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Trump visits the same Iowa town on Monday that DeSantis visited on Friday


DAVENPORT, Iowa — Ron DeSantis may be a rising star among Republicans, but the way Donald J. Trump’s arrival brought downtown Davenport to a halt Monday suggests the former president is staying, at least for the moment, the center of the party galaxy.

Residents of the Mississippi River town had one of the first opportunities in the nation for a side-by-side comparison between the two Republicans leading the party’s first presidential polls, Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis, the governor of Florida.

Three days after Mr. DeSantis drew a crowd of 1,000 for a speech on a freezing Friday morning, Mr. Trump’s arrival brought traffic to a halt at 2 p.m. Monday afternoon. The cheering Trump crowd, wrapped in Trump flags and dressed in counterfeit pro-Trump shirts — “Jesus, Trump and Freedom,” reads one — began lining up at 7 a.m. for an 11 a.m. event. late in the 2,400 standing room. -Adler Theater only.

The dichotomy showed the wide gap between the two politicians at this embryonic stage in the 2024 presidential race. The Republican frontrunner is a 76-year-old politician seeking the White House for the third consecutive time after a lifetime in the public eye. His main potential rival is a 44-year-old governor whose book tour last week was his first visit to Iowa as he decides whether or not to run for the White House.

But as Mr. Trump has cemented his position in national polls in recent weeks, he has returned to Iowa with both prosecutors and political competitors hot on his heels.

In Manhattan, the district attorney’s office reported that the former president could face criminal charges for his role in paying secret money to a porn star. On Monday, just hours before Mr. Trump took the stage in Iowa, Michael Cohen, his former fixer, testified before a grand jury as a crucial witness for prosecutors who appear to be set to indict. the former president.

And he faces new political vulnerabilities after the 2022 midterm elections became the third consecutive election cycle to end in disappointment for Republicans.

Even former Vice President Mike Pence issued his strongest public rebuke yet to his two-time running mate, saying Saturday that “history will hold Donald Trump accountable” for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Mr Pence called the riot a “disgrace”.

Speaking to reporters on his private flight to Iowa on Monday, Mr. Trump responded by blaming Mr. Pence for the Capitol attack and mocking his single-digit poll in hypothetical primary polls. Mr Pence has not said whether he will run for president in 2024.

“If he had sent the votes back to lawmakers, they wouldn’t have had a problem with Jan. 6,” Trump said, according to Bloomberg News. “So in many ways you can blame him for January 6.”

Mr. Trump has also become keenly aware of Mr. DeSantis’ rise in Republican circles, focusing on the Florida governor’s whereabouts, crowd sizes and book sales, both in private conversations. and in public posts on its social media website.

Mr Trump only announced his stop in Davenport after details of Mr DeSantis’ book tour were made public. He has spent much of his time on social media in recent weeks posting the results of public polls that show him in front of the governor of Florida with Republican voters.

In Davenport, Mr Trump framed his event as a political speech focused on education but barely mentioned the subject. Instead, he challenged the 2020 election results and drew a rousing ovation for saying he would oppose Covid-19 mandates for vaccines and masks. After a 75-minute speech, he spent 20 minutes answering questions from the audience.

He also confronted Mr. DeSantis directly, which drew a mix of applause and groans from the crowd. He attacked Mr. DeSantis for attempts to cut ethanol production and said the Florida governor wanted to ‘decimate’ Social Security and Medicare by backing proposals that would have raised the age to receive benefits.

“He’s going to do it again,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. DeSantis, while promising to protect both compensation programs.

Mr. Trump has also sought to cast Mr. DeSantis, one of the founding members of the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus, as a figure in the Republican establishment. He said the Florida governor was a clone of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and an ally of Paul Ryan, the former House speaker and Fox Corporation board member. Both comparisons drew boos from the crowd.

“Ron was a follower of Paul Ryan, who was a RINO loser who is currently destroying Fox,” Mr. Trump said.

Christel Seemann, a 54-year-old doctor, attended the events for Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump. She said she remained undecided as to which one she would support.

“They both represent strong Christian values ​​and common sense,” Ms. Seemann said. “I wish they could run together.”

Mr. DeSantis has so far refused to directly confront Mr. Trump in public, a move that could challenge the brand he has cast as one of his party’s most ruthless political brawlers.

But his approach could also appeal to a party that overwhelmingly maintains a favorable opinion of the former president. Mr. DeSantis instead drew thinly veiled contrasts with Mr. Trump, telling crowds that his administration in Tallahassee has been free of leaks and chaos – like the kind that has often plagued the Trump White House – and excoriating leadership. from Dr Anthony S Fauci, who had been a top adviser to Mr Trump during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr. DeSantis has so effectively erased Mr. Trump from his public speeches that allusions to him may seem shocking. During his Friday speech in Des Moines, DeSantis said the nation actually needs a wall along the southern border. But the crowd – which had responded to Mr DeSantis with enthusiastic ovations throughout the event – reacted with applause and muffled murmurs at the mention of one of Mr Trump’s signature issues.

Jim Dirk, a 61-year-old dental technician who attended a DeSantis event on Friday, said he would support Mr Trump as a candidate but was interested in finding another option.

“His policies were fine, but he was too flamboyant with his message,” Mr Dirk said.

Still, there are clear comparisons between Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis on the campaign trail.

Both savor the finer details while telling the story of their biggest election wins, both insist the mainstream media is there to get them, and both rely on a healthy dose of superlatives when they talk about their book sales.

But there were many in the Trump crowd who said they saw a lot of differences.

“DeSantis is just too young and I don’t think he’s ready for the world stage,” Cathy Sorrells, a 70-year-old retiree wearing a red, white and blue Trump hat, said Monday. “I like what he did in Florida, but Trump is the man – he was done there and can do it again.”

nytimes Gt

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