Ron DeSantis took his offensive against Joe Biden on the road this past week, appearing at a fundraising event in Nebraska to give what has the makings of a 2024 stump speech, according to Politico. DeSantis may be up for reelection next year in Florida, but his focus was national as he escalated tensions with Biden over his state’s COVID-19 surge. “My message from Florida is this: When Joe Biden violates the Constitution, when Joe Biden attacks the jobs of Floridians and Americans, when Joe Biden targets the livelihood of Florida families and American families, I am fighting back against him,” DeSantis declared.
The Florida governor was not the only Republican leader to show face at the event, which was held in a Nebraska town that conveniently borders Iowa––traditionally the first state that every presidential hopeful has to trudge through en route to the White House. Mike Pence and Ted Cruz, who edged out Trump in Iowa in 2016, gave anti-Biden speeches of their own at the annual steak fry hosted by Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts. David Kochel, an Iowa-based GOP presidential campaign strategist, noted to Politico that the event’s proximity to Iowa was a clear factor in the trio’s decision to be there. “Nebraska is as close as you can get to Iowa,” he said. “We can see Nebraska from our house.” After being asked about his 2024 plans, Cruz deflected and told reporters that his eyes are primarily set on helping Republicans in the 2022 midterms. But Cruz still focused his fire on Biden by mocking the president’s mental state. “In 2023, we’re going to tell Joe Biden that it’s 2024 and he can go home to Delaware,” said Cruz while addressing the red state audience of 1,200.
But for Cruz, DeSantis, and Pence––three leaders in early 2024 primary polling in the hypothetical matchups that leave Trump out of the picture––the former president’s likely presence in the next presidential race continues to act as a major stopgap for any GOP hopeful who wishes to officially announce election plans. Over the past month, Trump has all but guaranteed his wish to run for reelection again, including on Saturday, when he spoke at a New York event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. “Actually, for me, it’s an easy question,” Trump replied when asked by a police officer if he intends to run again. “I mean, I know what I’m going to do, but we’re not supposed to be talking about it yet from the standpoint of campaign finance laws, which, frankly, are ridiculous.” Trump was similarly coy when asked by my colleague Gabriel Sherman about another run, saying, “I think that people will be very happy with my decision.”
Trump’s ability to deflate the plans of his prospective primary opponents may be one reason why DeSantis has attempted to at least publicly downplay his intentions in 2024. “All the speculation about me is purely manufactured,” said DeSantis during a presser last week, which he held just days before embarking on his trip to Nebraska. “I just do my job, we work hard…. I hear all this stuff and honestly it’s nonsense, so I don’t really know what to say to the rumors.” Of course, the steak fry is not the first time that DeSantis has taken his stump speeches across the country since Biden’s inauguration. During the summer, the Florida governor made fundraising trips or P.R. stops in Kentucky, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Texas, and California, according to Politico. DeSantis is also potentially bolstering his name recognition nationally among conservatives through appearances on Fox News, where he has appeared more than 40 times this year.
Despite failing to draw much support in the 2016 primary, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie is another Republican looking like a 2024 contender. In remarks seemingly directed at Trump, Christie called on the GOP to “face the realities of the 2020 election and learn, not hide from them” during a Thursday speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. “We need to turn our attention to the future and quit wallowing in the past,” he added. “We need to discredit the extremists in our midst the way we have done before—we’ll discuss that more in a moment. We need to renounce the conspiracy theorists and truth deniers, the ones who know better and the ones who are just plain nuts.”
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