Donald Trump’s GOP rivals are trying to attract social conservatives in Iowa at an event he skipped

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Hoping to limit Donald Trump’s support at a major gathering of evangelical Christians in Iowa, several of his top rivals largely avoided direct criticism of him on abortion and other issues important to social conservatives on Saturday.

The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual banquet is traditionally a major event on the Republican primary calendar. But the former president skipped it, leaving a mostly subdued crowd of more than 1,000 pastors and activists to instead listen to several candidates who ran far behind Trump.

The Primary disagreement on abortion was seen again, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis saying restrictions on the process should be left to each phase – a similar position to Trump — while former Vice President Mike Pence referred to Trump as his “former vice president” and said it was wrong to oppose a national abortion ban.

Republican presidential candidate and former Vice President Mike Pence (right) shakes hands with Faith & Freedom Coalition founder and chairman Ralph Reed before speaking at the organizations' fall banquet Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Bryon Houlgrave)
Republican presidential candidate and former Vice President Mike Pence (right) shakes hands with Faith & Freedom Coalition founder and chairman Ralph Reed before speaking at the organizations’ fall banquet Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Bryon Houlgrave)

While the audience was overwhelmingly anti-abortion, Pence’s push for a 15-week ban received only lukewarm applause. That reflects concerns among some national Republicans that Democrats are winning on abortion rights issues after the Supreme Court’s ruling overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

DeSantiswho has struggled to steady himself As the No. 2 candidate in the GOP primary behind Trump, he declined to say he would support a federal abortion ban. Instead, he said, states have done more on the issue.

“Congress has really struggled to get anything done over the years,” DeSantis said.

This is similar to what Trump did recently refused to support a federal ban, arguing that the question should be left to the states. The former president has also previously warned leading Republicans against taking pro-abortion positions that are outside the political mainstream.

Pence said he disagreed with Trump and argued that all Republican presidential candidates should support a federal ban on abortion starting at 15 weeks of pregnancy.

“I think it’s an idea whose time has come,” Pence said. “We must stand up for the unborn across America.”

A Trump attack came from former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is a frequent critic of the former president. He said, “There’s another candidate that I respect, but he’s not here tonight,” before criticizing Trump for saying he wants to “make both sides happy” when it comes to abortion.

Hutchinson said that unlike Trump, “both sides aren’t going to like me. “It’s going to be a fight for your life.”

Unlike other high-profile events, no one in the audience booed this or any other comment on Saturday. That may be because Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, exhorted the audience before it began: “Let us conduct ourselves in a way that honors these candidates, but also honors our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Trump’s critics did not agree on all points. Hutchinson suggested that a Republican in the House of Representatives should push for the opening of a convention Impeachment proceedings against President Joe Biden may be premature given the facts revealed so far. Pence said he supports those efforts.

The event was attended by many devout and well-connected social conservatives who can play a crucial role in Iowa’s first Republican caucuses in January. Texas Senator Ted Cruz made strong appeals to evangelical Republicans to win the 2016 Republican caucuses.

This time, however, Trump’s rivals face a much more difficult task because of what he did built a large early GOP primary leadership. The former president also stayed popular with evangelical Christians and social conservatives in Iowa and elsewhere who rejoiced that his three Supreme Court nominees voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Saturday’s banquet is the last scheduled opportunity for a large group of Iowa evangelical conservatives to see the candidates side by side, meaning they won’t see Trump. He skipped similar events with crowds of thousands in Iowa in April and June.

South Carolina Senator. Tim Scott, a longtime bachelor, was asked about reports that he has a girlfriend whose name has not been publicly disclosed. On Saturday, he called her a “beautiful Christian girl” and asked the crowd, “Can we just pray for me together?”

He added, “All I say is praise be to the living God,” seeming to joke about the Lord’s work in ensuring he finally has a girlfriend.

DeSantis was specifically asked to speak about his personal faith and deeply held Catholic beliefs. He noted that he was grateful “for the many prayers we received” when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. It lifted my wife’s spirits.” He said prayer was one of the main reasons she was now cancer-free.

Candidates discussing their personal faith have been a hallmark of successful Iowa caucus candidates for decades – including George W. Bush, who, when asked in 1999 about his favorite philosopher in politics, named Jesus Christ “because he changes my heart.” has”.

Robin Star, of Waukee, west of Des Moines, attended DeSantis’ address at the church and said she was glad the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade repealed – but Trump doesn’t get all the credit. Star said she would still vote for Trump if he were the Republican nominee, but worries he won’t be able to sufficiently unite the Republican Party against Biden ahead of the general election.

“We have to win,” Star said. “We just have to win.”

Her husband, Jerry Star, was more forceful, saying, “I think it’s time for new leadership.”

Jerry Star, a retired Air Force officer, said he was very supportive of Trump’s time in the White House until January 6, 2021, when a A mob of the former president’s supporters overran the US Capitol.

“He did a great job in his four years, but that day he ruined it all,” he said. “It’s time for someone else.”

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