Ron DeSantis slammed President Joe Biden for laughing at a mom who lost her children to fentanyl overdose and then went after Donald Trump’s COVID response in his first appearance in Iowa – as his presidential campaign announcement looms.
The Republican governor of Florida made his first appearance in Iowa ahead of a report that he’s telling people he will run for the White House next year.
In his remarks, DeSantis went after two of his biggest foes: Trump, who would be his greatest obstacle in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, and Biden, whom he would likely battle if he is the Republican nominee.
He criticized Biden for laughing off a claim he ‘killed’ the two sons of Rebecca Kiessling, who testified before Congress about the fentanyl crisis. DeSantis said Biden ‘doesn’t care’ and spoke of the mothers he’s had to comfort in Florida.
And while he didn’t mention Trump by name, he decried the federal response to the COVID pandemic, which started under Trump’s presidency and continued under Biden’s.
Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, in his first trip to Iowa, emphasized his ‘anti-woke’ agenda that included his rejection of COVID restrictions, battles over education policy and a hard-line stance on immigration
The ballroom of 1,500 people greeted the Republican governor of Florida with multiple rounds of applause during his speech, where he emphasized his ‘anti-woke’ agenda that included his rejection of COVID restrictions, battles over education policy and a hard-line stance on immigration.
‘We will never surrender to the woke mob,’ DeSantis said at the Rhythm City Casino Resort in the eastern Iowa city of Davenport. ‘Our state is where the woke mob goes to die.’
That message has made him a popular figure among conservatives.
DeSantis bragged – to great applause – how Florida flouted the pandemic-era restrictions and mocked Dr. Athony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who served as the face of the pandemic.
‘During COVID, the world lost its mind, when common sense suddenly became an uncommon virtue, the state of Florida stood as a refuge of sanity,’ he said. ‘We were a citadel of freedom for people all over this country and even around the world that would come.’
‘We refused to let our state descend into some sort of Faucian dystopia where people’s livelihoods were destroyed and their freedoms were curtailed. No, we chose freedom over Fauci-ism.’
‘We were right. And they were wrong,’ he added as the crowd cheered him.
He was blunter in his criticism of Biden, mentioning the letter he sent the president asking him to allow Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1 tennis player, into Florida to play in this month’s Miami Open even though Djokovic refuses to be vaccinated for COVID.
‘I have said if Djokovic wants to meet us in the Bahamas, we’ll get him over here by boat get him to the state of Florida so he can compete,’ he said.
And he was harshly critical of Biden ‘for laughing off a claim from Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene that he ‘killed’ the two sons of Rebecca Kiessling. Her sons Caleb and Kyler died in 2020 before Biden took office after taking what they thought were pain killers, but that were laced with fentanyl.
‘Mothers that I have to console in Florida that lose a child because of what’s going on at the border is a disgrace that this is happening,’ DeSantis noted.
‘Here’s the thing: when they laced fentanyl in this stuff, these are kids, you know, teenagers, those in their early 20s, they may have made a decision that wasn’t the best decision but they had no idea what they were getting.’
‘Biden doesn’t care. He laughed at that mother. Did you see that? He laughed at that mother who lost two, who lost a child because of fentanyl,’ he added.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, at the time, said Biden had expressed ‘sympathy’ and that his words were ‘mischaracterized.’
Greene claimed the boys died due to Biden administration policies and Biden chuckled when he talked about that. Kiessling demanded an apology but the White House wouldn’t say if the president would give her one.
Rebecca Kiessling, a mother from Michigan who lost two sons to fentanyl poisoning, wipes away tears during her testimony on Tuesday
Kiessling’s sons Caleb and Kyler died in 2020 when they were 18 and 20 after taking a pill that they did not know was laced with fentanyl
The ballroom at the Rhythm City Casino Resort in Davenport, Iowa, was packed with around 1,500 people to see Ron DeSantis
DeSantis, in his remarks, emphasized his conservative credentials and his success in Florida, where he easily won a second term as governor last year.
Trump, in a post on his Truth Social platform on Friday, criticized DeSantis in one of his favorite ways – giving him a derogatory nickname and mocking his crowd size.
‘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!,’ the former president wrote.
Jean-Pierre also went after DeSantis on Friday in her White House press briefing.
She said of his ‘anti-woke’ agenda, particularly against LGBTQ youth: ‘It is just hate. And it is shameful, it is shameful. And we’re going to call it out and like I said the president is going to continue to say we have the back of that community, or any vulnerable community.’
DeSantis was greeted with like a rock star in Davenport and, after his remarks, spent several minutes working the rope line, shaking hands and signing books.
The friendly crowded cheered him when he mentioned flying migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard and booed the Walt Disney company when DeSantis talked about how he battled the theme park giant over a law banning gender and sexuality instruction to young school children.
‘I’m sick of elites who are imposing their vision on open borders on you and on us. Then not having to face the consequences of it. So we thought it was worth it to send 50 illegals to Martha’s Vineyard,’ the governor noted.
‘They said they were a sanctuary city. They claim that nobody was illegal and all are welcome. But you know what they did? They deported on the next day. They called out the army to deport it just 50 of them. Just think what’s going on at the border with our border towns.’
