Davenport, Iowa – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis previewed a possible line of attack Friday against both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, ridiculing the federal response to Covid-19 at a first-in-state caucus here.
“We were right, they were wrong,” DeSantis boasted during a stump speech before about 700 people in a huge ballroom at the Rhythm City Casino Resort. In particular, he took aim at Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who served as a top advisor on Covid under both presidents.
“We refuse to let our state descend into some kind of Faussian dystopia,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis’ remarks, his first as a potential presidential candidate in Iowa, also included a familiar barrage of attacks on progressives on immigration, education and gender identity, reiterating his view that his state is “the place to die.” goes.”
Red meat was served as the Des Moines Register showed Iowa Republicans are both supportive of Trump and open to other candidates. It came just three days before Trump plans to hold a rally in the city and roll out the education plank of his platform, giving voters a split-screen look at the top two Republican contenders right now.
DeSantis followed the nearly 30-minute speech with a brief question-and-answer session on stage with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a fellow Republican who has not endorsed any 2024 presidential candidate. On his way out, he took selfies with voters and signed books.
DeSantis is not expected to formally launch a campaign until June at the earliest, but polls show he has positioned himself as Trump’s strongest early opponent across the country and in this state.
Several voters who spoke to NBC News on Friday outside the DeSantis event said they prefer Trump but are open to alternatives, including the governor of Florida.
Kerry Baumer, a 42-year-old mother of two from Davenport, described herself as a “big Trump supporter” but attended the event because she was open to other candidates.
Baumer said, “Part of it is that everyone knows Trump can do this, but Trump needs to learn when to keep his mouth shut.” “So people really put off because they get nervous about what he’s going to say versus what he’s doing for us.”
Denise Gross-Plohn, a 53-year-old hairstylist from Davenport, said she was impressed by DeSantis’ work as Florida governor.
“I’m a Trump supporter too, but I’m open,” she said. “I think there are a number of great Republican candidates running for president.”
On Friday, Trump took aim at DeSantis on the Truth social media platform.
Trump wrote, ‘No other president was a pro farmer like me. “Tell Ron de Sanctimonius when he comes to your door hat in hand. Tell him to go home!”
“Desanctimonious” is one of several nicknames Trump has used for Florida governor as he seeks a third consecutive Republican nomination.
DeSantis, who plans to meet with Iowa legislators before delivering similar remarks to an audience in Des Moines later in the day, drew much of his speech from his No. 1 New York Times-bestselling book “The Courage to Be Free.” Focused on the mentioned topics. Copies of the book – part memoir, part political tract – were handed out at the entrance to the Davenport event.
He applauded incessantly as he went after Democrats and the media.
“We will never surrender to an awakened mob,” he said.