Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida rolled out a website Friday dedicated to raising doubts about former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s conservative credentials.
Mr. DeSantis and Ms. Haley are locked in a hard-fought battle in the 2024 GOP presidential race to become the clear alternative to former President Donald Trump and they both have sharpened their attacks in recent weeks.
The DeSantis camp’s “The Real Nikki Haley” website asks visitors: “WHO IS THE REAL NIKKI HALEY?”
“Nikki Haley isn’t the conservative she says she is,” the website reads. “She is supportive of every liberal cause under the sun.”
The website includes video clips of Ms. Haley talking about how Hillary Clinton inspired her to get into politics. It also includes footage of conservative commentators criticizing her as soft on China and highlights her recent vow to “verify” every single person on social media — a stance she has since partially walked back.
Haley campaign spokesman Ken Farnaso said “DeSantis’ Hail Mary attempt to revive his corpse of a campaign is sad.”
“While Nikki is surging across the early states, DeSantis is tanking,” Mr. Farnaso said. “Poll after poll has proven Nikki Haley is the best challenger to Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Ron DeSantis is lying because he’s losing.”
The DeSantis campaign announced the launch of the website right around the same time Mr. DeSantis, Ms. Haley and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy participated in a 2023 Thanksgiving Family Forum hosted by The Family Leader, a conservative Christian group, in Des Moines.
The forum provided the three contenders with a platform to tout the role faith plays in their lives, as well as their belief in traditional family values and the pro-life movement.
Mr. Ramaswamy has been one of the biggest surprises of the race. His Trump-inspired message has resonated with the base of the party and helped him outlast more seasoned politicians, including former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
But the battle for second place has been between Mr. DeSantis and Ms. Haley.
Ms. Haley received an unexpected boost before the event. She won the endorsement of Marlys Popma, a former Republican Party of Iowa executive director and former president of Iowa Right to Life.
“I was an undecided voter when I walked in here today, and I am no longer an undecided voter,” Ms. Pompa said at a Haley campaign stop, according to The Des Moines Register. “And I just want to tell Nikki that I wholeheartedly support you.”
For Ms. Haley, it was another sign of momentum.
She’s been on the rise in Iowa, where she is running third behind Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis, and New Hampshire, where she is running a distant second to Mr. Trump.
Ms. Haley‘s rivals have taken notice. Mr. Trump has taken to calling her “Birdbrain,” and cast her as disloyal for running against him in the primary race.
For his part, Mr. DeSantis is working to take some wind out of Ms. Haley’s sails by making the case he has been a far more reliable conservative warrior over the course of his political career.
Mr. DeSantis scored arguably the biggest Iowa endorsement in the race earlier this month when Gov. Kim Reynolds said she believed he was the right person to lead the party into the 2024 presidential race.
Mr. DeSantis, Ms. Haley and Mr. Ramaswamy played nice at the Family Leader Forum, where they were asked about the importance of restoring the nuclear family and traditional values, and what drove their commitment to the pro-life movement.
Mr. DeSantis said he won the battle against sexual and gender ideology being taught in Florida schools, promoted a fatherhood initiative, and pushed back against efforts to temporarily shutter churches in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“It is easy to lead when the wind is at your back,” Mr. DeSantis said. “The question is when you are leading into the teeth of the media machine, the bureau, the left all these different things, are you going to be willing to stand strong, or are you going to fold your tent?”
Mr. DeSantis said he has a track record of leading when others wilt.
Ms. Haley said she implemented faith-based care her administration delivered as part of prison reform in South Carolina and said she fought to defend Israel in her role at the United Nations.
“Everybody runs to Israel when she gets hit, but you have to support her when she hits back too,” she said, alluding to the Hamas terrorist attack last month “We could have no better ally than Israel.”
“What I want America to know is has never been that Israel needs America, it has always been that America needs Israel,” she said. “We need to give Israel whatever she needs whenever she needs it.”
Mr. Ramaswamy said younger generations are “starved for purpose” and said the next president can help by promoting faith, patriotism and the family.
He also said the president has a role to play by being a true statesman.
“Part of the job of being the U.S. president is we also set an example for our national character,” Mr. Ramaswamy said. “I think it has been a long time, certainly speaking for myself, that I could look my two boys in the eyes and tell them in good conscience I want you to grow up and be like him, or whoever it is in the White House.”
“That is half the job of how I think the president stands for family too — [it] is the example that we set for the next generation,” he said. “It is not just the policies.”