The crowd gave him a huge round of applause.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds joined Ron DeSantis at his Iowa stop
After his remarks, Ron DeSantis stayed to talk to the crowd and sign copies of his book
Iowa will be a crucial test for the Florida governor should he run for president.
The state will hold the first Republican nominating contest early next year and, if DeSantis could beat Trump in its caucuses, it would show his strength and viability as a candidate.
DeSantis has made no formal announcement about his 2024 plans but he has indicated privately that he intends to run for president, two people familiar with his comments told The Washington Post.
He has long been seen as presidential contender for Republicans. His trip to Iowa comes three days before Trump visits the state to campaign there in his first visit since announcing his 2024 bid. Nikki Haley, who also has announced a presidential campaign, is in the middle of a three-day Iowa campaign swing.
Trump has deep ties to the state – thanks to his previous two presidential campaigns – and is popular there.
But a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll out Friday shows his support is starting to erode: the percentage of Iowa Republicans who say they would ‘definitely’ vote for him if he were the 2024 nominee has plummeted by more than 20 points since June 2021.
The poll also found Trump and DeSantis are on par when it comes to approval in the state: 44% of voters approve of Trump with 42% approving DeSantis. Both are about 20 points ahead of Haley.
The Florida governor heads to Nevada on Saturday – another important early voting state in the Republican presidential primary.
The trips – including one to the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California last week – are part of DeSantis’ effort to build his national profile, introduce himself to voters, and connect with donors ahead of an expected presidential announcement.
DeSantis allies don’t expect him to announce a presidential bid until after the Florida state legislative session ends in May.
But, already, a super PAC has been formed that could be a boost to his presidential campaign. Never Back Down will be run by Ken Cuccinelli, who served as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during the Trump administration, and Chris Jankowski, a veteran GOP operative.
All of DeSantis’ recent moves point to his presidential ambitions and those close to him told the Post that the governor is talking about a campaign without any caveats that would suggest he’s still deciding.
Former Presidential Donald Trump will visit Iowa on Monday – his first visit to the state since announcing he will run again in 2024
Nikki Haley is in the middle of a three-day Iowa tour – above she campaigns in Nevada, Iowa
Late last month DeSantis held a private, three-day retreat in Palm Beach – where Trump resides in Florida – with several prominent Republicans, many of whom backed the former president.
The event, billed as a celebration of his policies for the state he refers to as the ‘Florida blueprint,’ also served as a way to connect him to donors and powerbrokers in the party.
He also recently published a book: The Courage to Be Free: Florida‘s Blueprint for America’s Revival. He is pitching his policies in Florida as a ‘blueprint’ for the nation.
His events in Iowa and Nevada are tied to that book tour, which many see as a precursor to a presidential campaign.
Iowa, famous for its retail politics, will also be a test of DeSantis’ campaign abilities.
The governor has faced chatter he’s not a natural on the campaign trail, that he lacks charm and seems unwilling to commit to the hours of glad-handling and schmoozing it takes to campaign.
In Iowa, face time counts. Presidential candidates are expected to make multiple trips, visit nearly every county in the state, and do extensive retail campaigning.
That strategy gave early boosts to other Republicans in past presidential primaries: Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012 and Ted Cruz in 2016. Cruz beat Trump in the caucuses in the 2016 primary.
From left: Madison DeSantis, 6; first lady Casey DeSantis; Mason DeSantis, 4; and Gov. Ron DeSantis hold their hand over their hearts as they recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California on Sunday, March 5, 2023
Trump lashed out at DeSantis for the trip, accusing him of trying to ‘kill ethanol’ – an important issue to Iowa farmers.
‘Why on earth (farmer’s love earth!) would the wonderful people of the GREAT State of Iowa vote for Ron DeSanctimonious when he voted and fought to KILL Ethanol (and will definitely do so if given the chance),’ Trump wrote on his Truth Social website Thursday night.
‘He will be in Iowa on Friday to beg for mercy. I supported Ethanol, FIRED NAFTA, & made USMCA & China Trade Deals!’
While in Congress in 2017, DeSantis co-sponsored legislation that would have immediately ended the Renewable Fuel Standard, a mandate that requires renewable fuel to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply.
One of those requirements is met by corn starch ethanol. Iowa produces more corn than any other state.
Trump will be in Davenport on Monday to outline his education plan and take questions from voters. It’s his first visit to the state since he announced he’s running for president again.
He clearly sees DeSantis as a threat – giving him the derogatory nickname Ron DeSanctimonious and accusing him of wanting to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits.
DeSantis visited the Rhythm City Casino Resort in Davenport and then the Iowa State Fairgrounds, a traditional destination for presidential candidates.
He’ll also made a stop in Des Moines between his public events to meet with a small group of Republican lawmakers.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis greets attendees and signs copies of his book
In Las Vegas on Saturday, DeSantis will visit the night club Stoney’s Rockin’ Country with Adam Laxalt, a longtime friend who was the GOP nominee for Senate in Nevada last year.