Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hit on a variety of topics during a New Hampshire town hall on Tuesday night, which included his reasoning for staying in the race, his strategy to try to clinch the GOP nomination, border security, President Biden’s border policies, veterans issues, and why he believes former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley can’t win on the big stage.

I think that he was the former president of the United States,” DeSantis said in response to former President Trump’s historic victory in Iowa on Monday night. “He’s one of the most famous people that’s ever been involved in American politics and there’s obviously a lot of Republicans that appreciated his policies, you know, but you still had roughly half of the Iowa caucus goers that made another choice and so that shows me that tells me that there is an appetite for a different leader.”

DeSantis also explained during the town hall, which was hosted by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, why he traveled to South Carolina on Tuesday morning after the caucuses instead of going directly to New Hampshire. 

“What it says is we had a town hall scheduled earlier today in the afternoon in New Hampshire and then this so I had the morning where usually candidates sleep in a little bit after a hard fought caucus,” DeSantis said. “But I said, you know, let’s make use of that. We weren’t sure how the weather was going to be here in New Hampshire. So we said, why don’t we dip into South Carolina, make an appearance, and then come up to New Hampshire?”


Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks as he announces a proposal for a Digital Bill of Rights, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

“So I think what it says is that we consider New Hampshire, South Carolina to both be important as well as Nevada, by the way. Nikki Haley, for example, she didn’t even get on the Nevada caucuses ballot. So she has zero delegates out in Nevada no matter what happens. I’m competing for delegates. And yes, the party went to a caucus to try to rig it for Trump. But, you know, as a Republican, it’s not always going to be fair for us. You got to be willing to fight in all these situations. So we’re doing that.”

DeSantis delivered strong criticism of Haley during his town hall appearance after she came in third place in Iowa despite many pundits predicting she would surge to second place. 

“Even though she spent 100% of her money attacking me and not one red cent attacking Donald Trump and I faced almost 50 million in total, I got second and she did not and that’s just the reality,” DeSantis said. “And here’s the thing, in Iowa, you can actually show up as a Democrat on the day of the caucus, change your registration, and then participate in the Republican caucus and in New Hampshire. You can’t do that. If you’re a declared Democrat, then you can’t vote in the primary. So she was relying on her support from these Democrats changing their registration on the day of the caucus.

You’ve got to be able to win core Republicans. You’ve got to be able to win conservatives and she cannot do that.”


Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Republican presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at a Never Back Down campaign event in Keene, New Hampshire, U.S., on November 21, 2023. (REUTERS/Sophie Park/File Photo)

DeSantis said that “none” of the people who come up to him saying they supported Trump’s policies and support his  campaign tell him that they support Haley.

None of them like Nikki Haley because they don’t think she shares her values,” DeSantis said. “So she does not have the ability to build the type of coalition that you need to win a Republican primary period, much less take on Donald Trump.

DeSantis also spoke about immigration, slamming the Biden administration’s border policies and promising to attempt to deport the millions of illegal immigrants who have crossed the border under his watch. Additionally, DeSantis addressed an audience member who suggested that his move to fly illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities and regions like Martha’s Vineyard was a political stunt. 


Ron DeSantis on stage at the Fox News presidential debate in August.

Ron DeSantis at Wednesday night’s first GOP debate in Milwaukee. (Fox News)

“Actually, if you think about it, you go back to September of 2022, how was the border being treated?” DeSantis said. “It was not a front burner issue. The problems were real. But it wasn’t getting the type of scrutiny that it needed. Doing to Martha’s Vineyard, and by the way, they said they were a sanctuary jurisdiction, they said all people are welcome, whether they’re legal or not. These border towns in Texas are getting thousands and thousands, Martha’s Vineyard couldn’t even handle 50 and so think that was an example of them wanting to impose a certain worldview of open borders on the rest of the country, but not willing to be able to do it. 

“But this was something that the media really glommed onto. So it ended up raising the temperature on this. And now you have this being discussed everywhere. So I don’t think it was cheap at all. I think it was designed by ,partially, I just believe that if you’re a sanctuary jurisdiction, you should be the ones to have to shoulder the burden. We’re not a sanctuary state in Florida.

DeSantis was asked about Trump’s mounting legal issues and he explained that he believes Republicans will be negatively affected if the media and President Biden are able to use those issues as a main focus in the election.  

“We have a choice as Republicans, what do we want the 2024 election to be about?” DeSantis said. “And with me as your nominee, it’ll be about holding Biden  accountable on the economy, on the border, on crime, on the problems internationally, on the growth of government and the bureaucracy, bringing accountability for for COVID, ending weaponization of federal agencies, and then offering a way where we can restore the American dream and get the nation’s fiscal in order.”

“I think we win if that’s how the debate is. If Donald Trump is the nominee, the election will revolve around all these legal issues, his trials, perhaps convictions if he goes to trial and loses there and about things like January 6th, we’re going to lose. If that’s the decision that voters are making based on that, we don’t want it to be a referendum on those issues. We want it to be a referendum on the country going in the wrong direction.”


DeSantis was asked several questions about the military and veterans issues and he said that 9/11 “really changed” how he viewed the world and that he  would put veterans issues “on the front burner” as president.

I’m also going to be a commander in chief that if your son or daughter or your grandkids are in the military, you’re going to have a commander in chief that has their back,” DeSantis said. “I am not going to let a social agenda or all these distractions in the military.”

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