CEDER RAPIDS, Iowa—On the Iowa campaign trail, former President Trump said that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination may be “gonezo.”
“We never want to say that. We’ve got to get this thing finished,” he told an enthusiastic crowd at Kirkwood Community College on Dec. 2. In between the cheers, he stressed to his local supporters that they must caucus for him on Jan. 15, now less than a month and a half away.
The former president swung through Cedar Rapids after speaking earlier in the day in Ankeny, Iowa, outside Des Moines.
His Iowa jaunt came after a decidedly uneven week for Mr. DeSantis.
On the plus side, the Florida governor did not fumble a debate on Fox News with California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom. Mr. DeSantis had a chance to showcase his state’s population growth, tax policies, approach to the pandemic, and more.
A poll associated with a conservative-leaning site, the Drudge Report, showed that a strong majority believed Florida’s state executive came out ahead in the duel of words.
Yet, alongside long-range declines in polling with a significant gap to front-running President Trump, competition for funding with former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, and recent shakeups at the super PAC backing his run for the presidency “Never Back Down,” Mr. DeSantis has been left looking vulnerable ahead of the fourth Republican debate next week in Alabama.
Never Back Down’s chair, former Nevada attorney general and Republican Adam Laxalt, resigned from the group on Nov. 26. Mr. Laxalt’s move comes after Chris Jankowski, the head of Never Back Down, also left the organization in late November.
“Never Back Down’s main goal and sole focus has been to elect Governor Ron DeSantis as president. Given the current environment, it has become untenable for me to deliver on the shared goal, and that goes well beyond a difference of strategic opinion,” Mr. Jankowski said in a statement Never Back Down’s spokeswoman provided.
Mr. DeSantis held his own event in Newton, Iowa, on Dec. 2 to mark his visit to all 99 of Iowa’s counties in his campaign for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination. The move is known as a “full Grassley” after Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is legendary for traveling to every county in Iowa every year.
Another 2024 hopeful, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, also toured Iowa on Dec. 2. He made his way to a Buffalo Wild Wings in Iowa City to watch a much-anticipated Big Ten Championship Game between the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and the University of Michigan Wolverines.
Trump Criticizes DeSantis, Iowa Gov. Reynolds
While Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Ramaswamy seek to regain momentum, President Trump is contending with an unfavorable ruling from Judge Tanya Chutkan in Special Counsel Jack Smith’s case alleging that he interfered in the 2020 presidential election.
On Dec. 1, the judge rejected his argument that he should enjoy “absolute immunity” because the charges concern actions he undertook as the president, “so long as he was not both impeached and convicted for those actions.”
“Whatever immunities a sitting President may enjoy, the United States has only one Chief Executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass. Former Presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability,” Judge Chutkan opined in a 48-page ruling.
The former president did not mention Judge Chutkan in Cedar Rapids. In that case and a civil fraud case, he’s currently muzzled by gag orders.
He renewed more of his frequent criticisms of Mr. DeSantis, alleging that he was a “raging opponent of ethanol.”
While in Congress, President Trump’s rival cosponsored a 2017 bill that would have eliminated the renewable fuel standard. That, in turn, could have been bad news for ethanol and Iowa’s corn farmers, who have seen much of their crop utilized to produce the biofuel.
In his Ankeny speech, President Trump criticized Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, for endorsing Mr. DeSantis.
“How do you endorse somebody who’s forty or fifty points down?” President Trump asked before reiterating a major theme in his speeches: loyalty to him, or the lack thereof.
“When somebody does that, it’s a lack of loyalty,” he said in Ankeny, before suggesting that her actions have contributed to the rise in unpopularity now afflicting her.
The Audience Responds
Ahead of President Trump’s speech, Dion Knapp didn’t look discouraged about his candidate of choice. Mr. Knapp was working the crowd while wearing a Trump flag as a cape.
“Iowa’s going for Trump. There’s no two ways about it,” he told The Epoch Times.
He said the former president could triple his share of the vote he received in 2016. In that year’s caucus, the future commander-in-chief finished behind Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and got a little under one quarter of the total vote.
Mr. Knapp praised the speech afterward.
“He’s hitting all of his bases,” he said.
Peter Stout, a student at Kirkwood who said he grew up on a farm, told The Epoch Times that the Trump-era trade war with China over crops was “definitely a tough time.”
He said that the former president’s talk of ethanol resonates with farmers.
“People know ethanol drives the world,” Mr. Stout said.
Will he caucus for President Trump?
A man with the last name Stern who declined to provide his first name told The Epoch Times he intends to support President Trump at the Jan. 15 Iowa caucus.
“It was awesome. It was Trump,” he said of the speech.
From The Epoch Times