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“You can’t trust what he says”

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WORLD Radio - “You can’t trust what he says”

Republican front-runners attack each other in their last big televised pitch to voters before the Iowa caucuses


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former US Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley speak during the fifth Republican presidential primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa on Wednesday Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Thursday the 11th of January, 2024. Thanks for listening to The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Up first, the Republican primary race in Iowa. Last night’s debate and town hall is our main focus today, where Republican front runners made their final big pitch to voters ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

Now, we touched on how caucuses work earlier this week. But we spoke in more general terms in a way that may have raised even more questions. We want to be clear on the specifics at the Iowa Republican Caucus coming up on Monday. After all, what happens in Iowa in many ways sets the tone for what comes in later caucuses.

BROWN: Keep in mind that the two major parties do their respective caucuses quite differently.

So here to talk about the nuts and bolts of the Republican caucus in Iowa on Monday is Donald Roth. He’s a professor at Dordt University, earned his law degree from Georgetown and now teaches criminal justice and business administration. Roth has active interests in public policy and will be chairing one of the caucus sites next week.

REICHARD: Donald, good morning!

DONALD ROTH: Good morning.

REICHARD: The caucus system isn’t something everyone is familiar with. My own state of Missouri has just switched from the primary system of choosing a candidate to the caucus system. So would you walk us through how the Republican party caucus in Iowa works?

ROTH: Yeah, probably the easiest way for people to conceptualize it, I think if you’re coming from a state with more of like a primary system, would be if you had a closed door primary, that you would come to a meeting and at that meeting, you would cast a ballot. Those ballots would be counted at that point, and the winner of the ballots cast at that meeting then would be the one that would get the representatives from your district.

REICHARD: I understand caucus-goers arrive at their designated place to make sure registration is proper and so forth. The 1,670 precincts require a valid ID and proof of residency. And it’s only registered Republicans who can participate. Then what happens? Walk us through the evening.

ROTH: Yeah, people show up, usually it starts promptly at seven o'clock. So people typically show up at about 6:30 if they're trying to make sure they get through that whole process so we can start on a timely basis. Once the chair is selected, there will be an opportunity to have speakers for each of the different candidates make a pitch at that point to try to get people to decide at that sort of last moment that this is where they're going to cast their ballot for. And once that speech series is done, then everyone would take a ballot, they are typically blank sheets of paper where you would then would read the name of whoever you were voting for on there, put them into a box, we would have a chance to count them off there. And after those are counted, then the results are announced.

REICHARD: Nobody has to publicly say who he or she voted for, correct? I remember that at the Democrats’ 2020 caucus in Iowa…people had to physically stand in a corner to be counted for his or her candidate. The Democrat party abandoned that and has gone entirely to mail-in ballots to choose a candidate. But just to be crystal clear: At Monday night’s caucus for choosing the Republican presidential candidate, nobody has to stand in the corner or publicly announce one’s choice? I imagine many people would object to such a public declaration.

ROTH: I think that's a really important question. It's a really important distinction to make, because it is yes, a secret ballot that way. So if you happen to be someone who doesn't want to wear your candidate choice necessarily on your sleeve, or if you are a public official of some type, like a minister or something like that, who may not want to broadcast that kind of information, you would be able to come to a caucus. People will obviously know at that point, you're registered for a particular party, but they would not know which candidate you have put your support behind.

REICHARD: Useful information. Donald Roth is a professor at Dordt University…I hope your Monday night as a caucus chair goes smoothly!

ROTH: Thank you.

BROWN: Turning now to the candidates themselves. Last night was the final GOP debate to be held before votes are cast. The next time Republicans will meet on stage will be in New Hampshire on January 21st, and by that time the candidates will have hard numbers to tout or talk around.

REICHARD: So what did DeSantis, Haley, and Trump focus on in their last big pitch to voters before Monday’s caucuses?

Washington Bureau Reporter Carolina Lumetta brings us a report.

