DeSantis in Iowa warns of Republican ‘culture of losing’; weather sidelines Trump rally

A closeup of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking against a colorful background
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at an event Saturday in Sioux Center, Iowa.
(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

Warning of a Republican “culture of losing,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis courted voters in battleground Iowa on Saturday, seeking to weaken former President Trump’s grip on the GOP.

DeSantis, expected to announce his 2024 presidential campaign any day, briefly flipped burgers and pork chops at a picnic fundraiser at a classic car museum in Sioux Center that drew hundreds of conservatives to the northwest corner of the state. From the podium, he highlighted his willingness to embrace conservative cultural fights and sprinkled his remarks with indirect jabs at Trump.

“Governing is not about entertaining. Governing is not about building a brand or talking on social media and virtue signaling,” said DeSantis, who wore a blue button-down shirt without a tie or jacket. “It’s ultimately about winning and producing results.”


Trump, a candidate since November, had hoped to demonstrate his political strength with a large outdoor rally in Des Moines, Iowa’s capital, later in the day, but he canceled the event due to a tornado warning.

Voters in the state are sizing up DeSantis and Trump, two Republican powerhouses who are among half a dozen GOP candidates already in the race or expected to announce their bids imminently. Trump is well ahead of his rivals in early national polls, while DeSantis is viewed widely as his strongest potential challenger.

North Carolina’s Democratic governor has vetoed legislation that would have banned nearly all abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

May 13, 2023

Trump had hoped to return to the comfort of the campaign stage after a tumultuous week.

On Tuesday, a civil jury in New York found him liable for sexually abusing and defaming advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, and ordered him to pay her $5 million. A day later, during a contentious CNN town hall, he repeatedly insulted Carroll, reasserted lies about his 2020 election loss and minimized the level of violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

New York jury finds Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing writer E. Jean Carroll and orders the former president to pay her $5 million.

May 9, 2023

DeSantis has burnished his reputation as a conservative governor willing to push hard for conservative policies and even take on a political fight with Disney, which he highlighted in Sioux Center. But he hasn’t shown the same zest for taking on Trump, who for months has been almost singularly focused on tearing down DeSantis.

On Saturday, DeSantis avoided mention of Trump’s legal entanglements or his falsehoods about the 2020 election, but he highlighted the GOP’s recent string of electoral losses. He did not say it explicitly, but the Republican Party has struggled in every national election since Trump’s 2016 victory.

“We must reject the culture of losing that has impacted our party in recent years. The time for excuses is over,” DeSantis said. “If we get distracted, if we focus the election on the past or on other side issues, then I think the Democrats are going to beat us again.”


It’s uncertain whether DeSantis’ political successes in Florida can be replicated on the national stage.

Even before he formally enters the race, he’s already facing questions about his ability to court donors and woo voters.

The Iowa visit, his second in two months, was expected to help address concerns about his sometimes awkward personal appeal as he met with Republican officials, donors and volunteers, all under the glare of the national media. But DeSantis devoted little time for selfies or handshakes in Sioux Center, where more than 600 people had gathered to see him at an event billed as a family picnic for U.S. House Republican Rep. Randy Feenstra.

Before the event, DeSantis met with state lawmakers who announced Thursday and Friday that they were endorsing him for president. He left most of the politicking to an allied super PAC, which had set up a table where supporters of his yet-to-be-announced presidential campaign could sign up.

New College of Florida looks set to become a pivotal battleground over the mission of public universities as Gov. Ron DeSantis wages his war on ‘woke.’

Feb. 5, 2023

The road outside the car museum was flanked with 2024 campaign signs for DeSantis.

Trump’s team had expected more than 5,000 to attend a rally Saturday at an outdoor amphitheater in downtown Des Moines.

Trump’s 2024 Iowa campaign, unlike his rag-tag 2016 second-place Iowa effort, is putting together a more disciplined, data-driven operation. Saturday’s event was planned to encourage attendees to sign up on a website so the campaign could maintain contact with them, keep them posted on how and where to caucus, and recruit volunteers.


In a social media post, Trump promised to reschedule the event.

For Trump, the rivalry with DeSantis has turned increasingly personal.

DeSantis has largely ignored Trump’s jabs, which have included suggesting impropriety with young girls when the governor was a teacher decades ago, questioning his sexuality and calling him “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

Trump’s campaign began airing an ad mocking DeSantis for yoking himself to the former president in 2018 when he ran for governor, even using some Trump catchphrases as a nod to the latter’s supporters in Florida.

The Trump-allied super PAC, MAGA Inc., also has aired spots highlighting DeSantis’ votes to cut Social Security and Medicare and raise the retirement age. The group even targeted DeSantis’ snacking habits, running an ad that called for him to keep his “pudding fingers” off those benefits. That was a reference to a report in the Daily Beast that the governor had eaten chocolate pudding with his fingers instead of a spoon on a plane several years ago.

DeSantis has said he does not remember doing that.

The pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down has hired Iowa staff and begun trying to organize support for the governor before his 2024 campaign announcement. The group announced Thursday that state Senate President Amy Sinclair and state House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl would endorse DeSantis’ candidacy. On Friday, the super PAC rolled out the names of about three dozen more state lawmakers who would endorse him.

Two other key Iowa Republicans, Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, were in Sioux Center for DeSantis’ appearance Saturday.

After his speech, DeSantis moved swiftly through the crowd, making small talk with voters as he was trailed by reporters, TV cameras and a security detail. He then dashed outdoors to pose with Reynolds and Feenstra while tending to burgers and pork chops at the grill.


Lyle and Sonia Remmerde of Rock Valley managed to get a handshake. She said DeSantis came across as “normal.”

“One of the things when you compare Trump and DeSantis, I think DeSantis has — how do you say? — a much more smooth approach,” said Lyle Remmerde, 65. “He’s less abrasive.”

Price reported from Des Moines. Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in New York contributed to this report.