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The Iowa caucuses: 9 fact-checks and 3 wild campaign moments that matter

Audience members listen to Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speak during a town hall, Nov. 17, 2023, in Ankeny, Iowa. (AP) Audience members listen to Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speak during a town hall, Nov. 17, 2023, in Ankeny, Iowa. (AP)

Audience members listen to Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speak during a town hall, Nov. 17, 2023, in Ankeny, Iowa. (AP)

Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman January 12, 2024
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 12, 2024

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley saw a path to besting the quadruply-indicted former President Donald Trump when they entered the primary to become the Republican presidential nominee.

With days until the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses and the Jan. 23 New Hampshire primary, voters will tell these candidates exactly how far they’ve come or how far they’ve fallen behind.

Over months of campaign stops, debates and ad releases, the Republican rivals and their political action committees have attacked one another, making statements about abortion, Israel, Social Security, COVID-19 and more. Here’s a look back at nine fact-checks that matter before the Iowa caucuses and three other wild moments that kept fact-checkers busy. 

Nine fact-checks that matter for the Iowa caucus

Deportations: DeSantis began his campaign cautious about attacking Trump, his onetime ally, but grew increasingly emboldened. DeSantis said Trump "deported less, believe it or not, than Barack Obama even did." Federal data tracking the removals, returns and expulsions of noncitizens supports this claim. During each of his terms, Obama deported more people than Trump did during his single term in office. We rate DeSantis’ claim True.

President Joe Biden’s immigration record: During the Iowa CNN debate, DeSantis said "Biden’s let in 8 million people just in four years." Immigration officials have encountered migrants 8.1 million times nationwide, but that does not mean they’re all in the U.S. Encounters represent events, not individual people, and millions of encounters result in people being deported from the country. We rated this statement Mostly False.

Trump’s border wall: An ad from MAGA Inc., a pro-Trump PAC, said DeSantis "voted against the wall." DeSantis voted against a 2018 appropriations bill that included funding for fencing along the southern U.S. border. DeSantis said he didn’t oppose the funding for the wall, but the manner in which the bill was introduced, arguing that "nobody had time to read it, much less understand it." In 2017, DeSantis voted for a wall funding bill. We rated this statement Mostly False

A separate Trump ad claimed that Haley "opposed Trump’s border wall" and "Trump’s travel ban." Haley opposed Trump’s 2015 campaign proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. However, she supported travel bans he instituted as president. Haley said a border wall was one of several measures needed to reduce illegal immigration, but she did not oppose it. His statement rated False.

The war in Israel opened up new attacks: Support for Israel is important for evangelicals, an important Iowa voting bloc. The Never Back Down PAC, a pro-DeSantis group, said, "Nikki Haley argues in support of bringing Gaza refugees to America." Haley said in an interview that many people in Gaza want to be free from terrorist rule and that Americans can separate civilians from terrorists. But she did not call for allowing refugees from Gaza into the U.S. We rated this statement False.

China: Anti-China rhetoric has taken center stage as candidates clash over who’s been the communist country’s bigger friend or foe. Haley has claimed, falsely, that DeSantis recruited Chinese companies to Florida in the last six months. We found no evidence for that. Haley cited two Chinese companies with operations in Florida, but one came to the state before he was governor, and the other came under an anonymous name, without state incentive dollars. 

Abortion: Claims about abortion have continued to make headlines since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022 and states have enacted their own abortion restrictions. In one interview, DeSantis, who signed a six-week abortion ban in Florida in 2023, claimed that some "liberal states" conduct post-birth abortions. We rated that False.

Killing an infant after birth is infanticide and is illegal in all 50 states. Situations that result in a fetal death in the third trimester are exceedingly rare, experts say, and usually involve emergencies such as fatal anomalies or life-threatening complications affecting the mother.

Social Security: Each candidate says their opponent wants to slash Social Security. Never mind that both parties will need to agree on an overhaul within a decade.

Trump claimed Haley said that the federal U.S. retirement age, at which Americans would receive Social Security and Medicare benefits, is "way too low." That characterization lacks context, and we rated it Half True. Haley said this, but added that the retirement age should be raised in line with longer life expectancy and only for younger people — not for current Social Security beneficiaries or people nearing retirement. 

Trump himself co-wrote a book in 2000 calling for solutions to address the Social Security trust fund’s impending depletion, and suggested raising the retirement age to 70. But Trump has retreated from this idea on the campaign trail.

Wildest moments

In the 2024 primary, unlike any past iteration, artificial intelligence is being used to disparage politicians. And Trump is running for president as he faces 91 criminal charges, many related to his efforts to overthrow the 2020 election. The U.S. Supreme Court could decide whether Trump is an insurrectionist and is allowed to run again.

Trump accused his haters of using AI against him. They didn’t. An exhaustive review of clips and photos used in the Lincoln Project’s ad shows it used real footage and photographs of former President Donald Trump. ​

Trump is being criminally prosecuted and blamed Biden. Trump said, "Just like the Cuban regime, the Biden administration is trying to put their political opponents in jail, shutting down free speech." His statement recklessly downplays the authoritarian regime in Cuba, where leaders have quashed dissent for decades. Trump has been the subject of court gag orders but he retains his right to criticize Biden or his political rivals. We rated his statement False.

Birther claims are back, and still wrong. Baseless social media posts, including from Trump, claimed that Haley is ineligible to be president or vice president. The U.S. Constitution requires presidents to be natural-born citizens. It also says people born in the U.S. are citizens. It doesn’t matter that Haley’s parents became citizens after she was born in South Carolina. We rated these claims Pants on Fire!

RELATED: Fact-checking the 2024 Iowa debate between Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley on CNN

RELATED: Fact-checking Trump’s Iowa town hall: Wuhan scientist, wars, ‘no inflation’ and DeSantis on Fauci

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The Iowa caucuses: 9 fact-checks and 3 wild campaign moments that matter