The competing ambitions of former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis collided Saturday in Iowa, the closest the two have come to each other on the road as they head toward a 2024 showdown.
DeSantis will be flipping burgers and chatting with potential caucus-goers in northwest Iowa on Saturday before speaking at a local Republican fundraiser in Cedar Rapids. Meanwhile, in Des Moines that same evening, Trump will address thousands of his supporters at a signature rally, his first campaign event since CNN’s town hall on Wednesday and his first time in a controlled setting since the a jury found him liable for sexually abusing and defaming author E. Jean Carroll.
“We’re going to Iowa because we’re going to Iowa,” a Trump adviser said, downplaying the events of the fight. “We are 100% focused on caucusing this trip and outreach to potential voters.”
Although Trump has shown an early dominance of the GOP primary field, the decision to bracket DeSantis’ visit and the frequent attacks aimed at his opponent signal that the former president still sees the governor in Florida as his most serious potential challenger for the party’s nomination.
DeSantis, for his part, is cautiously approaching the 2024 GOP front-runner as he maneuvers toward his own presidential campaign. The governor has spent much of the past month avoiding Trump — dodging the former president’s frequent missives and dodging questions about the adversary’s mounting legal troubles — and there has been little sign that he plans to change those. strategy before he officially joins the race in the coming weeks.
“You know, there are different things in the news, but we’re busy,” DeSantis said Wednesday, the day after the E. Jean Carroll verdict came down.
DeSantis’ allies, however, began testing potential attacks. Leading Trump’s New Hampshire town hall on CNN, Never Back Down, a super PAC affiliated with DeSantis, called the former president “a candidate who has lost his luster” and suggested he appear on the cable outlet to “hold on to his destruction. ‘frontrunner’ status.” During Wednesday’s event, the super PAC cheered on host Kaitlan Collins as she pushed Trump on the unfinished US-Mexico border wall, and accused him of turning down gun owners as president. by banning bump stocks.
As Trump left the stage, the group tweeted a list of controversies that Trump has spent time discussing, including his sexual abuse case, the investigations into “his classified documents that taxpayer-owned Mar-a-Lago,” his attempts to override the 2020 Georgia presidential election, and his role in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol and whether he would pardon the rioters.
“How Does It Make America Great Again?” the tweet said.
The missive stood out for its willingness to target Trump on topics that DeSantis himself did not want to weigh in on. DeSantis has repeatedly refused to answer questions about the 2020 election results and Trump’s election lies. And when DeSantis breaks down these controversies, he mostly stands up to Trump.
Although he initially said the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was “unacceptable,” DeSantis, on the one-year anniversary of the bloody riots, called the coverage “nauseating” and “Christmas” for media to “vilify anyone who supports Donald Trump.” When the FBI descended on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate to seize classified documents last summer, DeSantis called it “another development in the weaponization of federal agencies.”
Meanwhile, his political team — which operates a “rapid response” Twitter account to quickly counter negative coverage and criticism from perceived political enemies — never tweeted about the town hall. on CNN though Trump suggested the governor is far behind in the polls “he should just relax and take it easy and think about the future.”
Trump has made the Florida governor the centerpiece of his primary attacks, criticizing DeSantis’ voting record as a congressman on issues such as entitlement overhaul and calling him disloyal for considering a bid. of the presidency after receiving Trump’s endorsement in his 2018 run for governor, a point that The former president also raised Friday on social media before the Iowa trip. Trump also appeared to threaten DeSantis for considering announcing a 2024 bid.
“I will tell you things about him that are not very flattering. I know more about him than anybody – other than, probably, his wife,” Trump said in an interview last fall with Fox News Digital.
While it’s not uncommon for super PACs to engage in the dirty work of candidates they support, some of DeSantis’ staunchest online allies appear uncomfortable with the messaging — even in the face of more aggressive jabs from Trump. It’s the latest sign of the tough task ahead for Republicans seeking to overtake someone who remains the icon of many in the party.
John Cardillo, a conservative influencer with access to DeSantis’ political operation, in a tweet called Never Back Down’s approach of “rehashing stale talking points.”
“I swear a Democrat wrote this,” Tweet Brendon Leslie, who runs Florida’s Voice, a website known in the state for its glowing coverage of DeSantis.
Never Back Down stands in the way.
“We’re not afraid to set the record straight and push back on false attacks from potential opponents who fear confronting the governor if he jumps into the race,” said Erin Perrine, a spokeswoman for the super PAC. , said in a statement to CNN. “Americans know Ron DeSantis is coming.”
Saturday marks Trump’s second trip to Iowa since announcing his presidential bid in November, and advisers told CNN the focus will be on educating voters about caucusing and voter outreach. Trump has recorded at least one video to be aired during the rally explaining the caucus process and urging Iowans to learn about it. His team has gone through data collected from dozens of events Trump has held in the state since entering the presidential fray in 2015 and has outreach plans to ensure these Trump supporters are registered in vote and still behind the former president.
Although appearing in the same state, Iowa’s DeSantis is likely to avoid Trump and continue to promote the conservative policy gains he pushed in the recently concluded Florida legislative session.
His trip to the Hawkeye State is also an opportunity for Iowans to see another side of DeSantis. At a pair of appearances in Iowa earlier this year, DeSantis gave remarks from a stage and stayed behind a rope line to take photos and sign his new book for attendees.
On Saturday, DeSantis will test his Midwest retail politics at the Republican Rep.’s annual family picnic. Randy Feenstra in the northwestern city of Sioux Center, the most conservative corner of the state. After DeSantis speaks, he and Feenstra and their wives are expected to mix and grill food for the crowd.
Later, DeSantis will keynote a GOP fundraiser in Cedar Rapids, his twelfth event since March. The first 10 raised more than $4.3 million for local Republicans, his political group told CNN.
Before the trip, Never Back Down announced that 37 Iowa state legislators had endorsed DeSantis, a show of strength that included many people in the party’s leadership. Among DeSantis’ supporters are state Senate President Amy Sinclair and state House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, who are seen as young conservative leaders from rural Iowa.
Shortly after the super PAC was announced, a source familiar with the Trump campaign’s plans said the Trump group would reveal the support of nearly 150 Iowa county leaders and grassroots activists. for the former president.
Feenstra said earlier this week that she plans to stay in the primary for the time being and not endorse DeSantis in Saturday’s event.
“We have great candidates today and I’m just excited to meet them all,” said the congressman. “We have so much stuff in Iowa, and I’m just showing it off.”