Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that Donald Trump’s commanding victory in Iowa should be “a huge warning sign” for Republicans, comments critical of the former president’s influence on the party that come just days after DeSantis dropped out of the race and endorsed Trump.
Speaking on the “Steve Deace Show,” DeSantis warned that the low turnout for the Iowa caucuses was reflective of conservatives who are expressing their discontent with Trump by staying away from the polls. He said his team found Iowa Republicans who caucused in 2016 but who were refusing to do so again in 2024.
“They were conservative but they did not want to see Trump nominated again, but they had basically been told that it was inevitable, that it was over, so why even bother?” DeSantis said. “And they just totally dropped out of the process.”
As evidence, DeSantis cited the turnout at the caucuses. “To have 110,000 people show up, when in 2016 you had 186,000 show up — when Iowa has more Republicans this year than they did in 2016 — that shows you there’s a lot of our voters who have checked out,” he said, without addressing the record-low temperatures on that day.
Edison Research estimated turnout in Iowa at 115,000 on Monday night — down from 186,657 in 2016, and lower than 121,503 in 2012 and 119,207 in 2008, The Washington Post reported.
That turnout problem could get worse, DeSantis said. “In each contest, those voters that had checked out, I think that percentage will grow and those are the voters you need to be competitive.”
“And I think they’re just like, you know what? ‘We’re doing this again?’ and they’re checked out. So it’s a huge warning sign for Republicans, nationally, based on what we saw in Iowa.”
As for New Hampshire, DeSantis said, “Trump’s going to win that going away. But what’s the overall turnout?”
In a result tallied after DeSantis’s comments, Trump won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday with a decisive victory over former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, with voter turnout projected to be at a record high.
On the campaign trail, Trump has relentlessly attacked and mocked DeSantis, using demeaning nicknames and charging him with being disloyal, while the Florida governor has spent the past 12 months effectively calling Trump self-absorbed and ineffective.
In his endorsement of Trump after dropping out of the presidential race on Sunday, DeSantis said it had become clear to him “that a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Trump another chance.”
A day later, he appeared ready to veto a proposal that could help pay Trump’s mounting legal fees. The bill proposing financial support for Florida residents who run for president was put forth by Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer and a member of DeSantis’s gubernatorial Cabinet.
DeSantis sounded a note of caution in his comments Tuesday: “When I have people come up to me who voted for Reagan and … have been conservative their whole life, [who] say that they don’t want to vote for Trump again, that’s a problem. So he’s got to figure out a way to solve that. I think there’s an enthusiasm problem overall.”
Hannah Knowles and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.