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Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley battle to be the main alternative to Donald Trump


WASHINGTON — It’s on: Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are starting to battle in public for the title of main alternative to Donald Trump on the 2024 campaign trail.

The two candidates are escalating their rivalry with critical comments and competing appeals to potential donors and prominent endorsers. They’re each hoping to wind up as the last candidate standing against the former president and 2024 Republican frontrunner.

Their fight was on full display Wednesday, when DeSantis called on all the GOP candidates to oppose “U.S. tax dollars to the Gaza Strip” in a post on X, previously known as Twitter. Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, responded that is already being done.

“We did this in 2018 when we eliminated U.S. aid to UNRWA,” Haley said on X, referring to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

“Welcome to the fight,” Haley said to DeSantis. “Actions > Talk.”

A political feud in public

The long-developing feud burst into public this week when DeSantis said Haley’s comments about the Middle East suggested she would allow refugees from Gaza into the United States. A pro-DeSantis political action committee financed ads along the same lines.

“She’s trying to be politically correct,” DeSantis told NBC News, a comment replayed in the ad. “She’s trying to please the media and people on the left.”

Haley and her aides said the Florida governor is distorting her remarks, and she does not support taking in Gaza refugees. They also argued that the attack ad reflects the Florida governor’s worry that she has caught up to him in some polls in the crucial early voting states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The DeSantis-Haley dust-up over the Middle East began when DeSantis said of the people of Gaza: “If you look at how they behave, not all of them are Hamas, but they are all anti-Semitic. None of them believe in Israel’s right to exist.”

In a subsequent CNN interview, Haley harkened back to her years as United Nations ambassador and said many Palestinians don’t want to be governed by Hamas.

“There are so many of these people who want to be free from this terrorist rule,” Haley said. “They want to be free from all of that. And America’s always been sympathetic to the fact that you can separate civilians from terrorists. And that’s what we have to do.”

Haley late said that does not mean the U.S. should take in refugees.

“He’s trying to say whatever he can,” Haley told Fox News.

Donald Trump is enjoying it

Among the Republicans taking note of the emerging DeSantis-Haley feud is Trump and his allies. They’re hoping that a splitting up of the anti-Trump vote will only benefit his bid at re-nomination.

After the pro-DeSantis committee put out its anti-Haley ad, Trump campaign senior adviser Chris LaCivita shared on X: “The Fight for first place loser hits the airwaves!”

Once solidly in second place, DeSantis has seen his numbers fall under a steady barrage of attacks from Trump and, in some cases, other GOP candidates like Haley.

In the first Republican debate, Haley criticized DeSantis over his congressional record and federal spending. In the second, she criticized over Florida’s opposition to oil fracking.

The polls for DeSantis, Haley

Haley has seen a rise in poll numbers and fundraising since her two well-reviewed debate performances. How close is she to overtaking DeSantis? Depends on the poll, and the state.

Nationally, DeSantis retains a strong hold on second place, according to an average of recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics.

As of Wednesday, that poll of polls put DeSantis in second with just over 13% and Haley in third with just under 8% – both way, way behind Trump, who was slightly above 58%.

Haley aides prefer to point at the averages putting her in second place in New Hampshire and South Carolina, although still far behind Trump. DeSantis, meanwhile, is ahead of Haley in Iowa, though, again, well in back of Trump.

The Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15 kick off the Republican nomination process. That contest will probably change the dynamics of the race as the candidates then head to New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.

Chasing donors, endorsers

In addition to voters, DeSantis and Haley are also chasing some of the same donors and endorsers. And Haley has picked up favorable publicity on those scores.

For example, The Haley campaign is trying to organize a fundraiser to be hosted by Florida venture capitalist Keith Rabois, who once described himself as a supporter of DeSantis.

Haley, DeSantis and allies are also suggesting that other presidential candidates drop our and endorse them. Former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Tex., did just that this month, endorsing Haley after withdrawing from the Republican presidential race.

“Ambassador Haley has shown a willingness to articulate a different vision for the country than Donald Trump and has an unmatched grasp on the complexities of our foreign policy,” Hurd wrote on X after he dropped out of the race earlier this month.

A Haley moment? Who knows?

Throughout the 2024 campaign, it has looked like other candidates might be moving into positions to challenge Trump and DeSantis.

U.S. Sen Tim Scott, R-S.C., the second South Carolina-based candidate in the race, appeared to have a moment with strong support from social conservatives in Iowa.

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy gained some momentum after the first Republican debate. But it was a performance that earned him political attacks from other candidates, particularly Haley.

Now it’s Haley’s turn.

Republican political consultant Liz Mair said Haley “would be smart to find a way to tie the thing DeSantis is attacking her for to something Trump did in office and then start swinging about that.”

Can Haley keep moving up?

“Who knows?” Mair said.

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