Trump touts record in office, attacks cabinet rival Ron DeSantis at conservative event in Iowa.
Former US President Donald Trump has shared the stage with his Republican rivals in 2024 for the first time, launching a fresh attack on his closest rival, even as growing legal problems threaten to derail his candidacy.
Trump told a conservative event on Friday “not to take a chance” on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is trailing the former president in the polls despite high expectations for his campaign.
“I wouldn’t take a chance on that,” Trump said at the Lincoln Dinner event in the midwestern state of Iowa, where he repeatedly referred to his rival as “DeSanctus.”
Trump touted his record in office to the crowd of about 1,200 Republicans, including appointing three conservative justices to the Supreme Court and initiating the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
“If I didn’t run, I wouldn’t want anybody coming after me,” Trump said.
Trump’s appearance at the Lincoln Dinner came a day after the former president was hit with new charges over the alleged mishandling of classified documents and ahead of his possible indictment for trying to change the outcome of the 2020 election.
DeSantis and 10 other Republican attendees did not criticize Trump at the event, where each speaker was given 10 minutes to address the audience, instead focusing their attacks on President Joe Biden and his Democratic Party.
Will Hurd, a former Texas congressman who has passed himself off as a moderate in the race, was booed after he accused Trump of “running to stay out of jail.”
Trump’s conviction on any of the charges would not legally bar him from seeking the presidency or being elected, although one or more guilty convictions could impose serious barriers to his ability to campaign or carry out his duties in office.
Constitutional experts are unclear about whether a US president can pardon him or herself for crimes, saying such a case would likely have to be decided by the Supreme Court.
Trump, who faces 40 charges so far, still dominates the Republican field, where his support among conservatives has only grown since his indictment.
Trump, who denies any wrongdoing and has accused Biden’s Justice Department of leading a political witch hunt, leads DeSantis by 30 points or more, while the rest of the Republican field languishes by single digits.