Ron DeSantis holds New Hampshire’s first town hall as Trump continues to troll

HOLLIS, NH — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took impromptu questions from voters at an open forum here on Tuesday — a New Hampshire tradition that the Republican presidential candidate was criticized for avoiding last time that he surrendered.

By submitting to the town hall format, DeSantis has also found himself pressed on two topics he usually avoids discussing in detail: abortion and former President Donald Trump, who polls show has a decisive lead in the first in -the nation’s primary state.

The event, with several hundred people packed into a banquet hall, ended just as another large crowd gathered at a women’s luncheon 30 miles north of Concord, the capital of the state, only to hear Trump repeatedly roast DeSantis. The same-day appearances in the state drew resentment from some angry Trump allies over what they saw as a counter-programming effort by DeSantis.

The dueling events also underscored that while DeSantis is still uncomfortable pursuing Trump outright, the former president has no qualms about pounding his former ally.

Trump was the subject of DeSantis’ first two mayoral questions.

Why is the governor, “unlike the other choice”, wondered the first speaker, the best placed to “drain the swamp”? Next, a teenager asked DeSantis if Trump had “violated the peaceful transfer of power” with his behavior through Jan. 6, 2021.

“I remember those rallies in 2016. It was exciting: ‘Empty the swamp!’ I also remember “Lock her up!” DeSantis said — recalling two Trump rallying cries, including his threats to jail then-Democratic rival Hillary Clinton — in response to the first question. “And then, two weeks after the election: ‘Oh, no, forget it. Forget I ever said that.

The remark was consistent with DeSantis’ mild criticism of Trump at the start of the 2024 race. Washington is out of step with the rest of the country.

Given the chance to go further to Trump a question later, on the subject of Jan. 6 and the violence in the U.S. Capitol that day, DeSantis ducked and moved on after 30 seconds.

“If this election is about [President Joe] Biden’s failures and our vision for the future, we’re going to win,” DeSantis said. “If it’s about questioning things that happened two or three years ago, we’re going to lose.”

“We had a transition of power from my first administration to my second, because I was re-elected in a historic way,” he added, providing a not-so-subtle contrast to Trump, who lost his candidacy for a second term as president in 2020.

DeSantis answered a dozen questions from 10 people for nearly an hour. All of them were relatively friendly, and most were fairly easy to respond to based on his typical campaign speeches and themes.

While DeSantis presents himself as a culture warrior on issues such as the school curriculum and LGBTQ rights, he said little during the campaign about his opposition to abortion, and New Hampshire watchers noted that the question could be a stumbling block for DeSantis in a state where voters — especially independents and Republicans — preach individual liberty.

A woman in the audience on Tuesday noted the six-week abortion ban DeSantis signed in Florida and tied it to social benefits, asking why taxpayers should pay for children whose mothers “don’t want to work. “.

DeSantis began his response with a brief mention of the “exceptions” — for rape, incest and maternal health up to 15 weeks — put in place by the Florida legislature. He then defended the ban and emphasized public programs for mothers in need.

“I think it’s wrong to count people,” he said. “And so we think everyone matters.”

Bob Beckett, who hands out business cards at GOP events identifying himself as a New Hampshire primary voter, said after town hall that DeSantis’ performance surprised him — in a good way.

“A lot more thoughtful than I imagined, a lot more cerebral than I expected,” said Beckett, who voted for Jeb Bush – a relatively more moderate former Florida governor – in the 2016 primaries and leans toward the former governor of New Jersey. Chris Christie this time. “What impressed me was how he went from one particular issue to something bigger, bigger and grander.”

Scott Maltzie, a Concord-area Republican who at the Hollis event wore a baseball cap and a DeSantis campaign sticker, said the town hall was a smart move. Earlier this month, DeSantis lashed out at a New Hampshire reporter who asked why the governor doesn’t host such events.

“I mean, that’s what the country’s first primary is for,” said Maltzie, who plans to vote for DeSantis in the primary. “You can’t get that, really, in other states. We are small and personal enough that everyone has the opportunity to ask questions and meet these candidates face to face. And in terms of them, building recognition and sympathy is huge.

Polls have shown DeSantis has been losing ground in the state since he passed a New Hampshire survey in January, before he was an official candidate. A new St. Anselm College poll released Tuesday found Trump leading the GOP field with 47% support among registered Republican voters, followed by DeSantis at 19% and Christie, who is heavily state-focused. , at 6%. The results, which have a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, represent a 10-point drop for DeSantis since St. Anselm’s last poll in March.

“Ron DeSantis’ campaign is skyrocketing, and President Trump’s dominance of the Republican primary field has opened up a mad scramble to grab the runner-up role,” said Karoline Leavitt, spokeswoman for MAGA Inc., a super PAC pro-Trump. in a statement to NBC News. “Ron DeSantis isn’t ready for this moment, and Chris Christie won’t waste time eating DeSantis’ lunch.”

Trump, for his part, was greeted with a standing ovation Tuesday at the Lilac Luncheon, an annual fundraiser for the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women in Concord. And he wasted little time trashing DeSantis.

The former president again raised suspicions that DeSantis would raise the retirement age for rights programs like Social Security, alluding to votes DeSantis cast when he was in the House, before becoming governor . DeSantis backed out of those positions and, when asked by a voter Tuesday about Social Security protections, expressed a desire to work “in a bipartisan way to figure out how to strengthen this program … without any major disruptions.”

Trump also accused DeSantis of revising his Covid policy brief. Both Trump and DeSantis took aggressive steps to handle the pandemic in its early stages, but DeSantis quickly backed off and made his resistance to shutdowns and mandates a trademark issue.

“At the appropriate time,” Trump warned Tuesday, he will remind voters of DeSantis’ efforts to shut down his state during the early weeks of Covid-19.

“We have clips of Ron where he had a closed state,” Trump added.

Trump also bragged about polls showing him with a wide lead over DeSantis and the rest of the GOP field while explaining his philosophy of going after his closest rival.

“Somebody said, ‘How come you’re only attacking him? Is it because he’s in second place?'” Trump said. don’t attack others?’ Because they are not in second place.

That’s the position he’s focused on, regardless of his rival, Trump added.

“As they keep coming in at 2,” he said, “we keep sending them back to the dry cleaners.”

Henry J. Gomez reported from Hollis and Jonathan Allen from Concord.

This article originally appeared on

Leave a Comment