that poetry majors are finding work!)

To select basically at random, for instance, DeSantis at one point said this:

“We’ve even done paycheck protection, so that school unions, so that teachers aren’t forced to do dues, and now they’re choosing other things. So we’ve done it right in Florida and the results speak for themselves. We have one of the top performing fourth grade reading and math in the country.”

And Haley at one point said this:

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“I think that we have to start doing things that are right. And you know, Ron said we should have leaders that we can look up to. So stop lying, because nobody’s going to look up to you if you’re lying. But what I do think we need to look at is what has President Trump done. If you look the last few years, and our country is completely divided. It’s divided over extremes, it’s divided over hatred.”

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Nikki Haley Has to Go Big or Go Home. It Looks Like She’s Made Her Choice.

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There are strategic goals somewhere beneath the verbiage in those answers: DeSantis wanted to be the candidate who “stands up to” or “takes on” liberal-boogeyman entities like teachers’ unions, while Haley wanted to be the one who sells GOP policies in a friendly, empathetic way. But those strategies have already failed! What, as they say, are we doing here?

“I will not do an amnesty,” DeSantis said early in the debate, trying to pivot from a topical prompt about immigration into the kind of bold policy declaration that makes headlines in normal races, and getting only partway there. Fair enough: No one who was involved in what happened Wednesday night should be forgiven.

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There Were Just Two Candidates on the GOP Debate Stage. Did Either of Them … Win?

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11.01.2024
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Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley met in a Republican debate on Wednesday night in Des Moines, Iowa. The Iowa caucuses will be held on Monday, and both of them are, nominally, running in that race, which will be won by Donald Trump.

The running is very nominal. Haley has not campaigned heavily in Iowa; she’s hoping that a decent second-place showing in New Hampshire on Jan. 23, which is not out of the question, will maybe lead to momentum in her home state of South Carolina, where she currently trails Trump by “only” 30 points, and that from there [waving hands vaguely] … hmm, let’s say his “inevitability” is “shaken,” yada yada yada, maybe he gets convicted in one felony trial or another, something like that. It’s a long shot, and in reality the best explanation for why Haley is still in the race is that outlasting DeSantis will put her in a good position to win the next primary that Trump isn’t involved in. If she really wanted to win this one, she’d be attacking Trump, and when invited to do so by CNN’s moderators on Wednesday, she answered that “the next president needs to have moral clarity.” Yeah, that’s not going to do it with the Republican primary electorate.

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