DeSantis digs Trump after the ex-president blamed a tornado threat for canceling a dueling rally in Iowa
DeSantis and Trump were both set to appear in Iowa on Saturday.
But Trump had to postpone his event, citing bad weather.
DeSantis found ways to highlight Trump's absence.
Despite much anticipation, there were no dueling rallies between Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and former president Donald Trump this weekend in Iowa. Trump canceled his event in Des Moines, blaming tornado warnings.
Trump's postponement meant there was no chance for the media (or the politician's teams) to compare enthusiasm and crowd size at the two political events in a key primary state. DeSantis, however, capitalized on Trump's no-show to make a subtle dig at the former president.
After headlining two events in Iowa, DeSantis made an unscheduled stop at Jethro's BBQ Southside, a barbeque joint in Des Moines near where Trump had been scheduled to speak.
"It's a beautiful night," DeSantis remarked in Des Moines, according to the New York Times.
A tornado never materialized in the area, though Politico reported that rain had drenched Trump supporters lining up early for the former president's rally. Trump, for his part, stayed at his Mar-a-Lago private club and residence in Palm Beach, Florida.
Steven Cheung, Trump campaign spokesman, told Insider the Des Moines event was sold out but that the campaign postponed it as a safety precaution. He added that "nobody else" in the race could match the support and enthusiasm Trump generated.
Earlier in the day, DeSantis spoke at two events, one in Sioux Center and the other in Cedar Rapids, which was about a two-hour drive from his surprise Des Moines stop.
"We must reject the culture of losing that has impacted our party in recent years. The time for excuses is over," DeSantis said during his speech. "If we get distracted, if we focus the election on the past or on other side issues, then I think the Democrats are going to beat us again."
DeSantis has had to carefully calibrate how he attacks Trump, and how he responds to Trump's attacks. He learned recently that attacking Trump outright can rally his MAGA base, so he has more often opted for understated jabs instead.
In February, for instance, DeSantis held an event on defamation laws in which he praised a conservative lawyer who represented Dominion Voting Machines in its defamation lawsuit against Trump ally and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.
And shortly after his 2022 reelection victory, when he won by nearly 20 points in Florida, a state that was considered to be the largest swing state in the country, DeSantis brushed off reporter questions about Trump but told them to "check out the scoreboard." Republicans running for Congress, many of whom Trump backed, had not achieved the "red wave" they expected.
During the Sioux Center event on Saturday, DeSantis appeared onstage alongside his wife, Florida first lady Casey DeSantis. That, too, offered a subtle contrast against Trump, whose own wife, Melania Trump, has yet to appear at a 2024 campaign rally with her husband.
DeSantis learned a hard lesson about how to campaign against Trump in March.
During a press conference and a follow-up interview with British TV personality Piers Morgan just before Trump's indictment in Manhattan, DeSantis eschewed his strategy of subtle digs and directly attacked Trump. He ridiculed the ex-president for the salacious details revealed in the investigation, which centered on a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, and then decried Trump's "drama" and losing record.
"I mean you can call me whatever you want, just as long as you also call me a winner," DeSantis said of Trump's "Desanctimonious" nickname for him.
Shortly after, DeSantis dropped in the polls. Though other factors were at play, Trump seemed to benefit as his base rallied around him. For weeks, Trump relentlessly attacked DeSantis and gained a pile of endorsements in Florida. Even big donors told reporters on the record that they were concerned DeSantis was too right-wing.
How DeSantis handles Trump's attacks, meanwhile, could help or hurt him in the polls.
DeSantis has made "never, ever back down from a fight" a big part of his political brand. He has gone after Walt Disney World and other big corporations, fought federal public health officials and President Joe Biden over COVID-19 restrictions, moved to punish facilities over hosting drag shows where minors were present, and removed a progressive prosecutor.
But Trump is seen as the most formidable opponent of them all because he also does not back down from a fight, and he's not afraid to drag his opponents through the mud and make ferocious accusations, whether true or untrue.
Trump has conceded that DeSantis is his biggest rival, and has demonstrated he'll mock the governor over everything from his looks to how he says his name to his policy record.
DeSantis has been holding what many consider to be a "soft campaign" under the auspices of promoting his book at events across the United States.
But as Trump remains the frontrunner, DeSantis has played coy over whether he will actually run for president. He is widely expected to make an announcement after signing more Florida bills into law and passing the state's budget. On Thursday, he quietly signed a bill that will shield his travel records and visitors to the governor's mansion, both past and future, from the public.
May 15, 2023: This story has been updated with comments from Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung.
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