CLIVE, Iowa — A lot of presidential politics watchers will tell you that it’s not a presidential campaign until a candidate comes to Iowa.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis came to Iowa Tuesday evening, officially kicking off his run for the White House in the kick-off caucus state. In his first campaign stop in what promises to be a long and bruising contest for the GOP presidential nomination, DeSantis pledged to “never back down” from the fight for conservative values or in the battle against big government, the “woke mob” and the assault on individual liberties.
DeSantis did not utter the name of his chief Republican rival, the elephant in the GOP’s room, former President Donald Trump, who holds a massive lead in primary polls. But the 500-plus Iowans gathered in the auditorium of the sprawling Eternity church campus in suburban Des Moines knew exactly what DeSantis was talking about when he told them, “The tired dogmas of the past are inadequate for a vibrant future.” The line, loosely lifted from Abraham Lincoln’s Dec. 1, 1862 message to congress on the “stormy present” of Civil War America, was a call for a new generation of leadership AD — After Donald.
“We must look forward, not look backwards. We must have the courage to lead, and we must have the strength to win because the stakes couldn’t be higher,” DeSantis said.
After a glitch-filled launch of his campaign last Thursday on Twitter, DeSantis was nearly pitch perfect in his first rally of the campaign at the evangelical church. And the Iowans in attendance, many of whom are far from making up their minds on who they will caucus for next February, seemed to warmly embrace the DeSantis message.
As he has in the long run-up to officially jumping into the race, DeSantis highlighted his.conservative agenda successes in the Sunshine State, where he won a landslide second term in November. He boasted about turning Florida’s Supreme from one of the more liberal to among the more conservative state high courts in the country. Of course, timing helped. Three of the most liberal members of the court called it a career as assumed office in 2020.
DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature checked the spread of the gender identity movement. “We’re not competing in the pronoun sweepstakes in Florida,” the governor said, noting that he signed a bill passed in the recently wrapped legislative session that bans minors from receiving gender reassignment surgeries or puberty blockers.
“We stand for the protection of our children … and on that point, there will be no compromise,” DeSantis said, bringing the crowd to its feet.
He talked about taking on the federal administrative state, the dark heart of “the swamp,” as Trump likes to call it.
“We can’t have true constitutional government if the most important issues in our society are decided not by our elected representatives but by some nameless, faceless bureaucrat working in Washington D.C,” DeSantis said. “We must reinvigorate our constitutional system by returning the government to its rightful owners: We the people.”
He even took time to reap the freshly brokered debt ceiling deal.
“We now see Washington has cooked up their latest ‘debt deal.’ I can tell you this, our nation was careening toward bankruptcy before the debt deal and it will still be careening toward bankruptcy after this debt deal,” DeSantis said. “This is green lighting $4 trillion in new debt … It locks in inflated COVID-era levels of spending and it keeps 98 percent of the 87,000 new IRS agents that Joe Biden instituted. This is not going to solve our nation’s fiscal problems. I can tell you, in Florida we run budget surpluses.”
DeSantis had made a couple of trips to Iowa this year — in early March and earlier this month. But those visits occurred before he officially entered the presidential race, though anyone not living under a rock knew that DeSantis was national campaign bound.
Campaigning by his side, wife and popular Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis, who may have wowed the crowd more than the governor.
She was faithful to the theme of the night, and the campaign.
“Ron DeSantis always stands up for what’s right. He never backs down. He says what he’s going to do and gets it done,” Casey DeSantis said to warm applause. She recalled the media beating the governor took after he opened up his state against the guidance and conventional wisdom of the “experts” and the liberal establishment at the time.
“When you look at COVID, the world descended on Florida. You had the corporate media, the left, the White House, [Anthony] Fauci, all prognosticating that every bad thing would happen unless the governor followed their dictates and their politicized, unscientific orthodoxy,” the first lady said. “He held the line in defense of the people he represented. He never backed down. He took their livelihoods and their happiness above his own. He said, ‘It’s my job to defend your job, even at the end of the day I lose my job.’”
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds introduced the new presidential candidate. She compared the successes of red state Iowa and red state Florida, driven, she said, by leaders who have defended the liberties of their citizens.
“Right now we are in a battle for the soul of this great country,” the Republican governor said. “As liberals sink to an insane, new low every single day. … We are living in unprecedented times and it is so critical that we do everything we can to make sure that a Republican takes back the White House.”
Reynolds isn’t saying whether that Republican should be Ron DeSantis. The governor has been clear that she will not endorse in the nominating process.
Trump definitely thinks DeSantis should not be the GOP presidential nominee. On his Truth Social account Tuesday, the former president posted a story with the headline, “Trump Support Swells as DeSantis Collapses in New Poll.” He also noted a new Monmouth poll which shows, among Republican voters, Trump has the best chance to beat President Joe Biden in 2024 — 63 percent compared to 32 percent for “someone else.”
Trump will surely drive home those numbers on Thursday when he makes a return campaign trip to Iowa.
DeSantis and his super PAC backers have argued that “someone else” is the only hope for Republicans, if they want to beat Biden. In some cases, they’ve rolled out what critics have described as “skewed” polls to make the argument that DeSantis, not Trump, is set up to end Biden’s tenure in the White House.
DeSantis told voters on his first stop on a two-day campaign swing through Iowa that this is no time for distractions.
“I believe that if we make this a referendum on the failures of Joe Biden and if we provide a positive alternative for the American people that we will win the election, not just for president but the House and Senate, and we will sweep into Washington with the chance to do great things,” DeSantis said. “But if we get distracted, if we allow the election to become about other things other than Biden’s failures, if he’s able to hibernate in his basement for the whole campaign and not have to answer tough questions, well, we may be in danger of seeing a Democrat sweep in 2020.”
– – –
M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photos “Ron DeSantis in Iowa” by Ron DeSantis.