The GOP rivals of Donald Trump 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 chose not to directly criticize him on topics such as abortion and other issues important to social conservatives, in an attempt to gain support from his followers.

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

The division within the main group regarding abortion was evident once more. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis expressed his belief that regulations on abortion should be determined by each stage, aligning with Trump’s stance. On the other hand, former Vice President Mike Pence referred to Trump as his “former running mate” and acknowledged that he was mistaken in opposing 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 held anti-abortion views, Pence’s proposal for a 15-week ban received only lukewarm applause. This response indicates that some Republicans at a national level are worried about Democrats gaining ground on abortion rights, especially 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 stated 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 a minimum of 15 weeks into pregnancy.

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

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

Hutchinson stated that, in contrast to Trump, he won’t be favored by both sides. He emphasized that this will 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 regarding rumors about his unidentified girlfriend. During a recent event, he referred to her as a “wonderful Christian woman” and requested the audience to join him in prayer.

He jokingly expressed gratitude to God for finally blessing him with a girlfriend by saying, “I just say praise the living God.”

DeSantis was specifically questioned about his individual religious convictions and strong adherence to Catholicism. He mentioned that when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, he appreciated the numerous prayers they received, as it greatly uplifted her morale. 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 religious beliefs. This tradition includes George W. Bush, who became well-known in 1999 for stating that Jesus Christ was his favorite political philosopher because of the impact He had on his life.

Robin Star, who resides in Waukee near Des Moines, was present at the church where DeSantis delivered his speech. She expressed her satisfaction with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, although she believes that Trump is not solely responsible for this outcome. Despite her concerns about Trump’s ability to unite the Republican Party for the upcoming general election against Biden, Star stated that she would still vote for him if he becomes the Republican nominee.

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

Jerry Star, her spouse, expressed a stronger opinion, stating “I think it is appropriate to have fresh leadership now.”

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 undermined his achievements on that particular day,” he remarked. “It is now appropriate for another individual to take over.”