DeSantis hits at key rivals, promises to shoot cartel members during Fox News town hall

Town hall briefly interrupted by climate hecklers

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to Iowa primary voters during a Fox News town hall event in Des Moines on Jan. 9, 2024.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to Iowa primary voters during a Fox News town hall event in Des Moines on Jan. 9, 2024. | Screengrab/Fox News

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis presented his case for why he should be chosen to go against President Joe Biden while hitting at key rivals, former President Donald Trump and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, during a Fox News town hall on Tuesday.

DeSantis said he would "love to run against Biden," adding that if he is chosen as the GOP nominee, he has no intention of letting him "hang out in his basement."

"We would run him ragged around this country," he said. "I would love to be able to be in a debate with Biden and be able to hold him accountable for his policies."

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Like Haley during a Fox News town hall event the night before, DeSantis suggested that one of Biden's biggest policy blunders has been the border.

DeSantis took a hardline stance regarding the border crisis, saying he would declare the "invasion" a national emergency and utilize the U.S. military to shoot cartel members trying to enter the country illegally.

Noting that he saw holes blown out of physical barriers along the southern border when he visited, DeSantis likened the situation to someone breaking into a home, which he said justifies self-defense.

"If someone breaks into your home, you would have every right to use lethal force to protect your family," he said. "Yet someone can cut a hole into a wall and break into our country, and we're just supposed to let that happen? Not on my watch. You're going to see a major, major response."

Regarding whether he would apply that principle to cartel members who were caught trying to undermine the border's physical barriers, DeSantis said, "Rules of engagement. Let her rip! That's absolutely appropriate to be able to do to defend your country."

DeSantis also said he would treat the Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, noting how the fentanyl they are bringing into the country has caused more American deaths than any terrorist group. He also vowed that he would send troops into Mexico to kill members of the cartel.

In response to a question from a Christian voter who suggested Republicans are "hiding" from the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and returned abortion law to the states, DeSantis touted his pro-life record and said, "it’s important to stand for a culture of life."

DeSantis signed a law in Florida that banned most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, and has expressed support for a federal ban on abortion after 15 weeks.

“I’m the only one running that has actually enacted protections for the sanctity of life," he said. "I’m the only one that’s been able to do that."

While he was giving his answer on abortion, apparent climate hecklers in the audience interrupted by chanting, "No oil money!" before they were promptly escorted out. DeSantis chuckled in response, saying, "You live and you learn with these people, right?"

"Alright, well. You guys, that was a mistake. You guys didn't get that one right," he added.

DeSantis also pledged to take on federal agencies that he claims have become increasingly "weaponized" in recent years. He said he first saw the Internal Revenue Service becoming politicized when he was running for Congress in 2012 and the agency targeted conservative groups in his district.

"And it's like a small nonprofit that's just talking about the Constitution under Obama, they did it," he said. "No one was held accountable for doing that."

He said Americans can expect such outcomes to continue "until you have a president that comes in and drops the hammer," which he said he would do by holding the people "responsible for the madness" accountable.

DeSantis addressed the issue of Trump, who is leading the GOP primary pack, but whose legal issues the Florida governor argued make a rematch between him and Biden a dangerous risk for Republicans.

"It raises the issue for Republicans: 'What do we want the 2024 election to be about?'" he said. "If Donald Trump is the nominee, the election is going to be about legal issues, criminal trials, Jan. 6. It’ll be a referendum on him."

“There are a lot of people that want to vote for Republicans, but I think that there’s a lot that are not going to do the Trump stuff. That’s just the reality,” DeSantis told the media following the town hall, according to The Associated Press.

DeSantis also hit at Haley, his primary rival for runner-up against the former president, by bringing up a recent comment she made to New Hampshire voters suggesting they might need to "correct" the votes of Iowans by voting for her.

The former South Carolina governor, who leads DeSantis in New Hampshire and is even trimming the gap with Trump in the state, has claimed she was joking with the remark.

"It's tough for me to take something from somebody that goes to another state, and then says Iowa's votes need to be corrected," DeSantis said. "You know, I found that to be deeply offensive. I've met folks here in Iowa. Folks here represent the best of America and are patriotic, hardworking, God-fearing. That's what we need to engineer come back to this country."

DeSantis also accused Haley of having "indulged in some of these left-wing tropes" regarding pro-life voters.

"She's chastised pro-lifers, saying, 'You shouldn't be talking about putting women in prison.' Nobody's talking about that," DeSantis said. "I've not met a single pro-lifer that has ever talked about that. That is a trope that the Left and the media will use, and yet she's indulged that."

DeSantis is slated to face off against Haley in another CNN town hall on Wednesday night.

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