Republican presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) spoke at a town hall in Osceola, Iowa, on July 27, 2023, at Revelton Distilling Company. (The New York Times/Christopher (KS) Smith)
RYE, New Hampshire — Two days after former President Donald Trump called Ron DeSantis a derogatory name in front of a room full of Republican activists in Iowa, DeSantis pointedly brought up his chief rival’s federal indictment. He said that if Trump had “drained the swamp as he promised,” he probably wouldn’t be in the mess he’s in.
After a campaign event in New Hampshire on Sunday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis talked to reporters. They said that Trump’s “childish insults” showed “why so many millions of voters will never vote for him again.”
DeSantis hasn’t used Trump’s legal problems against him. Instead, he’s been criticizing the Biden administration for “weaponizing” federal law enforcement, which is what he calls it.
But DeSantis is trying to fix his failing campaign by laying off staff and holding less formal events because he isn’t raising enough money. His comments suggest he may be taking a less cautious approach to the man who is far ahead of him in national polls. Even people who support him have said that his campaign hasn’t clearly communicated why people should vote for him instead of Trump.
Part of the change may be because DeSantis has changed how he has run his campaign in the past week. Before, he talked to voters in more controlled settings and avoided the press. Now, he regularly answers questions from regular people and reporters, which means he will be asked more about Trump leading the Republican primary race.
Last week, DeSantis took a bus tour through rural Iowa as part of his new campaign plan. On Friday, he and a dozen other Republican presidential candidates, including the former president, took turns speaking at a dinner by the Republican Party of Iowa. Trump made fun of DeSantis by calling him “DeSanctis,” which is short for “DeSanctimonious,” and bragging about his lead in the polls. DeSantis was in a hospitality suite near the main stage.
Sunday, DeSantis went to a barbecue in Rye that was co-hosted by Scott Brown, who was an ambassador in the Trump administration and used to be a senator from Massachusetts. Brown isn’t taking a side in the race right now but hosting similar events for several Republican candidates. Trump’s camp hasn’t asked to attend yet, Brown said.
As usual, DeSantis did not talk about Trump in his speech. But afterward, during a question-and-answer session, a voter asked the governor, “Given that Trump seems to have a strong hold on most of the party, what’s your plan to show Trump supporters that you’re a better choice?”
DeSantis replied that he thought many Republicans would be willing to pick someone other than Trump.
“I think I have the best chance of beating Biden,” he said. “I can be trusted more on policy. I think you’ve seen my track record in Florida, and I’m much more likely to get all this done.”
“We ended the presidency with Fauci running the government,” DeSantis said, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former top expert on infectious diseases for the federal government, who is very unpopular with Republican voters. “That doesn’t get rid of the swamp.”
Hank Bivins, who asked the question, said the answer didn’t impress him.
“He needs to stand out more,” said Bivins, 53, who hasn’t decided yet. “He’ll have to make that answer better.”
Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Trump, said that Ron DeSantis was “nothing but a cheap knockoff of America First.”
Cheung said, “No matter how much time he spends cosplaying as President Trump, he will never be him or do a hundredth of what the Trump administration did.”
A recent poll from the University of New Hampshire showed that Trump had 37% of the vote in the state, with DeSantis coming in second with 23%.
But Brown said DeSantis was doing the right things to close the gap. He said that of all the candidates in the race, only field workers for DeSantis had knocked on his door so far.
He also said that DeSantis had improved as a politician since he last saw him campaigning in New Hampshire in June.
Brown said, “I see him today, and he’s much better.” “And he is making better connections.”