Watch DeSantis’ top moments on Trump, Biden, immigration from Iowa town hall: ‘Leaders got to lead’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis touched on a variety of issues during a CNN town hall in Iowa on Thursday night, criticizing former President Trump for failing to follow through on 2016 promises and hitting President Biden’s record.

DeSantis took aim at Trump and told the crowd that Republicans “crashed and burned” in 2022.

“Donald Trump’s handpicked candidates lost because the Democrats have a playbook that they can run,” DeSantis said. “You don’t want it to be a referendum on Trump and the past. You want it to be a referendum on Biden’s failures, on our positive vision for this country. I offer that.”

“You need somebody that can serve two terms. You’re going to go in there as a lame duck president, even if you could get elected,” DeSantis continued. “I don’t think that that’s how it works there. We need a change agent in Washington. We need somebody who’s going to go in there, actually unwind the bureaucracy, which Trump promised to do and didn’t do. We need a president that’s going to stop the border invasion by building a wall, which Trump promised to do but didn’t do.”

DeSantis criticized Trump for running on the same platform he ran on in 2016, without accomplishing his goals as president.

“When I tell you I’m going to do something, you can take it to the bank,” DeSantis said. “I’m going to do it.”

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DeSantis also hit Trump on abortion saying “of course” the former president is not pro-life.

“When you’re saying that pro-life protections are a terrible thing, by definition, you are not pro-life. When you say that you want to have a federal law at 18 weeks or 20 weeks that would override a state like Iowa that has enacted, pro-life protections, that would mean more abortions, not less abortions, because very few abortions are happening that late anyways,” DeSantis explained. “So he has flip-flopped on this issue.”

“I don’t know if it’s because of political convenience or this is all where he always believed in. But here’s the thing. Some issues are pretty fundamental. How do you flip-flop on something like the sanctity of life?”

DeSantis spoke about the illegal immigration crisis and specifically how fentanyl is pouring across the border and killing Americans.

“How many fentanyl deaths are enough, are we just supposed to sit here and let this happen?” DeSantis said. “I think a president not only has a right, I think you have a responsibility to fight back against these people.”

“I am sick and tired of seeing the carnage in this country and in my travels through Iowa I’ve met angel parents, people that have lost kids to fentanyl overdose. And a lot of times these are not drug addicts. These are maybe a college student that is stressed out during exams. So they buy a pill thinking it’s going to help them get through the night and it turns out it’s laced with fentanyl. That could be enough to poison that student to death. And so this is shattering families. It’s shattering communities. The people in D.C., they just shrug their shoulder. They could care less about what’s going on.”

DeSantis touched on the foreign policy record of Joe Biden slamming him for the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan which he says sent a clear message to America’s enemies abroad.

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“How he left Afghanistan was a total disgrace,” DeSantis said. “I mean, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of veterans who’ve served over there. To see all that weaponry and all that stuff over there just taken by the Taliban, 13 people killed, that was humiliating for this country. But that sent a signal to people like Russia, to Iran, that now is the time to be able to start acting out.”

“When I’m president, it’s going to be totally different. You know, we’re going to lay down very clear markers and people are going to know, don’t mess with the USA.”

DeSantis was asked about gay marriage in the context of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently saying that he was wrong about gay marriage in the past.

“I respect the Supreme Court’s decision,” Desantis said. “We’ve abided by that in Florida, even though our [state] constitution defines it as between a man and a woman. But I think what we need to recognize is, you know, you are going to have people try to wield power against our religious institutions and try to marginalize them simply by upholding the biblical definition. And so I’m going to protect those religious institutions to be able to do what has always been done in terms of how they consider marriage as a sacrament.”

DeSantis also touted his ability to work across the aisle, especially in the case of national disasters. He even credited Biden with not politicizing Hurricane Ian, which caused major damage in Florida last September.

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“As president, when we have these national disasters I don’t care if it’s a Republican governor like Kim Reynolds, who I’m very close with, or a liberal governor like [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, who I’ve got some differences with, when you have these situations, leaders got to lead and you got to put politics aside.”

DeSantis’ town hall appearance came less than 2 weeks ahead of the Iowa caucuses, the first contest in the GOP’s 2024 nominating cycle. The Florida governor is currently polling at 18.6% in the Hawkeye State, according to the Real Clear Politics average, which trails Trump who leads at 51.3% and is just ahead of rival Nikki Haley, who sits at 16.1%.

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