In Campaign Kickoff, DeSantis Has Fighting Words for Trump

In Iowa speech, Florida governor says 'I'm going to fight back' against his main GOP presidential rival
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 31, 2023 8:24 AM CDT
In Campaign Kickoff, DeSantis Has Fighting Words for Trump
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, poses for a photo in West Des Moines, Iowa, during a campaign event on Tuesday.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stepped into Iowa on Tuesday for the first time as a Republican presidential candidate and stepped up to former President Trump, vowing to "fight back" against Trump as the GOP's 2024 campaign enters a new phase. Until now, the 44-year-old Republican governor whose slogan is "Never Back Down" had largely avoided any direct confrontation with Trump, his chief Republican rival, who has in turn unleashed a torrent of fierce attacks against DeSantis for much of the year. DeSantis was initially cautious while addressing an energetic crowd of roughly 500 gathered inside a suburban Des Moines church. But speaking to reporters afterward, he pushed back against Trump in a way he hadn't before on the national stage, per the AP.

"I'm going to fight back," he declared, taking aim at Trump's recent criticism of his leadership during the pandemic. "Hell, his whole family moved to Florida under my governorship. Are you kidding me?" He accused Trump of essentially abandoning "America First" principles on immigration, supporting pandemic-related lockdowns, and generally having "moved left" on key issues. DeSantis' comments came six days after a stumbling Twitter campaign launch that raised questions about his readiness for a national race. Beyond the glitchy launch, DeSantis opens his campaign looking up at Trump in the polls amid persistent questions about the Florida governor's ability to connect with voters in person.

Trump and his allies unleashed a fresh round of anti-DeSantis attacks on Tuesday as well. The former president shared new polls on social media noting that he's the heavy favorite in the GOP primary. He also took aim at DeSantis' leadership during the pandemic, writing that Florida was "third WORST State in Deaths by Covid." "So why do they say that DeSanctus did a good job? New York had fewer deaths!" Trump wrote on his social media platform. At the same time, a pro-Trump super PAC was running ads on Iowa television accusing DeSantis of wanting to raise taxes, an accusation DeSantis has denied. The feud will have an opportunity to play in public as the week progresses, with both men courting voters in key states on the presidential primary calendar.

DeSantis' early state blitz continues with four Iowa stops scheduled for Wednesday. Trump, who was already scheduled to be in Iowa on Thursday, added a couple of stops in the state to his schedule for Wednesday, ensuring he'd overlap with DeSantis for a time. It's unclear whether Republican primary voters will like the sharpening tone between the two Republican heavyweights. Kim Riesberg, 59, who attended DeSantis' campaign kickoff in Clive with her husband, said she voted for Trump in 2016 and in 2020, but isn't necessarily committed to him this time around. DeSantis is a "little softer," said Riesberg, of Dallas Center, Iowa. And "more appealing to the masses." Since Trump and DeSantis are competing for the same job, she understands it might be a bitter race. But "at some point, I would like to see them on the same team."

(Read more Ron DeSantis stories.)

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