Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dipped his toe in the 2024 waters on Friday with a trip to Iowa, making himself a target for his main GOP rival, Donald Trump, and the White House.
“We will never surrender to the woke mob,” DeSantis told an audience of more than 1,000 at the Rhythm City Casino Resort in the eastern Iowa city of Davenport, his first stop in the state as he moves toward seeking the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. “Our state is where woke goes to die.”
“Why would people show up?” Trump wondered. The simple answer is that DeSantis is a Republican rock star and he draws crowds wherever he goes. Whether he can turn those crowds and that enthusiasm into votes remains to be seen.
Related: The Morning Briefing: DeSantis Seems Content to Let Trump Run Against Trump for a While
From Davenport, DeSantis made his way to the capital city of Des Moines, where another enthusiastic crowd showed up to hear him speak.
“I think we really have done a great job of drawing a line in the sand and saying the purpose of our schools is to educate kids, not indoctrinate them,” DeSantis said in the auditorium on the Iowa state fairgrounds. “Parents should be able to send their kids to school without having somebody’s agenda shoved down their throat.”
The visit is an early test of DeSantis’ support in the state that will kick off the contest for the Republican nomination next year. Trump remains widely popular among Iowa Republicans, though positive views of the former president have slipped somewhat since he left the White House. Now, 80% say they have a favorable rating of him, down slightly from 91% in September 2021, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released Friday. Eighteen percent have unfavorable views of Trump.
The poll’s movement suggests Iowa Republicans are not singularly committed to Trump for 2024 and are open to considering other candidates. Though slightly behind the well-known Trump, DeSantis gets a rosy review from Iowa Republicans — 74% favorable rating. Notably, DeSantis has high name recognition in a state over 1,000 miles away from his own; just 20% say they aren’t sure how to rate him.
No one in the United States is unsure of who Donald Trump is and what he stands for. But many may not know DeSantis well enough to ditch Trump for the Florida governor. One Iowan from Bettendorf probably spoke for many in the audience who heard DeSantis.
“Gov. DeSantis is a wonderful man. I’m for DeSantis, but I’m also for Trump. I haven’t decided yet,” the 70-year-old retiree said. “So we’ll see how God works it out and how the people vote.”
DeSantis’ visit coincided with a trip to the state by former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced her 2024 candidacy last month. Trump’s stop on Monday will be his first visit to the state since launching his latest presidential bid.
In recent weeks, DeSantis’ team has begun holding conversations with a handful of prospective campaign staffers in key states. Late last month, he gathered privately with donors, elected officials and national conservative activists to discuss his views, which include limiting how race and sexuality are taught in schools.
DeSantis is expected to announce his candidacy in late spring or early summer, after the conclusion of the Florida legislative session in mid-May.
The GOP caucuses will be held on Feb. 5, 2024. The Democrats have already kicked their Iowa caucuses to the curb in favor of a more “diverse” South Carolina primary taking the first spot. This may be a strategic error of the first order. Failing to share the “first in the nation” stage with Republicans in Iowa means that the meaningless Democratic nominating process (if Biden runs) won’t be able to compete with the GOP for attention. Republicans will suck all the oxygen out of the room in the critical first few months of the campaign.
At least the Democrats could have played “compare and contrast” if both parties were in Iowa for the start of the campaign.