Nikki Haley says she won’t debate Ron DeSantis in New Hampshire unless Donald Trump participates

Her comment on Tuesday came a day after the all-important Iowa caucuses, in which Trump marked a wide margin of victory over both Haley and DeSantis.

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley gestures to the audience as she concludes a speech at a caucus night party at the Marriott Hotel in West Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024.

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley gestures to the audience as she concludes a speech at a caucus night party at the Marriott Hotel in West Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Nikki Haley said Tuesday that she wouldn’t participate in the next Republican presidential debate unless former President Donald Trump takes part in it, leaving Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the only candidate committed to Thursday’s event.

“We’ve had five great debates in this campaign,” Haley said in a statement, released as she campaigned in New Hampshire. “Unfortunately, Donald Trump has ducked all of them. He has nowhere left to hide. The next debate I do will either be with Donald Trump or with Joe Biden. I look forward to it.”

Her statement was released a day after the all-important Iowa caucuses, in which Trump marked a wide margin of victory over both Haley and DeSantis. With the two locked in a heated competition for second place in Iowa, Haley tried to make her electoral argument more about Trump than DeSantis, repeatedly echoing her refrain that her candidacy marks a turnabout from the “chaos” that follows the GOP front-runner.

The move also could be a result of the last debate which featured only Haley and DeSantis, in which Haley didn’t perform as well as expected, and DeSantis ultimately ended up beating her for second place in Iowa.

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Haley had argued to caucusgoers that picking her gives Republicans a better chance to defeat Biden in November, pointing to survey data showing her with the largest lead among the GOP field in a theoretical general election matchup.

On X, DeSantis said Haley “is afraid to debate because she doesn’t want to answer the tough questions.” He accused her of “running to be Trump’s VP” and said that he looked “forward to debating two empty podiums in the Granite State this week.”

Trump spokesman Steven Cheung on Tuesday called Haley a “desperate globalist who wants higher taxes, open borders, and China to dominate the United States,” He added, “That’s why the only people who are voting for her are Democrats who are trying to interfere in a Republican primary.”

Haley went head-to-head with DeSantis in the most recent GOP debate last week in Iowa, a two-hour brawl that left at least some of her supporters feeling that the former South Carolina governor had lost some of the above-the-fray attitude of her campaign thus far. More than a dozen times she referenced a campaign-run website that several caucusgoers said had seemed repetitive and caught Haley in a bout of “name calling” that was off-putting.

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With the GOP campaign now shifting to New Hampshire, ahead of that state’s primary next week, Haley has projected confidence that her commitment to the state and surveys showing her with support there will provide her campaign with the momentum needed to cut into Trump’s strength. After her caucus night party, Haley boarded an overnight flight to New Hampshire, where she planned an event with Gov. Chris Sununu later in the day.

But DeSantis, breaking with tradition, instead flew directly to Haley’s home state of South Carolina, saying last week the plan to make a brief appearance there before going to New Hampshire himself was intended to send a message to Haley that he would compete fiercely against her in her home state’s primary next month.

Along the campaign trail in Iowa over the past week, reporters had asked Haley when she would commit to participating in Thursday’s debate, hosted by ABC and WMUR-TV at Saint Anselm College.

After his caucus win, Trump flew to New York, where he was expected in court for one of his multiple legal challenges, before heading to New Hampshire for a rally later Tuesday. He’s skipped all of the primary debates thus far.

After visiting the court, Trump will fly to New Hampshire to hold a rally Tuesday evening.

A spokesman for ABC News said that the debate hosts had given Trump and Haley a 5 p.m. ET deadline to commit to attending.

New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Chris Ager told AP on Tuesday that invitations had been extended to both Haley and Trump to join DeSantis on stage for the debate.

“We would love to see them all,” he said in a text message. “People in NH expect to see a local debate. Candidates who skip do so at their own risk.”

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Holly Ramer contributed to this report from Concord, New Hampshire.

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