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DeSantis sharpens attacks on Trump ahead of Iowa caucuses

“If you kiss the ring, he’ll say you’re wonderful,” DeSantis said of the GOP presidential front-runner.
 
A sign supporting former president Donald Trump lay on a chair near where he spoke during a rally on Sunday, Jan 14, 2023, at Simpson College in Indianola, IA, as Republican candidates work to lock down undecided Iowans before Monday's caucuses.
A sign supporting former president Donald Trump lay on a chair near where he spoke during a rally on Sunday, Jan 14, 2023, at Simpson College in Indianola, IA, as Republican candidates work to lock down undecided Iowans before Monday's caucuses. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jan. 15

ANKENY, Iowa — Ron DeSantis is ramping up his attacks on former President Donald Trump with less than 24 hours to go before the Iowa caucuses.

On the eve of the caucuses, the Florida governor and his allies used a rally in Ankeny, Iowa — a northern suburb of Des Moines — to deliver some of their sharpest attacks yet on Trump, marking something of a last stand for DeSantis’ campaign in Iowa before voters head to their caucus precincts on Monday night.

“You can be the most worthless Republican in America, but if you kiss the ring, he’ll say you’re wonderful,” DeSantis said. “You can be the strongest, most dynamic, successful Republican and conservative in America, but if you don’t kiss that ring, then he’ll try to trash you.”

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a key DeSantis ally who campaigns frequently with the governor, took the stage to accuse Trump of shutting “down the greatest economy in the history of the world” at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another speaker, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, did an impression of Trump at one point.

It wasn’t the first time DeSantis or his backers have called out Trump on the campaign trail. The governor has repeatedly criticized Trump for not firing Anthony Fauci, the former public health official who helped lead the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, he accused Trump of not being “pro-life” during a nationally televised CNN town hall.

But for much of his presidential campaign, DeSantis has been loath to go after Trump too directly, given the outsize influence the former president still commands over the GOP’s conservative base, including many of DeSantis’ supporters.

Asked by reporters after the rally if he was deliberately taking a tougher stance against Trump, DeSantis brushed off the notion, saying that the idea that he had not sufficiently criticized the former president was a “misnomer” — a false narrative that had been pushed by the media.

Still, there’s clear pressure on DeSantis to take a more forceful stand against Trump. Despite heavy spending and nonstop campaigning in Iowa, DeSantis still trails the former president in pre-caucus polling. One survey released on Saturday by the Des Moines Register found DeSantis falling into third place, behind both Trump and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

DeSantis and his allies have brushed off such polls as heavily skewed, and insist that the strength of his political operation in Iowa will be enough to secure him a strong finish on Monday.

“When we got elected in 2018, no pollster, no pundit said we were going to win that gubernatorial race,” said Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, who traveled to Iowa to help campaign for DeSantis ahead of the caucuses. “But he never flinched, he never wavered and he never backed down.”

The rally also served as something of a grand finale for DeSantis’ Iowa campaign. The event was filled to the brim with supporters and volunteers, eager to see DeSantis ahead of the caucuses. Warming up the crowd before DeSantis spoke was a long list of his most prominent backers: Roy, Massie, Nuñez, and conservative radio host Steve Deace.

Kim Reynolds, the popular Republican governor of Iowa who has campaigned frequently with DeSantis since she endorsed him two months ago, threw her political weight behind the Florida governor once again, encouraging voters to fight through the bitter subzero temperatures and caucus on Monday night.

After being hit with blizzard conditions on Friday and Saturday, temperatures in the state have dropped well below 0 degrees, while many roads are still covered in snow and ice.

“We need to do it one more night,” Reynolds said. “We need to be safe. But we need you to layer up and get out there and be sure and go caucus.”

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