Trump warned Iowa Republicans “not to take a chance” on DeSantis at the party’s Lincoln Day dinner in Des Moines on Friday, and mocked him with nicknames like “Ron DeSanctus.” He continued to disparage DeSantis at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania’s Erie County on Saturday.
But DeSantis is declining to respond with similar ferocity. He didn’t mention Trump by name at the Iowa Republicans’ gathering on Friday. And he tread familiar ground in New Hampshire on Sunday, telling a crowd in Rye that Trump didn’t follow through on promises about “draining the swamp,” building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and eliminating the national debt.
“I deliver on my promises,” DeSantis said, adding, in another common refrain: “If you elect me, you get two terms, not just one term.”
Later, asked by a POLITICO reporter how he plans to go after Trump, the far-ahead frontrunner in the GOP primary, DeSantis gave much the same answer.
“When he hits me with the juvenile insults, I think that helps me. I don’t think voters like that,” DeSantis said. “I actually don’t mind it at all. I think it’s just a reminder why there’s so many millions of voters who will never vote for him going forward.”
DeSantis is expected to start drawing sharper policy distinctions with Trump, beginning with the economic plans he’s slated to start rolling out on Monday in New Hampshire, an adviser told POLITICO last week.
The Florida governor’s cautious approach to Trump comes as his campaign undergoes an otherwise significant recalibration, cutting costs and shedding more than a third of his staff as he remains stalled in polls and wealthy donors start looking at other candidates. DeSantis continues to sit in second place in polls of likely GOP primary voters in New Hampshire, where he is in the midst of a multi-day campaign swing.
Meanwhile, lower-tier candidates have begun taking more direct aim at Trump, as the GOP presidential field continues to grapple with how to approach the polling frontrunner, who still commands the support of a sizable portion of the party’s base.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of the party’s most outspoken critics of Trump, has qualified for the first debate, next month. But former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas was booed at the Republican dinner in Iowa for saying Trump is running for president for a third time “to stay out of prison.”