DES MOINES, Iowa – Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his top rival for the Republican presidential nomination, didn't come face to face as they separately courted voters on Saturday at the Iowa State Fair.
But DeSantis took aim at Trump, the commanding front-runner for their party's 2024 nomination, and supporters of the former president repeatedly heckled the Florida governor as he made his way around the fairgrounds, a necessary stop for White House hopefuls in the state that kicks off the GOP presidential nominating calendar.
DeSantis — who's trying to change the narrative after a series of setbacks the past two months, which triggered weeks of negative stories spotlighting his campaign’s overspending, staff layoffs, change of leadership and other stumbles — had planned for a couple of weeks to campaign at the state fair on Saturday.
Trump, who starting blasting DeSantis months before the Florida governor officially announced his candidacy in late May, announced on Tuesday that he would show up at the state fair on the same day as the Florida governor, to likely grab the spotlight from his rival.
"We’ve now done 38 out of the 99 counties. We did six counties yesterday," DeSantis touted as he spotlighted his barnstorming campaign through the first caucus state. "That’s really what it’s all about. And when you go there you bring the message. People do respond. We’re seeing that on the ground."
But DeSantis, as he sat down with Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa for her "fair side chats," was met with a group of protesters blowing whistles. And a plane flying a "Be Likeable Ron!" banner circled in the skies above.
Minutes later, as he flipped pork chops — a tradition for presidential contenders stopping at the fair — DeSantis was greeted with chants of "Trump, Trump, Trump" by supporters of the former president who were huddled yards away. And the former president's plane flew over the state fair grounds moments later.
Trump, who earlier this summer criticized Reynolds for staying neutral in the race for the GOP presidential nomination race, was the only Republican presidential candidate attending the fair to not sit down with the Iowa governor for one of the fair side chats.
Asked by Fox News whether Trump was missing out on an opportunity by not joining Reynolds at the fair, DeSantis blasted his 2024 rival.
"I think Donald Trump’s attacks on Kim Reynolds are totally out of bounds. I couldn’t disagree with it any more. And she’s done nothing but do a great job. She’s never done anything to him.," he said.
DeSantis argued, "That’s just how he operates — to attack one of the best governors in the country. . . . I disagree with the attacks against her. He’s way out of bounds, and at the end of the day, I’m glad that Kim Reynolds is at the helm here in the state of Iowa."
Trump has not committed to taking the stage at the first Republican presidential nomination debate, a Fox News-hosted showdown August 23 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He didn't answer when Fox News asked him on Saturday at the state fair whether he'll attend the debate. And the former president said a few days ago that he won't sign a Republican National Committee loyalty pledge in order to qualify for the face-off.
"We have signed the pledge to support the nominee because ultimately the mission of reversing the country’s decline is bigger than anyone person," DeSantis told reporters. "I think I’ll be the nominee, and we’ll get the job done, but at the end of the day, you don’t take your ball and go home. It’s not just about you. You’ve got to be willing to stand up and support the team."
Pointing toward Trump without mentioning him by name, DeSantis said, "Someone’s not willing to do that, that just shows you they’re running – their campaign’s more about them than about the broader public and the American people. . . . I think every candidate should agree to support the nominee."
Trump didn't mention DeSantis during his stops at the fair.