DANA BASH: Candidates, please take your positions behind the podiums. While we remind you and our audience of the ground rules…

CAROLINA LUMETTA: Last night’s debate at Drake University in Des Moines was expected to be a race for second place. CNN gave Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley a last-minute chance to appeal to Iowans before the caucuses on Monday. And both of them showed up with something to prove.

They’re tied in statewide and national polls. Going into the debate, many were curious to see if DeSantis and Haley would go after the front-runner, former President Donald Trump…or sling mud at each other.

The answer was pretty clear right from the start.

RON DESANTIS: Nikki Haley is running. We don't need another mealy mouthed politician who just tells you what she thinks you want to hear, just to try to get your vote, then to get into office and to do her donors bidding…

NIKKI HALEY: …what we're gonna do is, rather than have him go and tell you all these lies, you can go to DeSantisLies.com. And look at all of those, there's at least two dozen lies that he's told about me, and you can see where fact checkers say exactly what's going to happen, and exactly why it's wrong…

The two governors debated issues ranging from immigration to social security while repeatedly accusing each other of lies and broken promises. That muddied the waters in policy conversation throughout the debate…including during this part on the economy.

DESANTIS: We're going to open up all energy for production because that will be deflationary. Nikki Haley when she was governor, she promised she would never do the gas tax. Then she tried to raise the gas tax on hardworking South Carolinians…

HALEY: Bless his heart to desantislies.com. We have never raised a tax, never raised the taxes.

DESANTIS: You tried to, you’re on video…

MODERATOR: Governor DeSantis, she has the floor.

The crisis at the southern border came up early in the debate. While both candidates have taken hardline positions on illegal immigration, each said voters can’t trust the other one to get the job done. 

DESANTIS: Nikki Haley also oppose the border wall in 2016. She said that she she ridiculed that when Donald Trump was for it, and I'm telling you, you need a wall.

HALEY: Go to DeSantis lies.com. I said, you can't just build a wall, you have to do more than build a wall. We have to realize my parents came here legally. They came the right way. 50 years ago, they put in the time they put in the price, they are offended by what's happening on the border.

On the domestic front, moderators asked the candidates whether they think Trump is pro-life.

HALEY: I mean, look, I think that he did some pro life, things when he was president, you'd have to ask him, that's why he should be on this debate stage. Don't ask me what President Trump thinks. You need to have him on this debate stage and ask him for yourself.

DeSantis contrasted Trump with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who signed a law in July protecting babies from abortion after they have a detectable heartbeat. 

DESANTIS: He said that that's a quote, terrible, terrible thing. I don't know how you square that he was at the march for life when he was president his last year. And he said that life's a gift from God that the unborn are made in the image of God, and that you needed to have protections for those for that human life and now saying, it's a terrible, terrible thing. He's given a gift to the left to weaponize that against pro lifers, and that's wrong… But at the end of the day, I do agree with her on this: Donald Trump should be on this stage. He owes it to you here in Iowa to explain this change he's had in his positioning…he needs to explain why he didn’t build the wall, and why he added 7.8 trillion dollars to the debt.

While not on stage at Drake University, Trump was in Iowa, actually less than two miles away…holding his own town hall on Fox News in primetime.

He claimed credit for the fall of Roe v. Wade but wavered on whether he would support federal pro-life laws. Here’s a direct question from a mom at the town hall:

REBECCA: I'd like for you to reassure me that you can protect all life, every person's right to life without compromise.

And Trump’s response:

DONALD TRUMP: I want to get something where people are happy, you know, this has been tearing our country apart for 50 years, nobody's been able to do anything. But we're living in a time when there has to be a little bit of a concession one way or the other. And I think, you know, I want to get it right. I have to get it right.

Trump largely ignored his GOP rivals and instead looked beyond the caucuses to the general election, where he argues he is best suited to beat President Joe Biden.

But none of the candidates can control next week’s wild card: The weather. Monday the 15th could be the coldest Caucus Day on record, with temperatures expected to hover around minus 30 degrees with wind chill. This could keep many voters away from their precincts that night.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Carolina Lumetta. 


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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