Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said on Friday that he expected Donald J. Trump to claim that the Iowa caucuses had been “stolen” if the former president, who currently leads Mr. DeSantis by roughly 30 points in that state, is defeated there next month.
“If Trump loses, he will say it’s stolen no matter what, absolutely,” Mr. DeSantis said, responding to a reporter in New Hampshire who had asked whether Mr. Trump would accept the results of the first contest in the Republican presidential primary on Jan. 15, or of the New Hampshire primary roughly a week later. “He will try to delegitimize the results. He did that against Ted Cruz in 2016.”
Mr. DeSantis added that Mr. Trump had protested “even when ‘The Apprentice’ didn’t get an Emmy,” referring to the former president’s onetime television show.
Throughout the 2024 campaign, Mr. Trump and his allies have continued to insist that he defeated President Biden in 2020. The constant chorus of falsehoods seems to have seeped into the consciousness of many Republicans. Nearly 60 percent of G.O.P. voters believe Mr. Biden’s election was illegitimate, a survey by The Associated Press found earlier this year.
For several years, Mr. DeSantis appeared to play both sides of the manufactured controversy over the 2020 election. As governor, he set up a new police unit to monitor the integrity of Florida elections. Before last year’s midterms, he campaigned with Republicans who had vociferously denied the results. But he never explicitly endorsed the theory that the election had been stolen, and he repeatedly dodged questions about whether he accepted Mr. Biden’s victory.
During his presidential campaign, Mr. DeSantis has courted voters from the Trump wing of the Republican Party, making it difficult for him to say that the former president was wrong.
Only in August, after being repeatedly pressed during an interview with NBC News, did Mr. DeSantis acknowledge the truth, saying of Mr. Trump: “Of course he lost. Joe Biden’s the president.”
In 2016, Mr. Trump claimed to have defeated Mr. Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, in that year’s Iowa caucuses, although in reality he suffered a narrow defeat.
Those repeated claims of election fraud, Mr. DeSantis argued during Friday’s appearance in New Hampshire, have led voters to take Mr. Trump less seriously.
“I don’t think people are going to buy it,” he said.
In response to Mr. DeSantis’s remarks, Steven Cheung, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, accused the Florida governor of “reciting Democrat talking points.”
“When Ron’s political career is finished in a few weeks, he can start moonlighting as a Democrat surrogate because he’s showing everyone his true colors,” Mr. Cheung said in a statement on Friday.
The Trump campaign has already accused Mr. DeSantis’s team of trying to “rig” the caucuses because of comments made by his wife, Casey DeSantis. Last week, Ms. DeSantis encouraged out-of-state supporters to participate in the caucuses. But only Iowa residents are allowed to vote in state elections, and Ms. DeSantis later clarified that she had been asking people to volunteer for her husband.
Whether Mr. Trump ends up claiming fraud in Iowa may well remain a hypothetical. Polls show that the former president’s support in Iowa would have to collapse in order for him to lose. And he leads his primary challengers in New Hampshire by an average of more than 25 points.
So far in the campaign, Mr. DeSantis has spent more time battling for second place against Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, than taking on Mr. Trump.