DeSantis Vies with Trump to Influence Iowa Conservatives, Warns of Republican ‘Losing Culture’
SIOUX CENTER, Iowa (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned of a Republican “culture of losing” and on Saturday sought to weaken former President Donald Trump’s hold on the GOP as the party’s leading presidential contenders collided on the battlefield in Iowa.
DeSantis, is expected to announce its 2024 presidential campaign Each day he made little effort to personally engage with voters at a picnic fundraiser at the Sioux Center while several hundred conservatives ate hamburgers. He instead focused on a formal speech declaring his willingness to confront conservative culture wars and peppered his remarks with indirect taunts against Trump.
“Government is not about entertaining. Governing is not about building a brand or talking on social media and signaling virtue,” said DeSantis, who wore a blue button-down shirt with no tie or jacket. “Ultimately, it’s about winning and getting results.”
Trump, a candidate since November, was hoping to demonstrate his political prowess later in the day with a large outdoor rally in the capital, Des Moines.
Though Trump and DeSantis were supposed to be hundreds of miles apart, the split-screen moment in the GOP’s premier primary state offered an early taste of the duel between the two Republican leaders. Trump is well ahead of his rivals in initial nationwide polls, while DeSantis is widely seen as the strongest potential challenger.
After a tumultuous week, Trump returned to the comfort of the campaign stage.
A civil jury in New York on Tuesday held him liable for sexual abuse and defamation of advice columnist E. Jean Carroll and awarded her $5 million. A day later, during a controversial CNN town hallHe repeatedly insulted Carroll, repeated lies about his 2020 election defeat, and minimized violence at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
DeSantis has bolstered his reputation as a conservative governor ready to push hard for conservative politics and even take up a political struggle Disney, which he highlighted at the Sioux Center. But so far he hasn’t shown the same eagerness to take on Trump, who has been focused almost exclusively on bringing down DeSantis for months.
DeSantis devoted much of his remarks to his support of conservative cultural priorities, including his opposition to diversity and equity programs in public schools and legislation aimed at curtailing transgender rights.
But in another indirect jab at Trump, he pointed to the recent string of Republican election losses. He didn’t say it specifically, but the Republican Party has struggled in every national election since Trump’s 2016 victory.
“We must reject the culture of losing that has shaped our party in recent years. The time for excuses is over,” DeSantis said. “If we get distracted, if we focus the election on the past or on other side issues, then I think the Democrats will beat us again.”
It is uncertain whether DeSantis’ political successes in Florida can be replicated on the national stage.
Even before he officially starts the race, he is already there face questions about its ability to woo donors and woo voters.
The visit to Iowa, his second in two months, should help allay concerns about his sometimes awkward personal appeal as he met with Republican officials, donors and volunteers, all under the gaze of the national media. But DeSantis barely took time for selfies or shake hands at the Sioux Center, where more than 600 people had gathered to see him at an event intended as a family picnic for US Rep. Randy Feenstra.
After his speech, DeSantis ran through the crowd, ignoring the reporters.
Instead of making small talk with voters like Iowa presidential candidates have done for decades, DeSantis left most of the political work to his allied superpolitical action committee, which had set up a table attended by potential supporters for his yet-to-be-announced presidential campaign Sign in.
The street in front of the museum was lined with signs for the DeSantis 2024 campaign.
Meanwhile, Trump was set to headline an evening rally at an outdoor amphitheater in Des Moines’ Water Works Park, expected to attract several thousand people.
Advisors to the former president said the Des Moines event was in the works before DeSantis’ plans were released, and they hope a large crowd will draw comparisons to the scale of their respective events.
For Trump at least, their budding rivalry has become increasingly personal.
DeSantis has largely ignored Trump’s remarks, which decades ago included suggesting inappropriate behavior toward young girls as a teacher, questioning his sexuality, and calling him “Ron DeSanctimonious.”
Trump’s campaign began by airing an ad that mocked DeSantis for aligning himself with the former president when he ran for governor in 2018, and even used some Trump catchphrases as a nod to his supporters in Florida.
Trump’s super PAC, MAGA Inc., has also aired spots highlighting DeSantis’ votes for cutting Social Security and Medicare and raising the retirement age. The group even targeted DeSantis’ eating habits and ran an ad urging him to keep his “pudding fingers” away from these benefits. This was a reference to a report in The Daily Beast that a few years ago the governor ate chocolate pudding with his fingers instead of a spoon on a plane.
DeSantis said he had no recollection of doing so.
The pro-DeSantis never back down super PAC has hired staff from Iowa and is trying to organize support for the governor ahead of a 2024 announcement. The group announced Thursday that State Senate President Amy Sinclair and State House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl would support DeSantis’ nomination. About three dozen other state lawmakers who would endorse him were nominated on Friday.
Governor Kim Reynolds and Iowa Senator Joni Ernst were present during DeSantis’ performance at the Sioux Center.
The Super PAC also responded more vigorously to Trump, suggesting that he should leave Florida if he is unhappy with DeSantis’ governance and accusing Trump of undersupporting gun rights and siding with the Liberal Democrats.