Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his top rival for the Republican presidential nomination, didn’t come face to face as they separately courted voters on Saturday at the Iowa State Fair.
But DeSantis took aim at Trump, the commanding front-runner for their party’s 2024 nomination, and supporters of the former president repeatedly heckled the Florida governor as he made his way around the fairgrounds, a necessary stop for White House hopefuls in the state that kicks off the GOP presidential nominating calendar.
DeSantis — who’s trying to change the narrative after a series of setbacks the past two months, which triggered weeks of negative stories spotlighting his campaign’s overspending, staff layoffs, change of leadership and other stumbles — had planned for a couple of weeks to campaign at the state fair on Saturday.
PENCE SAYS TRUMP MISSED AN OPPORTUNITY AT THE IOWA STATE FAIR
Trump, who starting targeting DeSantis months before the Florida governor officially announced his candidacy in late May, announced on Tuesday that he would show up at the state fair on the same day as the Florida governor, to likely grab the spotlight from his rival.
“We’ve now done 38 out of the 99 counties. We did six counties yesterday,” DeSantis touted as he spotlighted his barnstorming campaign through the first caucus state. “That’s really what it’s all about. And when you go there you bring the message. People do respond. We’re seeing that on the ground.”
THESE GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES HAVE QUALIFIED TO MAKE THE DEBATE STAGE AT THE FOX NEWS SHOWDOWN
But DeSantis, as he sat down with Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa for her “fair side chats,” was met with a group of protesters blowing whistles. And a plane flying a “Be Likeable Ron!” banner circled in the skies above.
Minutes later, as he flipped pork chops at the Iowa Pork Producers Association building — a tradition for presidential contenders stopping at the fair — DeSantis was greeted with chants of “we love Trump” by supporters of the former president who were huddled yards away. And the former president’s plane flew over the state fair grounds moments later, as fairgoers pointed to the sky.
Trump, who earlier this summer criticized Reynolds for staying neutral in the race for the GOP presidential nomination race, was the only Republican presidential candidate attending the fair to not sit down with the Iowa governor for one of the fair side chats.
Asked by Fox News whether Trump was missing out on an opportunity by not joining Reynolds at the fair, DeSantis blasted his 2024 rival.
“I think Donald Trump’s attacks on Kim Reynolds are totally out of bounds. I couldn’t disagree with it any more. And she’s done nothing but do a great job. She’s never done anything to him.,” he said.
WHO’S STILL FIGHTING TO QUALIFY FOR THE FIRST GOP PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE
DeSantis argued, “That’s just how he operates — to attack one of the best governors in the country. . . . I disagree with the attacks against her. He’s way out of bounds, and at the end of the day, I’m glad that Kim Reynolds is at the helm here in the state of Iowa.”
Trump has not committed to taking the stage at the first Republican presidential nomination debate, a Fox News-hosted showdown August 23 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He didn’t answer when Fox News asked him on Saturday at the state fair whether he’ll attend the debate. And the former president said a few days ago that he won’t sign a Republican National Committee loyalty pledge in order to qualify for the face-off.
WHAT PENCE SAID IN HIS FOX NEWS INTERVIEW AT THE IOWA STATE FAIR
“We have signed the pledge to support the nominee because ultimately the mission of reversing the country’s decline is bigger than anyone person,” DeSantis told reporters. “I think I’ll be the nominee, and we’ll get the job done, but at the end of the day, you don’t take your ball and go home. It’s not just about you. You’ve got to be willing to stand up and support the team.”
Pointing toward Trump without mentioning him by name, DeSantis said, “Someone’s not willing to do that, that just shows you they’re running – their campaign’s more about them than about the broader public and the American people. . . . I think every candidate should agree to support the nominee.”
Trump, who made multiple stops as he made his way through the fairgrounds, was surrounded by large crowds of enthusiastic supporters.
“The other candidates came here—they had like six people,” Trump said, as he dramatically underestimated the crowds for his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination.
The former president – who enjoys a large double-digit lead over DeSantis and the rest of the large field of Republican White House hopefuls in the latest surveys in Iowa, the other early voting states, and national polls, vowed thta “we’ll be back. We don’t want to take any chances.”
Trump was accompanied by nine members of Florida’s congressional delegation who are backing him, in an intentional dig at DeSantis.
The Florida governor, accompanied by a dozen Iowa state lawmakers who are backing him, told reporters “I think it’s fine to bring folks in from Washington but I think Iowans are more concerned about people in their communities and Iowans that they know and work with and go to church with and see. I think we have 40 legislators from the Iowa House and Senate combined. I don’t think anybody’s had that many, certainly not this early in a caucus process.”
Trump and DeSantis weren’t the only GOP presidential contenders at the state fair on Saturday. Former ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and entrepreneur and best-selling author Vivek Ramaswamy were also courting voters.
After she joined Reynolds, Haley was asked in a Fox News Digital interview about Trump’s decision not to join the Iowa governor.
“I think Donald Trump can do what he wants,” Haley said. “I think that Kim Reynolds is the best governor in the country. To stand with the best governor in the country is a great thing. So it’s shame he’s not doing it, but you’ll have to ask him.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson -two long-shot candidates primary challenging President Biden for the Democratic nomination – also enjoyed coverage from the large contingent of political reporters, as they made their way through the fairgrounds.