Ron DeSantis goes to Iowa — and the press goes wild

This signals that we are in for some very silly coverage of the 2024 Republican presidential primary

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 15, 2023 9:00AM (EDT)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It was supposed to be the first time the two main rivals for the Republican nomination faced off on GOP territory at the same time and the media couldn't have been more excited. Despite still being undeclared, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was making a foray into Iowa, the first Republican primary state, on the same day as former president Donald Trump. What was going to happen when these two manly pugilists finally entered the arena?

Well, the big confrontation didn't happen as planned. DeSantis threw on a crisp blue shirt with a button down collar and a pair of skinny jeans and hit the trail — but Trump bowed out at the last minute.

The New York Times declared it a big win for the Florida governor, describing DeSantis' intrepid trek to the area where Trump had been scheduled to speak as a "clear rebuke" to the man who has been "tormenting him" — a brave move meant to ensure that he doesn't suffer the same result as all the other Republicans Trump has destroyed:

For the first time in months, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Saturday showed the aggressive political instincts that his allies have long insisted he would demonstrate in a contest against former President Donald J. Trump. After headlining two successful political events in Iowa, Mr. DeSantis made an unscheduled stop in Des Moines — a move aimed at highlighting the fact that Mr. Trump had abruptly postponed a planned Saturday evening rally in the area because of reports of possible severe weather...

Mr. DeSantis — who has avoided direct conflict with Mr. Trump — essentially kicked sand in the former president's face by coming to an area that Mr. Trump claimed to have been told was too dangerous for him to visit.

He's back, folks!

Someday DeSantis might even say Trump's name aloud. 

Ron DeSantis, nee Ron DeSanctimonious or "Rob" DeSanctus as Trump has taken to calling him, demonstrated his legendary machismo by making an unscheduled stop near the place Trump would have been speaking if he had shown up as planned. Like the fighter pilot he pretended to be in one of his ads, DeSantis swooped down on that location, stood on a table and delivered a version of his allegedly fiery speech:

Trump must be reeling from such a blow. When DeSantis finally throws down the gauntlet and confronts him with his knock-out punch about the need to end the "culture of losing," he really won't know what hit him. Someday DeSantis might even say Trump's name aloud. 

The leaders of the Iowa legislature are likewise enthralled with the Florida governor, taking to the opinion page of the Des Moines Register in anticipation of his visit to declare:

Why we, leaders of the Iowa Legislature, are endorsing Ron DeSantis for president. In our view, no one comes close to DeSantis' record and resolve. He has won the biggest fights in Florida, and he's brought all Floridians along while doing it.

DeSantis couldn't have said it better himself. In fact, he did say it himself over and over again. He makes it very clear that Florida is a superior state under his leadership and he wants to bring that success story to all of America. Feel the magic.

All DeSantis did was show up in Iowa in a pair of jeans and give a couple of speeches but it was reported as if he was greeted like he was Bruce Springsteen.

The Times points out that DeSantis has collected a lot of money and reports that he is "beginning to show political strength" by lining up all those local Iowa endorsements noting that local politicians tend to pay less attention to national politics than members of Congress who aren't rushing to endorse DeSantis. (In fact, members of Congress, where he served for several years, mostly can't stand him.)

All in all, it was reported as a very successful first campaign-style foray into the exotic wilds of Iowa for DeSantis. After several months of disastrous press about his prickly personality and reports at home and abroad about him not being ready for prime time, he seems to be finally getting a welcome look from the mainstream media.

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Of course he is. What kind of a horse race would it be if he scratched before the race even started?

It couldn't happen at a more propitious time for him. Last week Donald Trump had one of the most widely panned events of his political career and that's saying something. The frontrunner appeared on CNN for a very friendly town hall and reminded everyone just what an unfit reprobate he is, causing the media to spend hours revisiting everything the majority of the country hates about him. Incidentally, he was also found liable for sexual abuse and defamation to the tune of 5 million dollars. Now he is the subject of derision for failing to show up for his Iowa event on account of a tornado that never appeared.

In lieu of the Iowa rally Trump called in to a meeting of right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists at his Doral resort for a ReAwaken America Tour event. These gatherings are run by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and are often joined by Eric Trump and other Trump family members. (A couple of Nazis were scheduled to appear too but after Rachel Maddow publicized it they were discretely removed from the line-up.)

Trump told the ecstatic crowd that he would be bringing the delusional Flynn back into the White House when he wins back the presidency:

There's a method to Trump's madness. According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings Institution poll "nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants qualify as either Christian nationalism sympathizers (35%) or adherents (29%)" and Flynn's ReAwaken America is one of the largest Christian Nationalist groups in the country. He was doing base maintenance.

This weekend's stories are typical media primary horse race coverage. There is no way they're going to let Trump just run away with the nomination as long as they can keep DeSantis viable. So we can expect to see him rise and fall more than once, usually in relation to whatever Trump is doing. This Iowa DeSantis coverage is a good example of how these storylines are concocted from the most banal circumstances. All DeSantis did was show up in Iowa in a pair of jeans and give a couple of speeches but it was reported as if he was greeted like he was Bruce Springsteen.

It's possible that DeSantis will win the Iowa primary. It's a very eccentric caucus state with very mixed results for predicting the winner so anything can happen. His poll numbers look good and they seem to like him. But the idea that this weekend's events were a show of strength and he put Trump in his place is downright absurd. And it signals that we are in for some very silly coverage of this primary. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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