Former President Donald Trump comes after DeSantis on Iowa campaign trail

By: - June 1, 2023 4:48 pm

Both Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump campaigned in Iowa in the past week. (Photos by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch and Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump said Thursday in Urbandale he was confident he will continue to hold his lead in Iowa.

“There’s no way I can lose Iowa,” Trump told the crowd. “We’re going to have to do some really bad things to lose at this point.”

Trump spoke to a packed room at the Iowa Machine Shed restaurant with the Westside Conservative Club, a group that hosts Iowa Republicans and caucus candidates at their twice monthly breakfasts. He talked about the victories he’s won for Iowans during his time in the White House on issues like ethanol and farm deals with China — and told attendees that President Joe Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have not supported the first-in-the-nation state as much as he has.

Trump’s most recent Iowa trip started Wednesday, when he was on the Simon Conway Show for the 1040 WHO radio station and appeared at a legislative dinner in Des Moines Wednesday evening. Alongside his Urbandale stop, Trump had lunch with faith leaders in Des Moines Thursday and will hold a Fox News Town Hall at the Horizon Events Center in Clive.

His events come on the heels of his current closest competition, DeSantis, who held five events across the state Tuesday and Wednesday. While DeSantis is currently campaigning across New Hampshire, the first primary state, the governor plans to return to Iowa Saturday to support U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst at her “Roast and Ride” fundraiser with seven other 2024 hopefuls, Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa’s U.S. congressional delegation.

DeSantis did not call out Trump directly in his campaign speeches in Iowa, but said the GOP needs to end the “culture of losing” and make up for its performances in the 2020 and 2022 elections. In his campaign kickoff, DeSantis joked with the crowd about enjoying the Iowa weather on his earlier visits to the state, when he and Trump’s events were scheduled to overlap before Trump’s rally was canceled due to a tornado watch.

Trump hits back at DeSantis

Trump had no such hang-ups, publicly going after DeSantis in Iowa this trip, just as he had in earlier visits before the Florida Republican entered the race. The former president went over specific disagreements he had with DeSantis’ claims on the campaign trail in Iowa, such as his claim that a Republican president must stay in office for two terms to get the country headed in the “right direction.”

Trump said if he is elected again as president, Americans would only have to wait six months to see a “major part of the comeback.”

“When he says ‘eight years,’ every time I hear it, I wince,” Trump said. “Because they say, if it takes eight years to turn this around, then you don’t want him. You don’t want him as your president.”

He also poked at DeSantis, saying other politicians “don’t want to take questions, they just read a speech” before Trump took questions from attendees at the event. He held the conservative lines on most issues, defending gun rights through the Second Amendment and increasing security of the U.S.-Mexico border and in national elections while answering audience questions.

DeSantis, approached by a reporter while taking pictures with event attendees after his speech in New Hampshire, was asked why he’s not taking questions from voters.

“Are you blind?” DeSantis asked. “Okay, so people are coming up and talking to me (about) whatever they want to talk to me about.”

On “parental rights” and transgender issues in schools, Trump said he does not believe an “unbelievably young” child can make choices on changing their gender, and does not think transgender women should be allowed to participate in women’s sports. But he said he did not agree with how some other candidates — like DeSantis, who rallies against the “woke mind virus” in his speeches — talk about these issues.

“The country has gotten sick,” Trump said. “It’s gotten sick, and I don’t like the term ‘woke’ because I hear, ‘Woke, woke, woke.’ You know, it’s like just a term they use — half the people can’t even define it. They don’t know what it is.”

While Trump still holds a clear lead in the most recent national and Iowa polls, more candidates are expected to join the field in the coming weeks, including Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence. DeSantis consistently trails Trump as the second-place candidate.

In talks with national reporters in Iowa earlier this week, DeSantis criticized Trump for his “move left on some of these issues.” A DeSantis campaign bus parked outside the breakfast club meeting and during the event distributed fliers on people’s cars about Trump saying a six-week abortion ban was “too harsh,” according to an NBC reporter.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.