DeSantis Campaigns in Iowa as Trump Cancels Due to Weather

(Bloomberg) -- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told Iowa Republicans Saturday that “the time for excuses is over” and said his party can’t look backward if it wants to defeat President Joe Biden in 2024.

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Speaking at a picnic in rural northwestern Iowa, the as-yet-undeclared candidate for president again avoided mentioning former President Donald Trump by name. But it was clear that DeSantis was drawing a direct contrast with the leadership style of his party’s de facto leader, who canceled his own scheduled rally in Des Moines because of bad weather.

“At the end of the day, governing is not about entertaining. Governing is not about building a brand or talking on social media and virtue signaling. It’s ultimately about winning and about producing results,” DeSantis said. “There’s no substitute for victory. We must reject the culture of losing that has infected our party in recent years.”

DeSantis’s more veiled responses to Trump highlight a challenge to his campaign: He wants to appeal to Trump voters who might consider a younger and less contentious candidate without alienating Trump’s loyal supporters. He’s been holding private dinners in recent weeks to persuade donors he’s a drama-free alternative to Trump.

The challenge for DeSantis so far is that he’s been unwilling to respond to Trump’s increasingly personal attacks — and risks becoming defined or bulldozed by the former president before the race begins in earnest.

“The problem with Ron DeSanctimonious is that he needs a personality transplant, and those are not yet available,” Trump said, mocking DeSantis’s political skills in a video on his Truth Social platform Friday.

Trump was scheduled Saturday to hold one of his signature rallies at an outdoor venue in Des Moines that can accommodate as many as 25,000 people. He canceled four hours before the event because of tornado warnings in Iowa, saying he would reschedule soon. But he released a list of 150 “elected and grassroots leaders” from all 99 of Iowa’s counties who he said endorsed him.

DeSantis is staking out hard-line socially conservative positions to the right of Trump in what he called a “war on woke,” filling his remarks in Iowa with a litany of attacks on what he said was leftist ideology that pervades schools, corporations, the media, medicine and even the military.

“If that means we had to stand up to a company like Disney, here I stand. I’m not backing down from that,” he said, referring to his battle to strip the company’s Orlando theme parks of self-governing status and tax benefits.

While DeSantis didn’t give any hints about the timing of his run, his appearance at partisan events in Iowa Saturday sends another unmistakable signal that he intends to enter the race. A previous visit to the Hawkeye state in March was billed as a book tour, and he skipped an appearance last month at an Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event that provided the largest gathering yet of 2024 White House hopefuls.

His speech in Sioux Center Saturday, at family picnic hosted by US Representative Randy Feenstra, demonstrated that he’s committed to doing the kind of glad-handing retail politics that he’s avoided in the past. The annual picnic has previously hosted former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and former Vice President Mike Pence, two other Trump rivals.

DeSantis was scheduled to headline a state party fundraiser in Cedar Rapids Saturday night.

Trump’s aborted visit followed an attention-grabbing primetime interview on CNN on Wednesday, in which he refused to concede his loss in the 2020 election and lashed out at writer E. Jean Carroll, who won a $5 million sexual abuse and defamation verdict against him earlier in the week. DeSantis has been holding a series of low-profile dinners with potential supporters.

Iowa will be a critical test of whether any of Trump’s challengers can overcome the former president’s popularity with Republican voters.

A new poll of 500 likely Republican Iowa caucus voters released Friday showed Trump with an 18-point lead over DeSantis, 44% to 26%. No other candidate received more than 10% in the National Research Inc. poll, which has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

DeSantis picked up 37 endorsements from state legislative leaders in Iowa on Friday, including Senate President Amy Sinclair and House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl.

Trump already has endorsements from other high-profile Iowans, including former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, former US Representative Rod Blum, and at least 11 other state legislators. But Iowa’s Republican governor, two senators and most of the House delegation have pledged to remain neutral.

--With assistance from Mark Niquette.

(Updates with Trump list of endorsements in seventh paragraph.)

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