DES MOINES (Diya TV) – In a fiery CNN debate just days before the Iowa caucuses, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spared no punches in their bid to be the leading alternative to Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican primary. The candidates, largely avoiding direct criticism of Trump, engaged in a heated exchange over their records and policies.

DeSantis touted his conservative achievements as Florida governor, emphasizing his stance on ending illegal immigration and instituting a flat income tax. Meanwhile, Haley took a forward-looking approach, calling out DeSantis for his campaign’s financial management and asserting that he failed to meet expectations.

Surprisingly, both candidates agreed on one thing – Trump’s absence on the debate stage. Multiple times, they criticized the former president for skipping the event, with Haley stating, “I wish Donald Trump was up here on this stage, he’s the one I’m running against.”

The debate touched on key issues like the U.S. role in Ukraine, immigration, and abortion. Despite occasional attacks, both candidates avoided directly denouncing Trump and sidestepped questions about his character.

Haley delivered a particularly stinging attack on DeSantis, pointing out his campaign’s heavy spending and lackluster results. She questioned his ability to manage the country, stating, “If he can’t handle the financial parts of a campaign, how’s he going to handle the economy when he goes to the White House?”

As the Iowa caucuses draw near, the GOP intraparty fight intensifies, with DeSantis aiming to secure a strong finish while Haley eyes more favorable terrain in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

While both candidates took shots at each other, their reluctance to directly challenge Trump underscores the former president’s significant lead in polls. The GOP base remains firmly supportive of Trump, leaving DeSantis and Haley in a fierce battle for the role of the primary alternative.