As they battle to be the top alternative to former President Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley are increasingly trading fire.
The latest flash point is China.
In a Fox News Digital interview on Tuesday, DeSantis charged that Haley “rolled out the red carpet for China” during her tenure as South Carolina governor.
Haley’s campaign fired back, claiming DeSantis has “aggressively recruited Chinese companies to Florida.”
While Trump remains the commanding front-runner in the race for the GOP nomination, DeSantis for months had second place in the polls to himself, ahead of Haley and the rest of the field of Republican White House contenders.
But Haley’s seen her poll position rise the past two months and has leapfrogged DeSantis to stand in second place in some of the most recent polls in New Hampshire — which holds the first primary and second overall contest in the GOP nominating calendar — and in her home state of South Carolina, which holds the first southern contest.
Over the past week, the candidates, their campaigns and allied super PACs have traded fire over whether the U.S. should accept any Palestinian refugees who flee the fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.
Now comes new fireworks over China, which has increasingly become a prime target for Republicans as relations have dramatically worsened between Washington and Beijing.
The DeSantis-aligned super PAC Never Back Down went up with a new spot — backed by a seven-figure ad buy — that criticized Haley for bringing Chinese businesses to the Palmetto State while she was governor.
“Nikki Haley: questionable judgment, dangerous on China,” the narrator of the ads says under pictures of Haley and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
While noting that his campaign wasn’t responsible for the commercial, DeSantis said that “it’s very jarring to see her in her own words talk about how … she wants to roll out the red carpet for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party).”
DeSantis added, “I did the opposite in Florida. We banned the CCP from purchasing land in Florida. We didn’t give them any free land. So, that’s an honest difference of policy.”
He asked, “[W]ho do you trust to lead — somebody that’s actually stood up to China or somebody that rolled out the red carpet for China”
On the campaign trail this year, Haley’s repeatedly stated that China is the “No. 1 biggest national security threat.” And earlier this year, she released a comprehensive plan to combat China.
Haley also spotlighted that she would rescind federal funding for universities that accept money from China, take back land in the U.S. that China’s already purchased, and end “all normal trade relations with” China until it stops flooding the U.S. with fentanyl.
The Haley-aligned super PAC Stand for America has also spotlighted the candidate’s China stance in a series of ads.
The Haley campaign in a statement to Fox News said the attacks are “more lies and hypocrisy from desperate and losing Ron DeSantis, who aggressively recruited Chinese companies to Florida, including a sanctioned Chinese military manufacturer. Nikki Haley took on the Chinese at the UN and she will as president.”
Never Back Down chief operating officer Kristin Davison, responding, told Fox News that “Nikki Haley can’t defend her disastrous record on China, so she’s lying about Ron DeSantis. She has no evidence to support these wildly false claims.”
DeSantis was interviewed as he campaigned Tuesday in New Hampshire.
Speaking with reporters after mingling with the breakfast crowd at the Red Arrow Diner in Londonderry, DeSantis once again targeted Trump.
“What Donald Trump does now, he is wedded to the teleprompter,” DeSantis said. “This is a different Donald Trump than 2015 and ’16 – lost the zip on his fastball, has a sense of entitlement, all this stuff; doesn’t think he has to go through and earn it like other candidates. And that’s just not going fly in Iowa and New Hampshire.”
Responding, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement to Fox News that “Ron DeSantis is operating with a little league brain in a major league world. It’s not surprising to see him go full-blown Never Trump and anti-MAGA because that’s who he is deep down inside.”
DeSantis also pointed to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmental activist, high-profile vaccine skeptic and scion of the Kennedy political dynasty, who this month dropped his Democrat primary challenge against President Biden to launch an independent White house run.
DeSantis has repeatedly argued that Trump ceded control to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime top federal infectious disease expert.
“RFK Jr. will be a vessel for anti-lockdown and anti-Fauci voters if Trump is the nominee. If I’m the nominee, they all go to me because I stood up against Fauci. I’m going to clean out [the] CDC and all those. It’s a big part of my platform. With Trump, though, he created Fauci. He elevated Fauci,” DeSantis said in his latest attack on Trump over the then-president’s management of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking with Fox News, DeSantis added that “there are millions of voters out there who want to see accountability for the federal government’s COVID policies. I represent a vessel to do that. I’ve pledged to do that. Donald Trump will not do that. He said he did everything right. He doesn’t think there’s a need to go back and do any of that.”
Looking ahead to the 2024 election, DeSantis said that “those voters, those anti-lockdown voters, those anti Fauci voters, they’re going to want a vehicle. And I think that RFK is going to be able to peel those voters away from Trump.”
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