Ron DeSantis panders about pizza in Iowa, where 37 state legislators have endorsed him for president

Video still of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking in Sioux Center, May 13, 2023.

In one of the sure signs that caucus season is upon us, a major 2024 contender engaged in a bit of Casey’s-pizza-pandering this weekend. During a photo-op stop at the Pizza Ranch in Sioux Center on Saturday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “That breakfast pizza is legit.”

Before delivering his verdict, DeSantis assured listeners he knew what he was talking about because gas station food is a “huge deal for us” in Florida.

“I’m a very tough critic on the gas stations,” he said. “Casey’s is legit. That breakfast pizza is legit.”

DeSantis, who has not yet officially declared his candidacy yet, was in Iowa to headline Rep. Randy Feenstra’s annual fundraising “family picnic” in Sioux Center, and an Iowa GOP fundraiser in Cedar Rapids. And it wasn’t the not-yet-official candidate who brought up the topic of Casey’s pizza. It was his wife, Casey.

Bantering with reporters as her husband was quietly standing nearby, Florida’s First Lady said Casey’s breakfast pizza is “the best.”

“I’m a little partial to it, because it’s Casey’s, you know, Casey — and I’m like, we’re kindred spirits here. Like the governor and your governor. So, we’re going to bring them up,” she said. “It’ll be a lot of fun.”

DeSantis was unlikely to broach the topic on his own. Not because he was standing in a Pizza Ranch, a chain that is a favorite campaigning spot for Republican hopefuls like him, but because less than a month ago, the pro-Trump Make America Great Again PAC launched an attack ad against DeSantis with imagery based on reports about the governor’s eating habits.

In March, The Daily Beast published a story on DeSantis being awkward in social situations, which included an anecdote about the governor eating chocolate pudding with his fingers during a flight from Florida to Washington D.C. in 2019. According to the unnamed former staffers interviewed by the Daily Beast, that was pretty standard for the governor.

“He would sit in meetings and eat in front of people, always like a starving animal who has never eaten before […] getting shit everywhere.” a former staffer said.

Asked about the finger-pudding incident during an interview on Fox News the week after the Daily Beast story, DeSantis said, “I don’t remember ever doing that.”

Whether or not it was awkward, the Casey’s pizza pandering seemed a bit more authentic than DeSantis’s other Iowa-centric soundbite on Saturday.

“I was here in March and someone kind of took note and they’re like, ‘Man, look at all the stuff Iowa is doing. Iowa is like the Florida of the Midwest,’” DeSantis told the crowd at Rep. Randy Feenstra’s annual “family picnic” fundraiser in Sioux Center. “But I just want to let you know, after watching all the good stuff you’ve done in Iowa, it may be that Florida is the Iowa of the Southeast.”

As Florida Politics noted, “The remarks, which DeSantis repeated verbatim in Cedar Rapids in the evening, were essentially a rehash of those made at the Utah Republican Convention last month.”

“DeSantis said then he ‘was recently visiting with some folks in Iowa and people said, you know, Iowa, they’re really the Florida of the Midwest with all the conservative stuff they’re doing. Well, let me just tell you maybe it’s a little secret, but it might just be that Florida is the Utah of the Southeast.’”

In conjunction with DeSantis’ visit to Iowa on Saturday, Never Back Down — a Super PAC created to promote DeSantis’ run for president — released a list of 37 members of the Iowa House and Senate who have endorsed the Florida governor for president, including Iowa President Amy Sinclair.

As Laura Belin at Bleeding Heartland pointed out, that’s more than three times the previous record number of endorsements from legislators for a non-incumbent Republican. The previous record was the 12 endorsements Ted Cruz received in 2016. Cruz won the Republican caucus that year, but his campaign came to a sputtering halt four months later, and he endorsed Trump, even though Trump had repeatedly called Cruz a liar, insulted his wife and suggested his father was involved in the JFK assassination.

Trump responded to his 2016 caucus loss by refusing to accept the result, claiming the process was “rigged,” and demanding a new caucus vote. Once Trump became the apparent nominee in 2016, Iowa GOP leaders all fell in step behind him, pretending their party’s new standard-bearer had never accused them of running a dishonest election.

This article was originally published in Little Village’s May 2023 issues.