DES MOINES, Iowa — Donald Trump and his top rivals for the GOP presidential nomination took the stage one by one Friday night to address an influential gathering of Iowa Republicans, with none of the top-tier hopefuls mentioning that new federal charges had been filed against the former president just a day earlier.
Instead, Trump’s competitors mostly reserved their sharpest criticism for President Joe Biden and a Democratic Party they argued had lost touch with mainstream America — failing to pounce on additional counts over Trump’s retention of classified documents that might have otherwise been an opportunity to cut into his comfortable early lead in the polls.
“The time for excuses is over. We must get the job done,” said Ron DeSantis. “I will get the job done.”
The Florida governor also repeated his frequent promise to halt the “weaponization” of the Justice Department, an allusion to Trump’s legal troubles. But he offered no specific thoughts on the cases against him — even though Trump is also bracing to be charged soon in Washington over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
The former president frequently avoids attending multicandidate events in person, questioning why he would share a stage with competitors who are badly trailing him in polls. Still, with Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus less than six months away, Trump joined a dozen other GOP hopefuls in speaking to about 1,200 GOP members and activists at the Lincoln Day Dinner.
“If I weren’t running, I would have nobody coming after me,” Trump said in his only veiled reference to his legal issues. He also insisted the same would be true if he were trailing in the polls.
While DeSantis didn’t mention the former president by name, meanwhile, Trump didn’t return the favor. He told the crowd, “I wouldn’t take a chance on that one,” and repeatedly branded him “DeSanctus.”
Trump was even blunter before the dinner as he opened a campaign office in Urbandale, outside Des Moines.
“I understand the other candidates are falling very flat … it’s like death,” Trump said.
More than 100 people packed the small office, many wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and shirts. They had waited in 100-degree weather to enter, and the poorly ventilated office quickly became sweltering. Staff handed out water bottles, and people fanned themselves with campaign handouts. Some used paper towels to wipe away sweat.
Similar strong support for the former president was evident during the dinner, when many attendees wore “Trump Country” stickers, including 72-year-old Diane Weaver of Ankeny, Iowa.
“I think he makes America great,” said Weaver, a retiree who plans to caucus for Trump. “I think he did it once and I think he can do it again.”
West Des Moines resident Jane Schrader chose to wear her “Trump Country” sticker on her pants instead of at eye level. “I’m not quite dyed-in-the-wool. I’m a supporter, but not that kind,” said the retired physician, explaining her sticker placement.
DeSantis, who like most of Friday’s speakers vowed to visit all of Iowa’s 99 counties, is Trump’s strongest primary competitor but has been trying to reset his stalled campaign for two weeks. He’s increasingly focusing on Iowa in its efforts on trying to derail Trump, and spoke at the dinner in the midst of a two-day bus tour of the state.
The governor’s stumbles have raised questions about whether another candidate might be able to emerge from the field and catch the former president. Some evangelicals, who can be determinative in Iowa’s caucuses, have pointed to South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s upbeat message and pulpit-style delivery as strengths that could help him rise there.
Scott, who also spoke Friday night and didn’t mention Trump or the cases against him, took a swipe this week at DeSantis over the Florida governor’s support for new standards that require the state’s teachers to instruct middle school students that slaves developed skills that “could be applied for their…