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Sun. Apr 21st, 2024

In a crucial pre-Iowa debate held in Des Moines, Republican presidential candidates Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis made their final pitches to secure the 2024 nomination, yet surprisingly refrained from directly criticizing front-runner Donald Trump.

With the Iowa caucuses just five days away, this debate was anticipated to be a platform for challengers to distinguish themselves and question Trump’s dominance, particularly in his absence from televised debates.

Despite Trump’s legal challenges and decision to skip the debates, Haley and DeSantis missed repeated opportunities to challenge the former president directly. The absence of Trump’s most vocal critic, Chris Christie, further underscored the candidates’ focus on positioning themselves as his closest runner-up in Iowa rather than directly confronting his lead.

During the debate, DeSantis, Florida’s governor, adopted an aggressive stance, characterizing Haley as a “mealy-mouthed politician” and emphasizing his commitment to addressing voters’ concerns. Haley, in turn, criticized DeSantis’s campaign spending and directed viewers to a website highlighting his alleged falsehoods.

The debate primarily featured rehearsed opposition research, with both candidates engaging in alternating monologues, aggressively exchanging barbs on their records and policies. DeSantis seeks to regain lost ground in Iowa, while Haley aims to exceed expectations and face Trump in a one-on-one matchup in New Hampshire.

Trump’s legal troubles loomed large, with Haley briefly addressing his false claims about the 2020 election but avoiding a direct assessment of their differing constitutional views. DeSantis, while critical of Trump, repeatedly pivoted back to attacking Haley on various fronts, showcasing the intensity of the intra-party competition.

As the candidates sparred, Trump held a Fox News town hall event elsewhere in Des Moines, his first live appearance on the network in two years. Seeking to defend his legacy, he assured viewers that he wouldn’t act as a dictator if re-elected, emphasizing the success of his previous administration in bringing the country together.

In summary, the pre-Iowa debate failed to witness Haley and DeSantis seizing the opportunity to challenge Trump directly, leaving the field open for the former president’s continued dominance in the Republican primary race.

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