The commencement of Governor Ron DeSantis’ campaign for the White House is set to occur in earnest on Tuesday evening in Iowa. The event, to be held in the traditionally Republican state, will give a preliminary indication of the readiness of Republican primary voters to pivot away from former President Donald Trump.
Technical difficulties marred DeSantis’ previous announcement of his presidential ambitions via Twitter, prompting a fresh start in the form of a traditional campaign launch. DeSantis is scheduled to address the public at an evangelical church just outside Des Moines, initiating a conventional three-day tour through vital early nominating states.
The Florida Governor has found himself needing to justify his non-traditional launch in the days following his announcement, while concurrently escalating his critiques of Trump. Previously reticent about the former President, DeSantis is now vocal in his critique of Trump’s handling of the economy, pandemic, and crime.
However, what remains largely unarticulated by DeSantis is his vision for the country and his motivations for seeking the presidency. Tuesday’s event is likely to serve as an ideal platform for him to elucidate his reasons for vying for the 2024 GOP nomination.
Iowa, being the first state to host the GOP nominating contest, plays a crucial role in assessing presidential candidates, even if its predictions for the eventual nominee have been historically inconsistent. Given that a former president is attempting to regain the presidency for the first time in a hundred years, attention will be firmly on Iowa for any indication of weakening loyalty to Trump among Republican voters.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, DeSantis, in an interview with Fox News, expressed his intent to “compete everywhere,” viewing Iowa as a unique arena to showcase the distinction in “values” between himself and Trump. He highlighted his successful implementation of conservative policies, including a six-week abortion ban and new regulations on teaching about race or LGBTQ issues, as having potential resonance with recent Republican successes in Iowa.
“Iowa’s very important,” DeSantis said on Fox News, as reported by CNN “We obviously have a lot in common with Iowa in terms of what Florida has done and what they’ve done under Governor Kim Reynolds. And I think the groundswell of support has been really, really strong. We’re going to press the case.”
The Never Back Down super PAC, devoted to supporting DeSantis, has been tirelessly preparing an extensive operation within the state for several weeks. They have recruited a considerable team, appointed key staff members, and secured the backing of a significant number of lawmakers. Jeff Roe, a seasoned GOP strategist known for his role in directing Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign, is leading this effort. In that year, Cruz achieved victory in the Iowa caucuses, surpassing numerous opponents, including Trump.
Despite ongoing polls indicating that DeSantis is a leading contender against Trump for the nomination, he is entering an increasingly populated field. His early strategic moves suggest a readiness by his political team for a long-drawn-out battle. DeSantis is scheduled to revisit Iowa this coming Saturday following a tour through Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. His return will coincide with Sen. Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride event.
This event has emerged as a significant destination for presidential aspirants, with almost all declared and prospective candidates, barring Trump, confirming their participation. DeSantis’ decision to partake in this GOP mainstream event indicates that he anticipates an uphill race similar to the rest of the candidates.
Trump, too, seems to anticipate a challenging journey towards the nomination. Even though Iowa did not represent a highly contested territory during the midterms, he conducted a pre-election rally in the state last November. He is also slated for a Fox News town hall in Clive, Iowa, this coming Thursday.
Meanwhile, DeSantis is organizing his event on Tuesday at an evangelical church in the same suburb of Des Moines. The choice of venue underscores the continued significant role that faith plays in the Republican party, especially within Iowa, as the nomination process unfolds. DeSantis and his wife, Casey, will also be meeting with 15 local Iowa pastors prior to the event, according to a reliable source within the DeSantis campaign.
The pastors will be “praying over the family and the governor’s candidacy,” the source said.
In the weeks preceding his campaign initiation, DeSantis has actively sought to foster relationships within evangelical circles. Earlier this month, he and his wife hosted a dinner for Bob Vander Plaats, the president of Iowa’s The Family Leader, at the Florida Governor’s Mansion. In April, he engaged with students at Liberty University, a Virginia college established by televangelist Jerry Falwell. Recently, he also participated in a live discussion with evangelical commentator Franklin Graham during the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters association.
Contrastingly, Trump has had recent disagreements with the evangelical community. He reproached church leaders for their perceived lack of enthusiastic support for his campaign, labeling it as “disloyalty.” His reluctance to voice support for a federal abortion ban has further incensed the religious right.
“Nobody has ever done more for Right to Life than Donald Trump. I put three Supreme Court justices, who all voted, and (evangelicals) got something that they’ve been fighting for 64 years, for many, many years,’” Trump said in January, referring to the Supreme Court’s overturning of federal abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision last summer.
Upon DeSantis’s entry into the race, Vander Plaats, a significant figure in Iowa politics and an increasing critic of the ex-president, shared his views on Twitter. He noted that while Trump is leading in the Hawkeye State, he faces a “self-inflicted” limit to his potential growth.
“DeSantis is current favorite for alternative to Trump but needs to clear or diminish the field,” Vander Plaats tweeted last week. “All others need to prove why they’re the better alternative.”