Here are six takeaways from Thursday’s back-to-back town halls:
DeSantis said Trump wasn’t “pro-life”
DeSantis’ attacks on Trump’s abortion stance and promises for a second term were among the most aggressive of the night. Trump appointed the deciding justices who overturned Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that previously established the right to abortion nationwide, and anti-abortion advocates often called him the most “pro-life president in history” when he was in office.
But DeSantis raised the fact that Trump called Florida’s six-week abortion ban, passed by the GOP-led Legislature and signed into law by the governor, “a terrible thing.” Florida’s six-week ban hasn’t yet gone into effect as another ban is being reviewed by the state Supreme Court. Notably, Iowa has a similar abortion restriction.
At one point DeSantis threw his hands out and said, “Of course not!” when moderator Kaitlan Collins asked him whether he thought Trump was “pro-life.”
“He has flip-flopped on this issue,” DeSantis said. “I don’t know if it’s because of political convenience or this is where he always believed in.”
Iowa mass shooting didn’t dominate the town halls
Both Haley and DeSantis were asked about gun policy in the wake of
a mass shooting at a rural Iowa school earlier in the day, in which a sixth grader was killed and five others were hurt. But the topic didn’t dominate the evening.
DeSantis, who has loosened gun laws in Florida and said he doesn’t support federal restrictions on firearms, focused on identifying people who show signs of dangerous behavior or of mental health problems.
“When you send your kids to school, you want to be focused on the academics and the activities,” he said. “The physical safety should not be an issue with our schools. And parents need to have confidence in that.”
The shooting also didn’t alter his pro-gun rights stance. DeSantis stated that background checks should be “instant” and indicated he’d support doing away with a three-day waiting period in Florida.
For her part, Haley also called for increased security at schools and greater focus on mental health, saying “We have got to deal with the cancer that is mental health … What we see is 80 percent of mass shooters are in some sort of crisis at the time that they do that.”
Haley praised Abbott on immigration, but not DeSantis
Haley avoided giving DeSantis any credit on his handling of immigration issues — while heaping praise on Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott — when asked whether she supports the red-state governors busing migrants to blue cities.
After a setup that included both Abbott, who has bused tens of thousands of migrants to cities including Chicago and New York City, and DeSantis, who has flown dozens of migrants to the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and Sacramento, California, Haley was asked if she supports DeSantis’ ploy.
“Well I’ll talk about Governor Abbott, because I think he was courageous. He was the first one to do it,” Haley said, going on to completely ignore DeSantis’ role in sending migrants from the southern border to so-called sanctuary cities to the north.
“If the president won’t secure and give security to the people of Texas, a governor has a job to protect their citizens,” Haley said, adding later, “I think it’s been hugely effective because all of a sudden the rest of the country is feeling what Texans have been dealing with for so long.”
Haley’s Civil War slip-up is still following her
More than a week after initially declining to say slavery was a cause of the Civil War, Haley is still being pressed to clarify her remarks — by her rivals and by reporters, but less so by voters.
Haley was asked to respond to rival Chris Christie saying
she left slavery out of her response to a town-hall questioner in late December because she’s “unwilling to offend anyone by telling the truth.”
“No one’s ever said I have been unwilling to offend. I have offended plenty of people because I call people out when they do something wrong,” Haley began, before turning to the true issue at hand.
“I was thinking past slavery and talking about the lesson that we would learn going forward. I shouldn’t have done that. I should have said slavery,” the former South Carolina governor said. “But in my mind that’s a given that everyone associates the Civil War with slavery.”
While Haley’s omission is giving her rivals oxygen and is driving an extended news cycle that she can’t seem to escape, the gaffe wasn’t top of mind for voters who came to see her on the campaign trail in New Hampshire earlier this week. Some have even
dismissed the fallout from Haley’s comment as overblown.
Her cleanup didn’t stop there
Haley also had to answer for her campaign-trail remark on Wednesday that New Hampshire voters will “correct” the outcome of the Iowa caucuses — a comment she claimed was said in jest but that drew swift rebuke from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (who’s supporting DeSantis) and Christie, who accused Haley on Thursday of “pander[ing]” to her audience.
“You gotta have some fun,” Haley argued. The early states, “we banter against each other on different things. New Hampshire makes fun of Iowa, Iowa makes fun of South Carolina, it’s what we do. I think the problem in politics now is it’s just, like, too serious and too dramatic.”
And she dismissed a question from moderator Erin Burnett about whether her remark signaled a lack of confidence in how she would perform in the caucuses as opposed to New Hampshire, where she’s surged in polls with the backing of that state’s popular governor, Chris Sununu.
DeSantis used a prop to dig at Haley
In one of the rare instances where DeSantis did engage with Haley, he kicked off his town hall by gifting Collins a basketball jersey to
mock the way Haley mixed up Collins’ name with that of Iowa Hawkeyes basketball superstar Caitlin Clark.
“I heard the other day someone say that Kaitlan Collins has some basketball skills,” he said. “Now, I don’t know if that was a mistake or not, but I know in Iowa they have a Caitlin Clark. So, I just want to give you this as a memento.”
The clip of Haley’s mix up went viral over the weekend. The reference showed that DeSantis was acutely aware that, though he was in a nationally televised event, Iowans were his audience.