The Republican presidential race for Iowa is heating up, as 13 Republican candidates descended on Iowa over the weekend for the Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines this weekend.
Former President Donald Trump continues to hold a commanding double-digit lead in national and statewide polls. On Friday night, he shared the stage in Iowa with opponents who hesitated to criticize him while they attempted to pitch themselves as an alternative. He signaled Monday that he’s not inclined to attend the first Republican debate later this month, posting on social media, “Let them debate so I can see who I MIGHT consider for Vice President!”
Still, Trump arrived at the dinner facing growing legal pressure, after prosecutors in special counsel Jack Smith’s office added two new charges against him for his alleged mishandling of classified documents.
His main challenger, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is in the midst of a campaign reboot and now aims to visit all of Iowa’s 99 counties in hopes of shoring up support.
Here are some of the highlights from the weekend and the dinner.
DeSantis hits Iowa trail on bus tour
The Florida governor kicked off a bus tour in Iowa on Thursday organized by the Never Back Down super PAC, which is supporting his candidacy. His campaign, which recently laid off more than three dozen staffers, was not involved in the organization of the bus tour, a move that raised questions because super PACs are banned from coordinating with campaigns. DeSantis made six stops in rural Iowa Thursday and Friday leading up to the Lincoln Dinner.
He’s visiting local businesses, nonprofits, and a county fair, and he also took questions from reporters at multiple stops, including an
DeSantis attempted to thread the needle between criticizing former President Trump for his ongoing legal problems and accusing Democrats in government of politically targeting Trump.
In Chariton, he told CBS News that voters would decide if Trump’s legal issues are disqualifying. And in Lamoni, he talked about modifying his campaign from one with more limited personal contact with voters to a more traditional model.
“You have an intent about what you want to see, when it’s not there, you adjust and go forward. DeSantis said in Lamoni. “At the end of the day, it’s really about the voters here, and I think they’re more interested in what the future holds and that’s what we focus on.”
DeSantis campaign “reboot” overshadowed by uproar over Florida Black history education standards
Desantis’ attempts at a new beginning for his campaign were overshadowed by his arguments with Sen.Tim Scott and others about new curriculum standards that advise teachers in Florida to instruct middle school students that slaves developed skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit.”
Scott, who has climbed to third place behind Trump and DeSantis in some polls in Iowa, is the Senate’s only Black Republican. His message for DeSantis and Florida Republicans is that “to slavery. “What slavery was really about [was] separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives,” Scott added. “I would hope that every person in our country — and certainly running for president — would appreciate that.”
He suggested that DeSantis might want to reconsider how Black history is taught. “Listen, people have bad days,” Scott said Friday. “Sometimes they regret what they say. And we should ask them again to clarify their positions.”
But if DeSantis has any regrets about the curriculum, he’s not showing any. “The reason our country has struggled is because D.C. Republicans all too often accept false narratives, accept lies that are perpetrated by the Left,” DeSantis told reporters Friday.
Trump continues to focus attacks on DeSantis
Former President Donald Trump spent most of his 10 minutes at the Lincoln Dinner attacking DeSantis. “You don’t want to take a chance on that one,” Trump said, referring to DeSantis as “Ron DeSanctus” in his speech.
He downplayed thecharges he faces, telling the crowd that “if I weren’t running, I would have nobody coming after me.””
Trump walked out to the country group Brooks & Dunn’s “Only in America,” instead of his standard walk-out song, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA. As he took the stage, the lyrics “one could end up going to prison, one just might be president” blared over the speaker system.
The former president received the loudest cheers and the biggest standing ovation of any of the 13 candidates on stage Friday night.
Asa Hutchinson and Will Hurd attack Trump for his legal issues
Only two candidates directly criticized Trump for his legal woes at the reception — former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former Rep. Will Hurd.
“Donald Trump is not running for president to represent the people that voted for him in 2016 and 2020. Donald Trump is running to stay out of prison,” Hurd said as the crowd of more than 1,200 booed him. “Listen, I know the truth is hard,” he added as the booing continued.
Hutchinson took a softer tone, warning that Trump could be on trial next January, when the Iowa caucuses are set to take place.
“As it stands right now, you will be voting in Iowa while multiple criminal cases are pending against former President Trump,” Hutchinson said to muted applause.
Notably absent from the Lincoln Dinner was another Trump critic: former N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, who has said he is focusing on the early GOP primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Vivek Ramaswamy proposes gutting five federal agencies
Thirty-seven-year-old Vivek Ramaswamy, pitching himself as a political outsider, called for a revolution against the federal government. Ramaswamy said if he’s elected he’ll shut down a number of federal agencies that he claims are corrupt, resulting in “mass firings.”
“From the Department of Education, to the FBI, to the IRS, to the ATF, to the CDC, we will not just reform them, we will shut them down,” Ramaswamy said to loud applause. He added that other GOP candidates who are pledging to fix federal agencies are making a false promise.
“This is not a moment for reform. I don’t stand for reform, I stand for revolution,” Ramswamy said.
Biden’s acknowledgement of 4-year-old grandchild mentioned by candidates
President Joe Biden publicly acknowledged son Hunter Biden’s 4-year-old daughter and his granddaughter, Navy, for the first time Friday. Republican candidates took the opportunity to criticize the president’s handling of the situation.
Haley quipped on Friday night that “how many grandchildren do you have?” could be a potential question on a mental competency test for lawmakers that she has been pitching since the launch of her campaign. “I don’t know what y’all are laughing at,” Haley said, with the crowd chuckling. Hutchinson, who spoke right after Haley, picked up on the joke and told the crowd that he knows exactly how many grandkids he has.
Former Vice President Mike Pence told reporters on Saturday that it’s “important” President Biden publicly acknowledged his grandchild. “I welcome the President acknowledging his little granddaughter,” Pence said.
Pence calls for transgender ban in military, 15-week federal abortion ban
The former vice president said he’d reinstate a ban on transgender Americans who want to serve in the military. At the dinner, he said he wants to “end political correctness at the Pentagon.”
The Trump administration banned transgender individuals from serving in the military in 2017. President Biden reversed the decision in his first week in office.
Pence argued that having transgender military personnel “erodes unit cohesion” and “affects recruitment.” Pence also said “the time has come” for the federal government to adopt a 15-week abortion ban.