Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held his first official presidential campaign event in Iowa Tuesday night, telling voters in the early nominating state that the nation is “careening toward bankruptcy” in the wake of President Biden’s debt ceiling deal with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
DeSantis’ appearance at the Eternity Church in Clive, just west of Des Moines, marked his first stop on a three-state, 12-city tour that will also take in the first two primary states, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“It is great to be back. And it’s great for me to report that our great American comeback starts by sending Joe Biden back to his basement in Delaware,” DeSantis told the packed house, referencing his campaign’s “Our Great American Comeback Tour”. “I mean, he’s spent so much of his time as president on vacation, we might as well make it permanent.”
After buttering up the crowd by referring to his home state of Florida as the “Iowa of the southeast,” DeSantis launched into his campaign pitch of competent, conservative governance.
“At the end of the day, leadership is not about entertainment,” the 44-year-old said. “It’s not about building a brand. it’s not about virtue signaling. It is about results, and in Florida, we didn’t lead with merely words, we followed up our words with deeds, and we have produced a record of accomplishment that we would put up against anybody in this country.
“We signed the heartbeat bill [with] the strongest pro-life protections in modern Florida history,” the governor added, touting the Sunshine State’s six-week ban on most abortions to his heavily evangelical audience.
DeSantis also blasted McCarthy’s weekend deal with Biden to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
“We now see Washington has now cooked up their latest ‘debt deal.’ And I can tell you this, our nation was careening towards bankruptcy before the debt deal, and it will still be careening towards bankruptcy after this debt deal,” he said.
“This is greenlighting $4 trillion in new debt in less than two years. It took us almost 200 years to get to $4 trillion in debt in the first place. It locks in inflated COVID-era levels of spending. And it keeps 98% of the 87,000 new IRS agents that Joe Biden instituted.”
Tuesday’s event was a more traditional stump speech for DeSantis after his glitchy 2024 campaign launch on Twitter Spaces last week, during which technical difficulties left many unable to hear the new candidate’s announcement that he was in fact running for president.
The event, however, was a financial boon for the campaign, which raised a record $8.2 million in the first 24 hours after the announcement.
DeSantis has so far staked out ground as a more electable, more reliable and more conservative version of former President Donald Trump, his chief GOP primary rival – championing many of the same policies and pegging himself even further to the right on social issues.
The governor also touched on the crisis at the border Tuesday, arguing that Mexican drug cartels “have more control over what goes on at the border than our own United States government.
“Millions of illegal aliens have poured into this country including criminal aliens, and even individuals on the terrorist watch list,” he said. “The massive amounts of fentanyl that the cartels are bringing in have killed tens of thousands of our fellow Americans.”
DeSantis also referenced embattled first son Hunter Biden, arguing that if he were a Republican he would be locked up.
“We have a bureaucracy that our Founding Fathers would find unrecognizable,” DeSantis said. “It is an unaccountable, weaponized administrative state that unevenly wields authority, depending on its targets, two different sets of rules depending on whether you’re a member in good standing of elite society or not. If Hunter were a Republican, he would have been in jail years ago.”
Earlier this month, the pro-DeSantis super PAC “Never Back Down” announced that the Florida governor had received 37 endorsements from Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate, including from Senate President Amy Sinclair and House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl.
Never Back Down called the influx of support for DeSantis “the largest number of endorsements from Iowa legislators at this stage of a GOP primary in modern memory.”
“I got endorsed by 37 legislators there before I even announced my candidacy,” DeSantis said of his Iowa endorsements Monday during an appearance on “Fox and Friends.”
“We obviously have a lot in common with Iowa in terms of what Florida has done and what they’ve done under Gov. Kim Reynolds. And I think the groundswell of support has been really, really strong. We’re going to press the case,” he added.
Moments before DeSantis took the stage in Clive, the Trump campaign fired off an email deriding the governor as “A Failure For Iowa And Farmers” and touting Trump’s primary polling lead over DeSantis, both in Iowa and nationwide.
The Trump campaign further dismissed DeSantis as a “creature of the swamp” backed by the “establishment” and accused him of voting to outsource American jobs, raise taxes and “destroy” Social Security and Medicare during his tenure in Congress.
Trump is expected to campaign in Iowa on Wednesday and Thursday, during which he will meet with local Republicans and faith leaders and hold a town hall meeting in Clive that will air on Fox News.
Most national polls show DeSantis trailing Trump by double digits, but supporters note that the contest is in its early stages and that Trump is mired in legal uncertainty.
Some polls also show DeSantis doing better than Trump in head-to-head matchups against President Biden, both nationally and in swing states.
On Saturday, DeSantis will be back in the Hawkeye State attending Sen. Joni Ernst’s (R-Iowa) “Roast & Ride” fundraiser in Des Moines.