The latest point of contention arose during a Fox News Digital interview on Tuesday, where DeSantis accused Haley of "rolling out the red carpet for China" during her tenure as South Carolina governor. In response, Haley's campaign fired back, claiming that DeSantis had "aggressively recruited Chinese companies to Florida."
While Trump remains the frontrunner in the race for the GOP nomination, DeSantis had held a comfortable second place in the polls for months, ahead of Haley and other Republican contenders. However, Haley's recent surge in the polls has propelled her to second place in New Hampshire and her home state of South Carolina, two crucial early primary states.
In the past week, the candidates and their campaigns have sparred over the issue of accepting Palestinian refugees fleeing the conflict in Gaza. Now, the focus has shifted to China, which has increasingly become a target for Republicans amid worsening relations between the US and Beijing.
A super PAC aligned with DeSantis, called Never Back Down, launched a new ad criticizing Haley for attracting Chinese businesses to South Carolina while she was governor. The ad features pictures of Haley alongside Chinese leader Xi Jinping, with the narrator questioning her judgment and labeling her as "dangerous on China."
DeSantis, while clarifying that his campaign was not responsible for the ad, emphasized his own approach to China, stating that he had banned the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from purchasing land in Florida and had not provided them with any free land. He posed the question to voters, asking who they trust to lead on China – someone who has stood up to China or someone who has rolled out the red carpet for them.
In response, Haley's campaign dismissed the attacks as "lies and hypocrisy" from a desperate and losing DeSantis. They highlighted Haley's strong stance on China, including her assertion that it is the "No. 1 biggest national security threat." Haley has previously released a comprehensive plan to combat China, which includes measures such as rescinding federal funding for universities accepting money from China and ending normal trade relations until China stops flooding the US with fentanyl.
Both candidates have utilized super PACs to amplify their messages. Stand for America, a super PAC aligned with Haley, has also emphasized her strong stance on China in a series of ads.
DeSantis, campaigning in New Hampshire, took the opportunity to criticize Trump, claiming that the former president had lost his edge and had a sense of entitlement. In response, the Trump campaign spokesperson dismissed DeSantis as "anti-MAGA" and accused him of operating with a "little league brain."
DeSantis also mentioned Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who recently dropped his Democratic primary challenge against President Biden to launch an independent White House run. DeSantis argued that if Trump becomes the nominee, Kennedy would attract anti-lockdown and anti-Fauci voters, but if he were the nominee, those voters would support him because of his opposition to Dr. Anthony Fauci and his promise to hold the federal government accountable for its COVID policies.
Looking ahead to the 2024 election, DeSantis predicted that voters who oppose lockdowns and Fauci would seek a candidate who represents their views. He suggested that Kennedy would be able to attract those voters away from Trump, as he believes Trump has not shown a willingness to hold the federal government accountable for its COVID response.
As the battle for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination intensifies, DeSantis and Haley are increasingly trading fire, with China emerging as a key point of contention. Both candidates are highlighting their positions on China and attempting to portray themselves as the stronger leader on this issue. With the race still in its early stages, it remains to be seen how this exchange will impact their standing in the polls and their overall chances of securing the nomination.