The “pregame show” is over, and the 2024 Republican presidential primary contest has begun in earnest — and it has already gone nuclear.
Front runners Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump have begun to exchange blows during early campaigning in Iowa.
Trump recently hit DeSantis over his handling of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, and said that even New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo did a better job.
“Under Ron DeSanctimonious as Governor, Florida was the third WORST State in Deaths by Covid. So why do they say that DeSanctus did a good job? New York had fewer deaths! Also, he shut down the State, and even its beaches (unlike other Republican Governors),” Trump posted on his Truth Social website Tuesday.
“Even Cuomo did better, he was #4,” Trump later said.
That same day, DeSantis fired back —
Another sharp DeSantis line, on Trump not taking a stance on the debt limit deal: “Are you leading from the front, or are you waiting for polls to tell you what position to take?”
— David Weigel (@daveweigel) May 31, 2023
It was part of DeSantis’ four-stop blitz through Iowa, where the Florida governor is trying to personally connect with voters.
DeSantis has appearances in Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Pella, and Cedar Rapids, packing in early events in the state whose caucuses kick off the Republican presidential primary voting. From there, he will head to New Hampshire on Thursday and South Carolina on Friday.
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At his Iowa kickoff event on Tuesday night with wife Casey, DeSantis was initially cautious while addressing an energetic crowd of roughly 500 gathered inside a suburban Des Moines church. But speaking to reporters afterward, he pushed back against Trump in a way he had not before on the national stage.
He accused Trump of essentially abandoning “America First” principles on immigration, supporting coronavirus pandemic-related lockdowns, and generally having “moved left” on key issues.
Trump and his allies had unleashed a fresh round of anti-DeSantis attacks on Tuesday, sharing new polls showing the former president is the heavy favorite in the GOP race.
At the same time, a pro-Trump super PAC was running ads on Iowa television accusing DeSantis of wanting to raise taxes, an accusation DeSantis has denied.
The feud will have an opportunity to play in public as the week progresses, with both men courting voters in key states on the presidential primary calendar.
“When we disagreed, I never bashed him publicly because he was taking all this incoming from the media, the left, and even some Republicans,” DeSantis said. “And the whole collusion was a total farce. And he was treated very, very poorly. And that bothered me, and it still bothers me to be honest.”
“So, I never really would air those disagreements,” DeSantis added. “Well, now he’s attacking me over some of these disagreements, but I think he’s doing it in a way that the voters are going to side with me.”
Trump remains strongly in the lead to start the race. A recent Emerson College poll, held May 19-22, found Trump leading in Iowa with 61.7% support. He’s trailed by DeSantis with 20.1%, and then former Vice President Mike Pence and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley were tied at 4.5%.
“Trump’s lead in the caucus reflects his numbers in Emerson’s March New Hampshire primary poll, where he held a 41-point lead over DeSantis,” Spencer Kimball, executive director, said in a recent press release.
“The former president’s base continues to be voters under 35, 75% of whom support Trump, and voters without a college degree: 70% support Trump. DeSantis’s support is higher among voters with a postgraduate degree, with 29% support, still trailing Trump’s 37% with this group.”
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Voters will ultimately decide the race in Iowa in early 2024. Then the primary moves to New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article