Former President Donald Trump returns on Monday to Iowa, the state that leads off the Republican Party’s presidential nominating calendar, for his trip since launching his third White House campaign in November.
The former president’s scheduled to roll out new education policy — with a large dose of culture wars politics mixed in — at an event at the Adler Theater in Davenport. That’s the southeastern Iowa city along the Mississippi River where Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday kicked off a jam-packed one-day swing through the Hawkeye State.
The competing Trump and DeSantis events could be a split screen preview of things to come as the Republican nomination battle heats up. While DeSantis remains on the 2024 sidelines, his first ever visit to the first caucus state was the clearest signal to date that he’s likely to launch a presidential campaign later this year, after the conclusion of Florida’s current legislative session.
DeSantis — in nearly identical speeches in Davenport and later in Des Moines — touted his culture wars crusade, reiterating "in the state of Florida, we will fight the woke in the legislature. We will fight the woke in education. We will fight the woke in the businesses. We will never ever surrender to the woke mob. Our state is where woke goes to die."
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The governor is currently crisscrossing the country highlighting his "Florida blueprint" and promoting his newly released memoir, "The Courage to Be Free." And even though he’s not a candidate, poll after poll suggests he’s the biggest threat to Trump, who remains the most influential figure in the Republican Party and the front-runner in the burgeoning 2024 GOP presidential nomination field.
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Ahead of his own trip to Iowa, Trump took a page from his well-worn playbook and targeted DeSantis, taking to his social media page multiple times on Friday while the Florida governor was in Iowa to criticize DeSantis.
"No other President was as PRO FARMER as me. Tell that to Ron DeSanctimonious when he shows up to your door, hat in hand. Tell him to go home!" Trump said on Truth Social, as he used one of his derogatory nicknames for the Florida governor.
"Very small crowds for Ron DeSanctimonious in Iowa. He’s against Farmers, Social Security, and Medicare, so why would people show up - other than Fake stories from the Fake News!," Trump later wrote as he continued to attack DeSantis, who seemed to pack the room with a healthy crowd at his first stop in Davenport. The governor spent a half an hour after the first event shaking hands, signing books and taking selfies with the enthusiastic crowd.
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While DeSantis didn’t react to any of Trump’s jabs, in his twin speeches he once again described his administration as smoothly run in a possible contrast with the constant turnover of staff during Trump’s four years in the White House.
"There’s no drama in our administration," DeSantis said. "There’s no palace intrigue."
While in Iowa, DeSantis also met with a group of Republican state lawmakers in Des Moines and also held closed door meetings with some GOP leaders. Sources in the governor’s wider political orbit say that DeSantis advisers have reached out to several Iowa based Republican operatives about potentially joining the governor’s team, but no decisions have been made to date.
Trump already has a leadership team in place in Iowa, which includes Eric Branstad. The son of the former longtime Iowa governor who served as an ambassador in the Trump administration, who served as state director of Trump’s 2020 re-election, is back as a senior adviser on the 2024 campaign.
And Republican sources in the state say that Trump and his team have been reaching out ahead of his visit, urging GOP officials and leaders to endorse the former president once again.