Donald Trump’s competitors in the Republican Party attempt to appeal to social conservatives in Iowa during an event that he chose not to attend.


Several of Donald Trump’s main competitors at a significant event for evangelical Christians in Iowa refrained from directly criticizing him on topics such as abortion and other matters important to social conservatives, in an attempt to gain support from his followers.

The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s yearly banquet is typically a significant event in the Republican primary schedule. However, the ex-president chose not to attend, resulting in a relatively quiet audience of over 1,000 pastors and activists who listened to various candidates trailing far behind Trump instead.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis reiterated his stance on abortion, aligning with former President Trump in advocating for restrictions to be determined at the state level. On the other hand, former Vice President Mike Pence distanced himself from Trump by referring to him as his “former running mate” and expressing disagreement with Trump’s opposition to a nationwide ban on abortion.

Republican presidential candidate and former Vice President Mike Pence, right, shakes the hand of 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 the hand of 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)
via Associated Press

Although the majority of the audience was against abortion, Pence’s proposal for a ban on abortions after 15 weeks received only lukewarm applause. This response indicates that some Republicans across the country are worried about Democrats gaining ground on abortion rights following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling last year.

DeSantis, who has struggled to solidify himself as the GOP primary’s No. 2 behind Trump, declined to say he’d back a federal abortion ban. Instead, he said, states have done more on the issue.

DeSantis expressed that Congress has faced significant challenges in making a meaningful difference throughout the years.

That’s similar to Trump, who recently has refused to back a federal ban, arguing that the issue should be left up to the states. The former president also has also previously cautioned top Republicans from championing abortion positions that are outside the political mainstream.

Pence expressed his disagreement with Trump’s stance and advocated for all Republican presidential candidates to support a federal abortion ban starting from the 15th week of pregnancy, at the very least.

Pence expressed his belief that this idea has become relevant and timely. He emphasized the importance of advocating for the rights of the unborn throughout the United States.

Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a vocal critic of the ex-president, launched a verbal assault against Trump. He expressed his respect for another candidate who was absent from the event and then proceeded to criticize Trump’s stance on abortion, particularly his desire to appease both sides.

Hutchinson stated that he would not be favored by both sides, unlike Trump. He emphasized that this would be a battle for survival.

Unlike other high-profile events, no one in the audience booed that or any other comment Saturday. That might have been because Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, admonished the audience before things started: “Let’s conduct ourselves in a way that honors these candidates but honors our lord and savior Jesus Christ.”

Those criticizing Trump didn’t agree on everything. Hutchinson suggested that a House Republican push to open an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden might be premature given the facts that have been uncovered so far. Pence said he supported that effort.

The event featured many devout and well-connected social conservatives who can play a decisive role in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation Republican caucuses in January. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz used strong appeals to evangelical Republicans to win the GOP’s 2016 caucuses.

This time, however, Trump’s rivals face a much tougher task because he has built a large early GOP primary lead. The former president has also remained popular with evangelical Christians and social conservatives in Iowa and elsewhere who were delighted to see his three Supreme Court picks vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Saturday’s banquet is the last scheduled opportunity for a large group of Iowa evangelical conservatives have the chance 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.

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who has been single for a long time, was questioned about rumors regarding his unidentified girlfriend. In response, he referred to her as a “wonderful Christian woman” and requested the audience to join him in prayer.

He jokingly exclaimed, “I simply express gratitude to the Almighty for granting me a girlfriend.”

DeSantis was specifically questioned about his individual religious beliefs and strong commitment to Catholicism. He acknowledged that when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, he appreciated the numerous prayers they received, as it greatly uplifted her spirits. He attributed prayer as a significant factor in her successful recovery from cancer.

For many years, it has been common for successful candidates in the Iowa caucus to openly talk about their personal religious beliefs. One notable example is George W. Bush, who, in 1999, responded to a question about his favorite political philosopher by mentioning Jesus Christ and how He had a profound impact on his life.

Robin Star, a resident of Waukee near Des Moines, expressed her satisfaction with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade during DeSantis’ speech at the church. However, she believes that Trump should not receive sole credit for this outcome. Despite her concerns about Trump’s ability to unite the Republican Party for the upcoming general election against Biden, Star still intends to vote for him if he becomes the Republican nominee.

Star expressed the urgency of winning, emphasizing the importance of achieving victory.

Jerry Star, her husband, expressed a stronger opinion, stating “I think it’s about time we have someone new in charge.”

Jerry Star, a former Air Force officer, expressed his strong support for the majority of Trump’s tenure in the White House. However, his stance changed on January 6, 2021, when a group of the ex-president’s followers stormed the U.S. Capitol.

“He performed exceptionally well during his four-year tenure, but he completely ruined everything on that particular day,” he stated. “It is now the right time for another individual to take over.”