DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds touted Ron DeSantis’ accomplishments as governor of Florida as she endorsed him Monday — and said she believes he will be able to win the 2024 general election, while Donald Trump cannot.
“I believe he can’t win,” Reynolds said of Trump, “and I believe that Ron can.”
“And that’s a big reason I got behind him,” Reynolds told NBC News in a joint interview with DeSantis.
The two-term Iowa governor had initially said she would stay neutral in the Republican primary race, though she appeared with DeSantis at least eight times since he announced his candidacy in late May. But she is breaking with local tradition to throw her support behind DeSantis, as he tries to consolidate non-Trump Republicans and close the polling gap with the former president in Iowa and other states.
“This one’s obviously very meaningful, because Kim has proven to be a great leader that Iowans love,” DeSantis said of Reynolds’ support, recounting the enthusiasm he hears from Iowans for their governor as he campaigns across the state.
“I mean anytime I mention her name out there they cheer and it’s because of what she’s been able to accomplish as governor,” DeSantis added.
Reynolds’ assessment of Trump’s electability clashes with current public polls, which often show Trump performing similarly to or better than DeSantis in matchups against President Joe Biden. But that’s before the heat of a general election campaign — and before Trump faces trial on numerous state and federal criminal charges next year.
Reynolds, who has campaigned with a number of Republican presidential hopefuls across the Hawkeye State in recent months, painted her Floridian counterpart as an accomplished executive — one worth spending her own political capital to support in an upcoming slate of public events.
“I just felt like I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer. We have too much at stake. Our country is in a world of hurt, the world is a powder keg, and I think it’s just really important that we put the right person in office,” Reynolds explained.
With just over two months to go until the all-important Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses, it’s unclear whether Reynolds’ endorsement will push DeSantis over the finish line in the nation’s first 2024 contest.
DeSantis’ poll numbers in the Hawkeye State have stagnated in recent months. A NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of Iowa conducted in late October showed 16% of likely Republican caucusgoers supporting DeSantis as their first choice, compared to 19% in August. Trump had 43% support.
The numbers come as DeSantis redirects his campaign resources into Iowa in an effort to block Trump in the first contest, barnstorming the state and edging closer to visiting all of Iowa’s 99 counties.
If any figure can change the local dynamics of the presidential race, it might be Reynolds. She enjoyed an 81% favorable rating among Iowa Republicans in an August NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll. The Trump campaign and allies have conducted polling suggesting Reynolds’ endorsement would have little impact on the race, but it remains to be seen whether her public campaigning will help DeSantis gain more traction.
Reynold’s endorsement is a departure from Iowa tradition. Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Reynolds’ mentor who served from 1983 until 1999 and then again from 2011 until 2017, didn’t endorse a presidential candidate in the Iowa caucuses once during his multi-decade tenure.
“I stayed neutral, virtually throughout all the time I was governor. And that’s been kind of the tradition,” Branstad told NBC News in a separate interview. “We’re the first-in-the-nation caucus and we want to be very welcoming to all the candidates,” he added.
But for Reynolds, who served as Branstad’s lieutenant governor before succeeding him in 2017, this election felt too important to stay on the sidelines. And it means she’s lining up against the former president as he runs to retake the White House.
The relationship between Trump and Reynolds is icy. Trump lambasted Reynolds in July over her coziness with DeSantis at a time when she had said she would be neutral in the GOP race.
Reynolds said that the last time the two had a conversation, Trump sought her endorsement which she withheld. She said that her decision to get behind Trump’s chief rival so far this year was not spurred by the former president’s insults.
“It’s almost like with Donald Trump, if you don’t kiss the ring — you can be the best governor ever and he’ll trash you,” DeSantis said. “You can be a terrible, corrupt politician. But if you kiss his ring, then all of a sudden he’ll praise you.”
“I’ve had people come to me and say they endorsed him because of the threats and everything like that,” DeSantis added. But, he said, “if you can look in the mirror and say you did what was right for the right reasons, then let the chips fall where they may.”
Some of Trump’s detractors say that a unified Republican front in support of a single non-Trump candidate is essential to block Trump from winning the GOP nomination for a third time. Reynolds said that she did not consult with other early-state governors like New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who is mulling his own potential endorsement ahead of the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary.
The news of Reynolds’ endorsement of DeSantis seized Trump’s attention not long after the news broke of her expected decision.
“It will be the end of her political career in that MAGA would never support her again, just as MAGA will never support DeSanctimonious again,” the former president wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social.
“Two extremely disloyal people getting together… they can now remain loyal to each other because nobody else wants them!!!” Trump added.
Asked about the potential of a DeSantis-Reynolds ticket in the general election, should the Florida governor secure the nomination, DeSantis played coy.
“She’s clearly qualified to do any of that,” DeSantis said.
“What I’ve learned in Iowa is you gotta be careful about talking about her in D.C., because a lot of people want to keep her here,” he added.
The pair of governors will make a joint appearance on Monday evening in Des Moines, where Reynolds is slated to endorse DeSantis’ bid onstage.