DeSantis says he’ll ‘counterpunch’ against Trump but aims to keep focus on policy rather than personal attacks

DES MOINES, Iowa – As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis takes his first steps on the presidential campaign trail as a declared candidate, he’s stepping up his counterattacks against former President Donald Trump, who’s been blasting his main rival for the GOP nomination for months. Following a speech to a packed megachurch in suburban Des Moines, Iowa, where DeSantis painted plenty of contrasts with Trump without naming the former president, the Florida governor started aggressively throwing punches during an ensuing question and answer session with reporters. “So look, I’m going to respond to attacks,” DeSantis said as he kicked off a four-day swing through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the first three states to lead off the Republican presidential nominating calendar. “I’m gonna counterpunch and I’m gonna fight back on it.” DeSantis declared his candidacy for president one week ago in a campaign launch video first reported by Fox News. The announcement was quickly followed that evening with an extremely rocky rollout by DeSantis in an appearance on Twitter with business magnate and Twitter owner Elon Musk, where the Florida governor concurrently kicked off his 2024 campaign.  WHAT RON DESANTIS SAID IN HIS FIRST CAMPAIGN TRAIL SPEECH AS A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE  DeSantis’ campaign described the severe glitches as a “break the internet” moment due to intense interest in the launch. His campaign also touted that the governor hauled in a record $8.2 million in his first 24 hours as a presidential candidate. Trump and his allies, however, argued the episode was an embarrassing flop. Among other things, the former president – on his Truth Social platform – put up a video of a rocket crashing and exploding with the caption “Ron! 2024.” Trump, who remains the commanding front-runner in the race for the GOP presidential nomination as he makes his third straight bid for the White House, has been taking aim at DeSantis since last autumn. The former president, his political team and allies have amplified their attacks the past couple of months. As DeSantis arrived in Iowa, Trump and his allies unleashed a new barrage. The former president took to social media to tout polls indicating he’s the commanding favorite to win the GOP nomination, and swiped at DeSantis over the governor’s leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, charging that Florida was the “third WORST State in Deaths by Covid.” HERE’S HOW MUCH CAMPAIGN CASH RON DESANTIS HAULED IN – IN HIS FIRST 24 HOURS AS A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE Trump once again argued that Florida experienced more casualties from COVID than New York state, which at the start of the pandemic was governed by now-former Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. DeSantis, speaking with reporters, called Trump’s pandemic response critiques “bizarre” and “ridiculous.” “The former president is now attacking me, saying that [Andrew] Cuomo did better handling COVID than Florida did,” DeSantis responded. “I can tell you this, I could count the number of Republicans in this country on my hands that would rather have lived in New York under Cuomo than lived in Florida in our freedom zone.” “That’s not what he used to say. Six months ago, he would have never said that, right. He used to say how great Florida was,” DeSantis continued. “His whole family moved to Florida under my governorship. Are you kidding me?” The governor, who won an overwhelming 19-point re-election victory last November, also reiterated his case that he’s a winner and sniped at Trump’s electability in 2024, emphasizing that “there’s no substitute for victory,” and claiming that “there are a lot of voters who just aren’t going to ever vote for him [Trump].” “I think our voters are looking at this and they say, ‘Yeah we appreciate what he did, but we also recognize there are a lot of voters that just aren’t gonna ever vote for him,’” DeSantis argued. “I know people in Florida who voted against me in ’18 and for me in ‘22. They said in ‘18, ‘I thought you were too much like him and in ‘22 we realized you were your own guy, we’re gonna do it.’”  In the months ahead of last week’s campaign launch, DeSantis mostly resisted responding to Trump. But that’s changed since he declared his candidacy. “There are things you can’t say if you aren’t a candidate yet. He is now a declared candidate,” a source familiar with the DeSantis campaign’s thinking told Fox News. WHO’S IN AND WHO’S ON THE SIDELINES — YOUR GUIDE TO THE 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION RACE But the source highlighted that the “policy critiques are in the context of DeSantis’ success as governor. Whether it’s COVID, Disney, abortion, whether it’s on a number of these other issues, he’s making policy critiques based on his successes and where Trump didn’t finish the job or made bad decisions.” The source argued that the counterpunches are part of an “overall narrative” that “DeSantis has been fighting and winning on these issues and Trump has consecutive election losses under his belt.” The Trump campaign obviously has a different view. A Trump campaign official, using a derogatory nickname the former president coined in referencing the Florida governor, told Fox News that “Ron DeSanctimonious just isn’t very good at this.” Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung, pointing to Tuesday night’s kickoff address by the Florida governor, charged that “Ron DeSantis is not a serious person who can take on Joe Biden and bring about the Great American Comeback.” Cheung added: “His poorly conceived speech was light on substance and was crafted to appease establishment Never Trumpers who are looking for a swamp puppet that will do their bidding.” Longtime GOP consultant David Kochel, pointing to Trump’s mastery of aggressive, in-your-face politics, cautioned against engaging in the same tactics that the former president employs.  “[Y]ou don’t want to get into name-calling or making it personal because it’s like wrestling with a pig,” Kochel said. “You get down in the mud and the pig likes the mud. That’s Trump. I think keeping it to policy and correcting the record of stuff Trump says and the hypocrisy of it – you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to counterpunch.” “It’s not really to try to convince Trump’s base of anything,” Kochel, a veteran of numerous GOP presidential campaigns in Iowa and nationally, emphasized. “It’s to show that you’re in a competition and that you’re willing to fight for it. And Republicans want that. They want some who’s a fighter and is going to take on Biden and this is one way to show you’re going to do it. You don’t have to do it in the manner and style of Trump, but you’ve got to do it.” With Trump arriving in Iowa on Wednesday afternoon and overlapping with DeSantis, who’s crisscrossing the state from west to east as he holds four events, don’t expect any letup in the war of words.
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