GOP presidential candidates Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis took to the stage at Drake University in Des Moines on Wednesday night for the final debate before voters cast the first ballots in the primary next week.
With just two candidates on the debate stage, several key topics were discussed as the candidates made their final pitch to voters.
Here are four key takeaways from Wednesday’s debate:
Missing in action
DeSantis and Haley did not agree on much during the debate but they found common ground on one topic: Donald Trump. The former president chose to skip the debate, as he has done previously, to appear at the more friendly Fox News town hall.
“Every candidate needs to earn your vote,” DeSantis said. “Nobody’s entitled to your vote and he comes in here every now and then, he does his spiel and then he leaves.”
For her part, Haley said: “I wish Donald Trump was up here on this stage.”
Despite skipping the debate, Trump may come out on top in Monday’s contest by declining to show up. Neither candidate took the opportunity to denounce him or argue he is unfit for office.
Haley hits DeSantis hard
After DeSantis said Haley can’t be an effective leader, she took the chance to pounce and make the most vicious attack of the campaign season so far.
“She blames other people. Leadership is about getting things done. Stop making excuses; make it happen,” DeSantis said.
Haley responded by pointing out personal clashes in DeSantis’ campaign and a pro-DeSantis super PAC.
“You campaigned for president in one state. You’re invisible in New Hampshire. You’re invisible in South Carolina. You’re in fifth place. You’ve (spent) $150 million and you’ve gone down in the polls in Iowa,” she said. “Why should we think you can manage, or do anything, in this country?”
The moment was one of truth for DeSantis, who needs a strong showing in Iowa. Haley on the other hand, is second place in New Hampshire polls, and is also in a strong position in her home state of South Carolina.
Differing views of foreign policy
Haley and DeSantis sparred over Ukraine and Russia’s war, offering different opinions on how to combat the issue.
Haley said she supports aid to Ukraine as a way to prevent Russia from continuing on to Poland. DeSantis called Haley’s stance on Ukraine a “carbon copy” of Biden’s.
“It’s an open ended commitment,” he said.
“This is about keeping Americans safe,” Haley shot back.
On Israel, they fought to say they would be better to help Israel than the other amid its ongoing war with Hamas. When asked about a recent call by Israeli Cabinet members for the mass removal of Palestinians from Gaza, DeSantis used it as a moment to slam Haley.
DeSantis said that while he had concerns with the policy, he wouldn’t question Israel in public or in private but also bashed Haley for supporting a two-state solution.
“She was wrong when she embraced that and we’re right to say we trust Israel to make these decisions,” he said.
Haley said that a two-state solution wasn’t possible because Palestinians didn’t want it, and said that the U.S. needs to give Israel whatever it needs to win the war.
Going soft on abortion
DeSantis and Haley both oppose abortion but Wednesday night saw both candidates steer clear of making a stance on where they sit on the issue and avoid any extreme policies.
“Our goal should be how do we save as many babies as possible and support as many moms as possible,” Haley said.
“You’ve got to be pro-life for the whole life,” DeSantis said. “And you’ve got to have compassion for what is going on in this country.”
When asked if they believe if Trump is pro-life, both dodged the question.
Haley acknowledged that Trump “did some pro-life things as president” while DeSantis said Trump should answer the question himself, slamming the former president for refusing to join them onstage.
Meanwhile, on Fox News, Trump responded to a voter question with an answer that will likely be featured in a Biden campaign ad this year.
“For 54 years they were trying to get Roe v. Wade terminated – and I did it,” Trump said. “And I’m proud to have done it. … We did it and we did something that was a miracle.”