The rivalry between President Donald Trump and GOP Florida Governor Ron DeSantis deepened Tuesday as the two leading Republican candidates for the White House mocked each other during dueling events in the critical early-voting state of New Hampshire.
Addressing a town hall in Hollis, Governor DeSantis vowed to “actually” build the U.S.-Mexico border wall that Trump tried to complete as president. He also pledged to tear down Washington’s traditional power centers where Trump encountered roadblocks.
Speaking later at a GOP women’s luncheon in Concord, former President Trump countered that Gov. DeSantis was being forced to settle for second place in the primary and accused the governor of supporting cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs as a way to tame federal spending.
The conflicting events demonstrated both candidates’ evolving strategies. DeSantis took several questions from the audience. Meanwhile, Trump spoke off the cuff for over an hour. Although he didn’t take questions in Concord, the former president answered questions at a subsequent stop in Manchester, where he opened his New Hampshire campaign office.
DeSantis asked about people who had voted for Trump twice because of his promises to “drain the swamp” in Washington and used his answer to draw some of his sharpest contrasts with the former president.
“He didn’t drain it. It’s worse today than it’s ever been,” said DeSantis. He added that promises don’t go far enough because a later president “can just refill it.”
“I want to break the swamp,” said DeSantis, pledging to take power from Washington by instructing Cabinet agencies to halve the number of employees there.
DeSantis slammed the GOP’s “culture of losing” under Trump and mentioned the “massive red wave” many in the GOP predicted but never materialized in last year’s midterm elections.
“We had a red wave in Florida,” said DeSantis, and noted he easily won last reelection last fall. “But that’s because we delivered results in Florida.”
Leading Republicans remain loyal to Trump, but some evidence remains attacks are beginning to resonate
While many leading Republicans remain loyal to Trump, there is some evidence that attacks are beginning to resonate. When speaking about Trump Tuesday, Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, said, “Can he win that election? Yeah, he can win that election.”
“The question is, is he the strongest to win the election?” continued McCarthy. “I don’t know that answer.”
He later clarified that Trump “is stronger today than he was in 2016.”
In his speech, Trump emphasized that polls show him with significant leads. He also seized on DeSantis and said that while Social Security and other programs should be guaranteed for older adults, there still may be work “in a bipartisan way to figure out how do you strengthen this” when it comes to younger people.
Trump said of DeSantis, “You can bet he’ll be doing it later,” of the programs. “And he’ll be doing it to you.”
The former president also vowed to “drain the swamp once and for all” but used the slogan to criticize Biden more than DeSantis.
“You can’t drain the swamp if you’re part of the swamp, and Joe Biden and other opponents, many of them, are all owned, controlled, bought and paid for, 100%,” said Trump.
Trump also echoed DeSantis’ sentiments, promising, “This election will be the end of the world for the corrupt political class in our nation’s capital.”
The candidates’ simultaneous visits emphasize the role that New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation Republican primary state, will play in deciding the next GOP presidential nominee. The majority of the focus of the early primary has been on South Carolina and Iowa, where evangelical Christians are dominant.
In contrast, spending time in New Hampshire allows the candidates to test their messages in front of a libertarian-leaning electorate.
After losing Iowa to GOP Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the former president’s first-place finish in New Hampshire’s 2016 GOP primary helped propel him to party dominance. However, his Democratic rivals won the state in the 2016 and 2020 general elections.
DeSantis’ campaign angered some by scheduling his town hall around the same time Trump addressed the group’s luncheon. It called DeSantis’ event “an attempt to steal focus from” its lunch and noted that other presidential candidates scheduled around it.
The opinion didn’t stop DeSantis, who spent much of the town hall speaking about his new immigration policy proposal.
“We’re actually going to build the wall,” said DeSantis of unfinished border wall. “A lot of politicians chirp. They make grandiose promises and then fail to deliver the actual results. The time for excuses is over. Now is the time to deliver results and finally get the job done.”
However, the Florida governor also tailored his Tuesday message to New Hampshire. He noted how more challenging border security could eventually help to limit the devastation of opioid addiction, which has hit the state particularly hard, even as deaths from overdoses have increased all over the country.
He promised the “most assertive” policy increased drug cartels “any administration has ever had.”
“We had to do it,” said DeSantis said. “Because it will save lives.”