With former President Donald Trump leading the GOP field by 30 points in the three early primary states, why is Gov. Ron DeSantis hitting Nikki Haley?
Granite State voters are seeing TV ads from the Never Back Down super PAC backing DeSantis that target Haley over China policy and refugees from Gaza. The Haley camp responds it is a sign of DeSantis’ desperation. The former South Carolina governor is gaining ground in national polls; in New Hampshire, she has taken the second-place slot DeSantis held for months.
“Ron DeSantis would pick a fight with his shoes if he thought it would create some oxygen for him in this race,” said veteran GOP strategist Patrick Griffin. “The fight right now is not focused on Trump — not yet. The fight now is for someone to be the alternative to Trump. Clearly, DeSantis sees Nikki Haley as a threat to being that alternative. He should. He’s steadily and consistently dropping in the polls while she’s rising.”
On the campaign trail with Gov. Chris Sununu this week, DeSantis claimed Haley “rolled out the red carpet for China” during her time as governor of the Palmetto State. His campaign is using Chinese business investment in South Carolina — which more than doubled during her two terms in office — to accuse her of being soft on the CCP.
“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,” DeSantis said.
Granite State Republicans who spoke to NHJournal rolled their eyes over the DeSantis attacks. States making deals to bring in big foreign investment projects is nothing new. Since the 1990s, the policy of the U.S. has been to encourage investment between the two nations in order to pull China toward capitalism, democracy, and the West.
“Getting China to build a factory in South Carolina used to be called ‘America First,’” one New Hampshire Republican who isn’t supporting either candidate said.
The pro-Haley Stand For America PAC is firing back with an ad declaring, “Poor ‘Ron DeSantis: he’s losing, so he’s lying,
“Ron DeSantis’ campaign has been five months of one disaster after another. Now, as his campaign takes its last breath, he’s lying about Nikki Haley’s record because he’s desperate. It’s not a good look. Voters are rallying behind Nikki Haley’s strength and toughness in the face of increasing threats across the world. They know she will make America strong and proud,” Haley spokesman Ken Farnaso told NHJournal.
Both DeSantis and Haley oppose bringing refugees from Gaza, and both have made their adversarial view of China clear. It is highly unlikely either would have a significantly different policy toward China, though Haley has been more willing than DeSantis to give full-throated support to Israel.
“We have to stay focused. We should focus on three things: One, support Israel with anything they need whenever they need it. Two, eliminate Hamas and not stop until we do, and three, do whatever it takes to bring our hostages home,” Haley said in Iowa this week.
Former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg told NHJournal that Haley’s strength in international affairs is one reason he endorsed her.
DeSantis is still in a strong position and was well-received during his New Hampshire visit this week. But most political professionals believe Haley has the momentum right now, and the attacks from DeSantis are not likely to change the trajectory.
“These ads allow the campaign staff to say he’s a fighter and on the offensive, but he’s attacking the wrong person,” said New England College president and political science professor Dr. Wayne Lesperance. “But it just looks like he’s afraid to go after Trump. I don’t think it moves the needle much at all.”