They say that a bad day at the fair is still better than a good day at work. However, for Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, his experience at the fair in Iowa collided with his political aspirations on Saturday. DeSantis, who is trying to gain traction against former President Donald J. Trump and hopes to make a mark in Iowa’s first nominating contest, faced a series of unfortunate events that were beyond his control. These incidents would make any candidate question their standing in the political universe, especially before coming face-to-face with the front-runner.
Before Governor DeSantis’s appearance with Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa for a “fair-side chat,” a plane passed overhead with a banner that read, “Be likable, Ron!” The identity of the responsible party behind this stunt was unclear, but it referenced advice DeSantis had received before a 2018 debate during his first run for governor of Florida.
During the interview, protesters with cowbells and whistles attempted to disrupt the conversation with Governor Reynolds. She reminded the crowd to maintain the “Iowa Nice” spirit. The Iowa State Police removed several protesters from the event, which occurred behind the press area. While Reynolds’s interviews have been relatively safe for other candidates, with softball questions and few unpredictable moments, this was not the kind of atmosphere desired by DeSantis’s campaign team.
Derek Torstenson, who came from Minneapolis along with four others (some from Iowa), protested DeSantis’s conversation with Reynolds. He stated that they were standing against transphobic and homophobic hate in America and that DeSantis should go back to Florida.
As if that wasn’t enough, DeSantis’s microphone briefly cut out when Reynolds asked him why he believed he could win in 2024. DeSantis had to shout his answer to the crowd. He then resorted to the usual end of his stump speech, declaring, “I will get the job done.”
DeSantis took the opportunity to criticize Trump for his attacks on Reynolds, calling them “totally out of bounds.” He mentioned this while speaking briefly with reporters outside the amusement rides at the Iowa State Fair. DeSantis argued that Reynolds, who remains neutral in the caucuses, had never done anything to deserve Trump’s attacks. He also criticized Trump’s style by saying, “But that’s just how he operates, to attack one of the best governors in the country.”
Accompanied by his wife, Casey, and their three young children, DeSantis walked through the fairgrounds, mingling with fairgoers and joining Senator Joni Ernst and Representative Zach Nunn, both Republicans of Iowa, at a grill where they flipped burgers and pork chops. Sporting a red Iowa Pork Producers Association apron, DeSantis engaged in the retail politics that the busy state fair demands.
However, a group of Trump supporters briefly chanted “We love Trump,” only to be overwhelmed by a chorus of “U.S.A.”, illustrating the divide among Iowa’s Republican voters.
Throughout the day, DeSantis was followed by Trump supporters holding signs proclaiming Trump as the “back-to-back Iowa champ” in 2016 and 2020. However, it is essential to note that Trump did not win the 2016 Iowa caucuses, finishing second to Ted Cruz, even though he never conceded defeat.
Furthermore, as DeSantis finished flipping pork chops, Trump’s plane appeared overhead, circling the fairgrounds in an unconventional flight path on its way to Des Moines International Airport, according to locals.
DeSantis’s tour of the state fair exposed him to the kind of unscripted interactions that his campaign usually avoids. Some people shouted positive encouragement as he and his family walked by, to which DeSantis responded with a smile or a wave. However, others, from both the left and the right, jeered him with cries of “Loser!”, “Fascist!”, or “DeSanctimonious” (a favorite insult of Trump’s). DeSantis chose to ignore the insults. One woman even hurled an expletive at him as he carried his young daughter on his shoulders.
Despite the challenges, DeSantis’s family, including his wife and their children, managed to enjoy the fair games and won several prizes, including oversized stuffed animals. At least the kids had a good time.
Overall, Governor DeSantis’s day at the fair in Iowa turned out to be a series of unpredictable and unfortunate incidents that tested his resilience as a candidate. However, he managed to navigate these challenges and make the most of the situation, showcasing his ability to handle adversity.