Dec 11, 2023 - Politics & Policy

CNN's GOP debate in Iowa in peril with Nikki Haley noncommittal

Haley and DeSantis during the last debate in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The final GOP presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses may not happen, as former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley hasn't committed to participating and Vivek Ramaswamy and former Gov. Chris Christie aren't on pace to qualify.

Why it matters: The Jan. 10 debate would be the last high-profile event for any of the candidates to make a splash before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15, as a new poll shows former President Trump holding a historic lead over the rest of the field.

  • Only Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has agreed to participate in the CNN debate and is set to make the stage.
  • The debate is particularly critical for DeSantis, who has predicted he will win the Iowa caucuses.

Between the lines: Haley has been noncommittal on the prospect of facing one-on-one DeSantis ahead of Iowa, even as she has also been calling on Trump to break his debate boycott.

  • Haley told local Iowa TV station KTIV on Friday: "When it comes to President Trump as well, I think he's going to have to get on a debate stage here in Iowa because you're fighting for Iowans' votes. I think he's got to sit there and do the groundwork."
  • "You can't have an election and not appear on a debate stage in front of the people who are going to be voting for you," she argued.

This debate is the first one not sponsored by the Republican National Committee, which last week decided to pause all debates and allow candidates to attend non-sanctioned forums.

  • CNN said a candidate must poll at 10% or higher in three national or Iowa polls in order to qualify for the debate, and that at least one poll must be from Iowa.
  • That effectively disqualified Christie, who has not invested time or money in Iowa as focuses entirely on breaking through as an anti-Trump candidate in New Hampshire (he'd likely qualify for CNN's planned debate in New Hampshire).
  • Ramaswamy, whose campaign has indicated he would participate, also has yet to hit 10% in a major public Iowa poll and came in at 5% in the NBC News/Des Moines Register poll released Monday.

What they're saying: Referencing the most recent debate, DeSantis spokesperson Bryan Griffin told Axios: "After that loss, it is no wonder why Haley has failed to confirm she will join Ron DeSantis on the debate stage in Iowa and New Hampshire next month."

  • Haley spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas told Axios: "Since the RNC pulled out of the debates, many new offers have come in. We look forward to debating in Iowa and continuing to show voters why Nikki is the best candidate to retire Joe Biden and save our country. That debate should include Donald Trump."
  • CNN declined to comment.
  • Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung told Axios: "There's a CNN debate? Had no idea."
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