DeSantis’s Lackluster Iowa Performance Came After Florida Governor Went All-In on Hawkeye State

Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida and 2024 Republican presidential candidate, speaks durin
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Gov. Ron DeSantis’s lackluster performance in Iowa came after the Florida governor went all-in on the Hawkeye State over the past several months, spending millions of dollars, relocating staff, traveling to all 99 counties, and touting key endorsements.

It was former President Donald Trump who made history in Iowa on Monday night in a blowout victory, garnering roughly 51 percent of the vote and coming nearly 30 points ahead of his closest rival, DeSantis.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump takes the stage at a caucus night party in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

While DeSantis came in a very distant second and garnered nine delegates, he came nearly 30 points behind Trump, with 21.2 percent support to Trump’s 51 percent support as of Tuesday morning. That translates to a difference of well over 30,000 votes.

Not only that, but former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley came closely behind DeSantis with 19.1 percent support, garnering eight delegates. Less than 2,000 votes separated the two, as of 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

Despite that dour performance, DeSantis largely appeared to ignore reality Monday night and instead declared that he “earned his ticket out of Iowa.”

“They threw everything at Ron DeSantis. They couldn’t kill him. He is not only still standing, but he’s now earned his ticket out of Iowa,” the DeSantis campaign told Fox News.

“This is going to be a long battle ahead, but that is what this campaign is built for. The stakes are too high for this nation and we will not back down,” it added.

But the way the DeSantis campaign talked prior to Election Day, one would have thought he would have emerged as the runaway winner, especially considering the resources, time, and energy spent in the state.

In October, DeSantis touted his plans to visit all 99 counties in Iowa — a feat he finished months later.

“I don’t think doing the 99 counties is just about the caucus. … The fact that I’m willing to do this, that should show you that I consider myself a servant, not a ruler,” DeSantis said at the time. “And that’s how people that get elected should consider themselves.”

That same month, DeSantis’s campaign previewed its plans to completely move about one-third of its staff to Iowa. Three top aides to DeSantis at the time — communications director Andrew Romeo, deputy campaign manager David Polyansky, and national political director Sam Cooper — were placed in Iowa the following month. According to Politico, the DeSantis campaign had also set up headquarters in Urbandale, Iowa.

DeSantis’s campaign and the PACs supporting him dumped tens of millions of dollars into the Hawkeye State throughout this venture. The DeSantis campaign and pro-DeSantis groups spent a combined $35 million in Iowa over the last year — $16.7 million more than the Trump campaign and his allied PACs, according to AdImpact.

And then came the endorsements. In the months leading up to the primary, DeSantis’s campaign described his ground game as “unmatched,” touting 40 endorsements from state legislators, 120 county chairs, and 55 faith leaders across the state at the time. In November, DeSantis proudly touted his endorsement from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R).

“Not only do we need to make sure that we elect someone who can win and beat Joe Biden, we need a president who has the skill and the result to reverse the madness that we see every single day,” Reynolds said during the Des Moines rally, taking a light jab at Trump in the process.

“We need someone who will fight for you and win for you. We need someone who won’t get distracted but will stay disciplined, who puts this country first and not himself,” she said. “That leader is Ron DeSantis.”

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Top evangelical leader in Iowa Bob Vander Plaats also endorsed DeSantis, but that did not come without controversy, as he confirmed that his organization received $95,000 from the “DeSantis campaign, a super PAC linked to him and a nonprofit group,” according to Reuters. That money reportedly came prior to his endorsement, prompting critics to conclude that the endorsement was bought and paid for. However, Plaats contended that “everything we do is above board.”

“You punch two tickets out of the state of Iowa and Ron DeSantis is one of those tickets coming out of the state of Iowa,” Plaats said following the Iowa caucuses, maintaining his support of the Florida governor.

It seems DeSantis was also hoping to win the evangelical vote, but that did not happen either, as entrance polling showed Trump completely dominating this group.

The Never Trump supporters of DeSantis also went wild on social media throughout the primary, disparaging Trump and his supporters. And many remain in denial.

“In fact tonight it is just beginning,” conservative talk show host Steve Deace said during the DeSantis watch party Monday night, deeming it a “two-person race,” despite the fact that Haley fell extremely closely behind DeSantis.

“There is no place for the last gasp of the Republican corporatist establishment Nikki Haley,” he added:

Others, including members of Team DeSantis, were quick to accuse media outlets of “election interference” after they called the race for Trump 30 minutes into the blowout victory:

DeSantis played victim as well, asserting during his speech Monday night that “they even called the election before people even got a chance to vote,” attempting to make the point that his campaign defied the odds supposedly stacked against him.

But it is Trump, not DeSantis, who owns the record for the largest margin of victory in the history of the Iowa Republican caucuses, and it seems no amount of challenger money or county visits could change the inevitable outcome.

Nonetheless, DeSantis is charging on, appearing at three Never Back Down events on Tuesday — two in South Carolina and one in New Hampshire. Later in the day, DeSantis will participate in a CNN town hall in Henniker, New Hampshire, one week ahead of the Granite State’s January 23 primary.

Publicly, DeSantis’s confidence does not appear to be shattered, despite predicting victory in Iowa on several occasions leading up to the caucuses.

“Well, we’re going to win the caucus,” he told NBC’s Kristen Welker during an appearance on Meet the Press. “We’re doing everything that we need to do it. We’ll continue to build support.”

DeSantis continued, “We’re going to win Iowa. I think it’s going to help propel us to the nomination.”

While it seems contrary to his prior predictions, it appears DeSantis still believes that his performance — coming in second place, over 30,000 votes behind Trump in the first state — will still propel him to the nomination as he soldiers on.


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