DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa nice converged with Hawkeye heat Friday evening, as the Republican Party of Iowa hosted the largest cattle call to date of the GOP presidential combatants on one of the hottest days of the year.
The party’s sold-out Lincoln Dinner fundraiser drew more than 1,000 people and all but one of the contestants vying for the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination.
Consider the dinner a test run for next month’s first Republican Party primary debate in Milwaukee without the bruising back-and-forth. Not that there weren’t some slings and arrows shot by a few of the 13 candidates in their 10-minute speeches (those who rambled longer found their mics cut. We’re looking at you, Asa Hutchinson.)
As hot July temperatures outside remained in the mid-90s, the Iowa Republican Party faithful in attendance didn’t take too kind kindly to former Texas Congressman and CIA officer Will Hurd, who trained his rhetorical fire on former President Donald Trump. Hurd’s version of the “truth” didn’t sit well with the crowd when he said Trump isn’t running for president to make America great again or to represent the people who voted for him in 2016 and 2020.
“Donald Trump is running for president to stay out of prison,” the long-shot candidate said to a chorus of boos. “I know. I know. Listen, I know the truth is hard, but if we elect Donald Trump we are willingly giving Joe Biden four more years in the White House and America can’t handle that.”
The former president is facing a litany of legal problems, including dozens of felony charges in a records-handling case — a federal investigation that a significant majority of Republicans believe is politically motivated by President Biden’s Department of Justice. You might say that Hurd didn’t read the room. He was booed off the stage.
But many Lincoln Dinner attendees didn’t seem to care for Trump’s disparaging comments about one of his closest competitors, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The former president pointed to several polls in which he is far ahead of DeSantis, or “DeSanctus,” as Trump has taken to calling his Republican rival.
“I wouldn’t take a chance on that one,” he said of DeSantis, who has campaigned on the central message that he is the one alternative to Trump who can beat Biden.
“The 2024 election is our last shot to save America and there’s only one candidate —and you know who that candidate is — who is going to get the job done,” Trump said to applause.
DeSantis Keep Cool
As he has in recent trips to the first-in-the-nation caucus state, the former president laid out the things he says he did for Iowa when he was in the White House and what he will do for the country if he returns to the Oval Office.
DeSantis kept Trump out of his 10-minute pep talk. He sped through much of it but hammered home some key points. The Florida governor was warmly received by the crowd.
“We want education in this country, not indoctrination,” he said, referring to his battles against the woke movement in public education. “We got it done in Florida. We have to do it in America.”
Perhaps DeSantis’ biggest applause line was when he pledged that his presidency would be a “reckoning” for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the public health officials instrumental in America’s COVID lockdowns.
“You don’t coddle bureaucrats like Dr. Fauci, you bring them in and say, “You’re fired!’ And we are going to hold them accountable for what they did,” DeSantis said, with a flash of Trump, circa “The Apprentice.”
‘Not My Concern’
Former Vice President Mike Pence found a tad warmer reception in the same banquet hall in which he appeared two weeks before. At that event, the Christian conservative Family Leadership Summit, Pence was booed during a heated interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Reminiscent of the summit, someone in the crowd at the Lincoln Dinner fundraiser yelled out, “Not my concern.”
That’s what the former vice president said when Carlson asked the pro-Ukraine-defense candidate why he was so mad at Biden for not delivering on tanks to the Ukraine effort to repel the Russian invasion when cities across the United States have gotten much worse over the past few years.
“Our economy has degraded, the suicide rate has jumped, public filth and disorder and crime have exponentially increased, and yet, your concern is that the Ukrainians – a country most people can’t find out a map – who’ve received tens of billions of US tax dollars don’t have enough tanks. I think it’s a fair question to ask, like, where’s the concern for the United States in that?” Carlson asked Pence.
Pence responded, “It’s not my concern. Tucker, I’ve heard that routine from you before, but that’s not my concern.”
The former vice president has since called the widely circulated clip “fake news” and noted that what he was saying is that a president ought to be able to handle foreign policy and domestic affairs simultaneously, something he said Biden has failed to do.
On Friday, Pence mostly stayed away from the criticisms of his former running mate, particularly Trump’s actions before the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots. He took a glancing shot, saying Republican voters need to “resist the politics of personality,” while extolling the virtues of the “Trump-Pence” tax cut.
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and fellow South Carolinian Tim Scott were warmly received but didn’t draw much in the way of exuberant applause.
Ohio businessman Vivek Ramaswamy did. The 37-year-old political outsider brought the room to its feet in talking about his campaign for a new American Revolution in a “1776 moment” for a country that has lost its direction.
“This is not a moment for reform. I don’t stand for reform, I stand for revolution,” the anti-woke crusader said.
The revolution, according to Ramaswamy, is telling the truth, and “speaking it without apology.”
“That God is real, there are two genders, fossil fuels are a requirement for human prosperity, reverse racism is racism, an open border is not a border, that parents determine the education of their children, the nuclear family is the best known form of governance to mankind, capitalism is the best system known to man to lift people up from poverty, there are three branches of government, not four (referring to the administrative state), and that the U.S. Constitution is the strongest guarantor of freedom in human history,” Ramaswamy said, his voice rising above the resounding cheers.
“That is the truth. We will not back down from the truth. We stand up for the truth. That is what won us the American Revolution and that is what will win us the revolution of 2024,” he concluded.
His message appears to be connecting in Iowa and elsewhere. Ramaswamy has shot up to third place in the latest RealClearPolitics average of Republican Primary polls. In some polls, he’s closing in on DeSantis, and he’s in second place, up by 3 percentage points over DeSantis in the newly released Ohio Northern University poll. Trump remains the leader by a wide margin. He’s crushing the competition, with 64 percent support in the Ohio poll.
2024 Ohio Republican Primary:
Ohio Northern University, 7/17-26https://t.co/sn585Hp39P
— Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) July 28, 2023
Christie a No-Show
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has eschewed the kickoff caucus state where he finished a dismal 10th an ill-fated 2016 run, was the one major candidate to skip Friday’s event.
“We don’t have an Iowa operation and we don’t have any plans to have an Iowa operation, nor do we have any immediate plans to go there,” Christie spokesman Karl Rickett told German-owned Politico. The former New Jersey governor and outspoken Trump hater is putting his resources into what his campaign sees to be the more winnable first primary state of New Hampshire. Christie finished 10th in Iowa in his unsuccessful 2016 presidential run.
Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, who ran a tight ship in demanding the candidates adhere to the 10-minute rule, reminded his fellow Republicans of the famous Ronald Reagan quote, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor.” Kaufmann welcomed a good rhetorical battle, but preached unity once the nominating process runs its course.
“We are going to unify and get rid of that fool in the White House. That is why we are here tonight,” the chairman said.
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Background Photo “Donald Trump Lincoln Dinner Speech” by Capitol Region Republican Women.