Trump criticizes DeSantis at first 2023 Iowa event

By: - March 14, 2023 12:34 pm

Former President Donald Trump arrives for an event at the Adler Theatre on March 13, 2023 in Davenport, Iowa. Trump’s visit follows those by potential challengers for the GOP presidential nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who hosted events in the state last week. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump, in his first Iowa stop as an official presidential candidate, took aim at a potential rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Trump said if DeSantis joins the 2024 presidential race, his track record on ethanol and Social Security could cost him the Iowa caucuses. “I don’t think you’re gonna be doing so well here,” Trump said. “But we’re gonna find out.”

In 2017, DeSantis – then a U.S. representative – supported legislation that would have ended the Renewable Fuel Standard, which sets how much renewable energy must be be blended into the nation’s fuel supply. Trump said he would defend the Iowa ethanol industry from lawmakers seeking to cut subsidies, and he pledged to support increasing ethanol production.

“Just as I did for four straight years, I will protect the ethanol and I will go after anyone who wishes to destroy it,” Trump said.

Trump came in second in the Iowa caucuses in 2016 to another anti-ethanol candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

But Trump said Monday that DeSantis’ record of supporting changes to Social Security and Medicare like raising the retirement age to 70, also will make him unpopular in Iowa. As president, Trump also proposed cuts to these programs.

Trump said DeSantis reminded him of Republicans like U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who he called a “RINO (Republican in Name Only) loser.”

More than 1,000 people came to see the former president speak at Adler Theater in Davenport, with a line stretching around the block. After the theater reached capacity, some people stayed outside while he spoke.

DeSantis held a book tour event Friday in Davenport. His stops there and in Des Moines with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds marked his first trip to Iowa.

Trump slips in Iowa Poll

While DeSantis has not yet announced a bid for the presidency, the governor is considered a strong alternative to Trump for the 2024 GOP nomination.

The most recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found a majority of Iowans still see Trump in a positive light: 80% of Iowa Republicans said they have a “very favorable” view or “mostly favorable” view of the candidate. If Trump wins the GOP nomination, 74% of Republicans responded they would likely vote for him.

But that support is shifting: 47% of Iowa Republicans said they would definitely vote for him in the 2023 poll, down from 69% who said in the June 2021 poll that they would definitely support him.

The poll also found other potential candidates gaining attention. DeSantis was viewed favorably by 74% of Iowa Republicans.

The poll was conducted March 5-8 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, gathering responses from 805 Iowa participants, 257 who were self-identified Republicans. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the overall poll and a 6.1% margin of error for responses from only Republicans.

Some Republicans who attended last week’s events with DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said they supported Trump in 2020, but were looking at other options for 2024. They cited concerns about splitting the party or losing again in the general election.

Tensions grew in the Republican National Committee after the 2022 midterms, where Republicans did worse than expected. Some Republicans said Trump’s influence hurt GOP candidate’s chances. Trump said 98.6% of the candidates he endorsed in the 2022 midterms won their elections. The New York Times reported that rate was lower, at 82%.

“You hear the fake news saying, ‘Oh, he didn’t do so well in the midterms,’” Trump said. “I did well, the party didn’t do that well, because we have people like Mitch McConnell and others that didn’t allow it.”

A version of this story first ran in the Advance’s sister outlet, the Iowa Capital Dispatch. 

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations, they were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election,