The crowd cheered. The pork is charred. Then there was former President Donald J. shouted at Trump, asking him to identify his biggest challenger in the 2024 Republican primary.
“Don’t look at him,” said Mr. Trump responded.
When the two candidates converged on the Iowa State Fairgrounds, Mr. Trump made the mistake. But his campaign team took every opportunity to jab the Florida governor.
Although the two candidates did not cross paths, Mr. With the arrival of DeSantis, Mr. Trump’s appearance is consistent. Mr. When DeSantis finished flipping the pork, Mr. Trump designed a raucous visit. And Mr. Trump brought with him a bunch of Florida House members who endorsed him over their own governor.
This is Mr. It was a rare moment of side-by-side comparison between Trump and his main opponent, and Mr. Mr. Trump leads Mr. DeSantis by an average of more than 30 percentage points nationally, though his margin is narrower in Iowa — a gap his rivals hope will narrow as the criminal cases against him continue. The first match of 2024 will be Mr. Widely seen as Trump’s best chance to slow the march to the nomination.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly tried to assert his dominance as the front-runner, citing his polling advantage in social media posts and nearly every speech. But the overlapping scenes on Saturday, Mr. Mr. DeSantis in Iowa. It was just the latest in an attempt to cover up for DeSantis, which his team called Mr. This is indicative of how DeSantis is viewed.
The duo cut different paths through the fairgrounds, past a 600-pound sculpture of a cow carved in butter and through pig pens. and sells local delicacies such as deep-fried balls of pork and cheese.
Mr. DeSantis, accompanied by his wife, Casey, and their three children, wore jeans and what turned out to be his usual Iowa-casual fare, a custom-made, short-sleeved button-down fishing shirt with his name and title emblazoned across his chest. . He rode the Ferris wheel, played fair games and crashed bumper cars.
Mr. Trump took to the fairgrounds in a navy suit, complete with cufflinks, and was greeted by cheering supporters at every stop. He signed hats, waved to the crowd and petted a goat before being driven to the Steer N’Steen building, where he gave brief remarks.
It is not clear when the two men will be in the same place at the same time. In the face of his substantial turnout, Mr. Trump called it “stupid” to attend the first debate in this month’s primary, in which Mr. DeSantis and his other competitors struggled to gain traction.
But on Saturday, there was plenty of old-school politics and political drama. At one point, a plane called the fairgrounds “Be catchy, Ron!” The banner goes back. Banner had two jabs: the first was a reference Debate arrangements 2018 leaked In which Mr. DeSantis was instructed to write the word “likeable” in front of him. The second exclamation mark, which is former Florida governor Mr. Designed like the logo Trump sent in 2016: Jeb Bush.
And Mr. Before Trump took the stage, his team met Mr. Trump on agriculture issues. They handed out pamphlets attacking DeSantis for his stance, calling him an “absolute disaster” for farmers.
The manuals were a reminder of the asymmetry of the expanding primacy. Day by day, Mr. Mr. Trump and his team have largely sought to break with the former president. They ripped DeSantis, saying he would anger a sizable portion of the party that likes Mr. Trump but still hopes he will win.
Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Most of Trump’s rivals have struggled to capitalize on the former president’s three criminal indictments this year, which so far have seemed to rally Republicans to his defense.
Mr. DeSantis has experienced a tumultuous few weeks since his campaign manager was replaced in recent days as part of the campaign’s third realignment last month. The transition also includes bringing an Iowa expert from his super PAC to the top position Mr. DeSantis promised to go on a series of bus tours to all the 99 districts of the state. While recording a podcast in downtown Des Moines, Mr. DeSantis predicts that work will be completed by October, suggesting the next two months of events in the state will be particularly aggressive.
“You have to get this appointment, you have to show up,” said Mr. On the DeSantis “Ruthless” podcast, Mr. said in a subtle reference to Trump. “You have to discuss. You should be prepared to answer questions.
Flipping pork chops at a grill station sponsored by the Pork Producers Trade Association, a traditional stop for presidential hopefuls, Mr. DeSantis smiled and chatted.
Within an hour Mr. When Trump arrived, he filled the area with Florida politicians, who worked the grill as he signed hats and shook hands. A spokesman, Steven Cheung, said the campaign spent a total of $20,000 on a pork tent and beer hall with reasonably priced food and drinks for attendees.
“We’ve got pork better done than Ron DeSantis,” said Rep. Matt Gates, a former DeSantis ally who said Mr. Wearing a “Florida Man” shirt supporting Trump.
Florida Representative Brian Mast, who came to Iowa to campaign for Mr Trump, said: “I want my president to be the biggest American heartthrob out there. “If you cross him, he’ll cut your throat, and I get that from President Trump.”
Mr. Everywhere Trump traveled, he was surrounded by huge crowds of supporters clamoring for selfies and autographs.
Mr. As DeSantis toured the fairgrounds, some shouted positive encouragement (“We love you, Governor!” and “Go get em, Ron!”), to which Mr. DeSantis often responded with a smile or a wave. Others mocked him, with some using Mr Trump’s preferred nickname of “Desanctimonious”, which Mr. DeSantis ignored. He was carrying his young daughter on his shoulder when a woman fired a gun at him.
A former college baseball player, Mr. DeSantis tried his hand at some fair games, including the ball pitcher toss. He and his family won at least two giant stuffed Pikachus and what appeared to be a toy koala.
Mr. Trump, among Republicans, Mr. He leads DeSantis by 24 points, a sizable advantage but 10 percentage points short of the lead he holds with Republicans statewide. Every other candidate was in the single digits in the latest New York Times/Siena College poll. Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley wore a shirt that read “Underestimate me – it’s fun” on Saturday.
The exhibition will bring surprising encounters to participants and politicians. At one point this week former Vice President Mike Pence was asked to sign a scavenger hunt list for a reasonable person. (He accomplished: “A picture of the group with a celebrity.”) Ms. After a question-and-answer session with Reynolds, businessman Vivek Ramasamy belted out several lines from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”
Almost every candidate took up Ms Reynolds’ call for “fair chats” – Mr. In addition to Trump, Ms. Criticized Reynolds and tried to take credit for his election. .
Mr. Trump did not mention Ms. Reynolds in his brief speech at the Steer N’ Stein beer building, which featured a “MAGA Meal Day” special that included a double cheeseburger, “freedom fries” and a Coke for $24.
“We don’t want to take any chances,” Mr Trump told the crowd, adding that Iowans are “very special to me”. “We’ll be back,” he said.
Aboard the Ferris wheel, above the fairgrounds, Mr. Ramaswamy Mr. Trump looked down as he waved goodbye to his crowd and ducked into a waiting vehicle.
Mr. who held his own event at the same venue the previous night. Ramasamy, Mr. Trump was unimpressed by the size of his audience.
“There he is,” said Mr. Ramasamy said with a straight face. “My crowd was actually – maybe – a little big.”
Reid J. Epstein And Nicholas Nehamas Contributed report from Des Moines.