Former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at the 2023 Republican Party of Iowa Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday. Trump boasted of his accomplishments as president and his poll numbers. Photo by Tannen Maury/UPI | License Photo
Des Moines, IOWA, July 29 (UPI) — Fentanyl, border security, China and President Joe Biden were the common topics among 13 Republican presidential candidates Friday at the Republican Party of Iowa 2023 Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines.
Former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy were among the candidates to rouse the largest reactions of the night. Each focused their ire on the Biden administration and painted a grim picture of what the future holds.
“Our country is in decline and Joe Biden is the custodian of that decline,” DeSantis said.
The dinner is an opportunity for leading candidates to strengthen support in Iowa where the first caucuses will be held on Jan 15. For the rest of the field it is an opportunity to solicit critical donations with less than a month to go before the first Republican debate.
Candidates need at least 40,000 unique donors to appear on stage at the first Republican presidential debates in Milwaukee on Aug. 23.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the only candidate that did not attend.
More than 1,200 guests attended the dinner, which cost $10,000 per table. Candidates were allowed 10 minutes to speak and were kept in separate quarters ahead of their scheduled time.
Trump takes stage
“2024 is the last shot to save America and only one candidate is going to get the job done,” Trump said.
The former president closed the speech portion of the event, jabbing at Biden and DeSantis along the way. He opened by boasting of the $28 billion in subsidies for farmers that he approved and his nominations of three Supreme Court Justices who were pivotal in overturning Roe v. Wade last summer.
Trump said he supports abortion exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. He then claimed, without evidence, that Democrats support killing babies after they are born, a claim he also falsely made in 2019.
Former Vice President Mike Pence delivered more details about the abortion policy he would support if elected.
“The time has come for a minimum national standard 15-week ban,” Pence said.
Pence, making his 15th trip to Iowa since leaving the White House, steered away from discussing Trump, aside from promising to make the “Trump-Pence tax cuts permanent.” Though he did urge that the Republican Party move away from “politics of personality,” if it hopes to win back the White House.
DeSantis has been projected as the most likely candidate to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination. He largely delivered the same speech he gave when he was in Iowa two months ago, reciting verbatim several bullet points. He again vowed to send the “woke ideology to the dustbin of history,” and said he “refused to let the state of Florida descend into a Faucian dystopia.”
Between the canned soundbites, DeSantis evoked one of the loudest responses of the evening when he said he would authorize the use of deadly force against drug cartels and send the military to the southern border.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., also stuck to the talking points that are peppered throughout his campaign ads and past speeches in an almost scripted way.
When he went off-script, he laid out his goal to create 10 million jobs. He said he wants to see medicines and microchips developed and manufactured domestically to achieve that goal.
‘What it means to be an American’
Ramaswamy has campaigned aggressively in Iowa, even appearing at the state capitol as lawmakers convened a special session to pass a near-total abortion ban earlier in July. The theme of the 37-year-old’s speech was based on the question “what does it mean to be an American?”
“If you ask people my age what it means to be an American — you probably get a blank stare in response,” he said.
“What it means to be an American — it means we believe in the rule of law,” he continued. “It means you do get to come to this country legally through the front door.”
Ramaswamy is the son of immigrants from India.
Like DeSantis and Pence before him, Ramaswamy emphatically vowed to aggressively shrink the federal government. Specifically, Ramaswamy said he would shut down the Department of Education, FBI, ATF and several other agencies.
“This is not a moment for reform. I don’t stand for reform,” he said. “I stand for revolution.”
Audience turns on Hurd
Former Texas Rep. Will Hurd was far more direct in his criticism of Trump. The crowd applauded Hurd as he shared his background as an undercover agent for the CIA and for his policy ideas. Then he addressed Trump’s legal woes.
“One thing we need [from politicians] is for them to tell the truth even if it is unpopular,” Hurd said. “Donald Trump is not running to make America great again — to represent the people who voted for him in 2016. He is running to stay out of prison.”
The crowd quickly erupted into boos.
“I know the truth is hard. If we elect Trump we are willingly giving Joe Biden four more years in the White House,” he said.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley referenced current events as well, calling for term limits for Congress.
“If this week didn’t prove it, you have to have mental competency tests for anyone over the age of 75,” Haley said to laughs from the audience, referencing a medical incident involving Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Wednesday.
While Haley joined in jabbing at the Biden administration, she did not spare the Republican Party from criticism. She said her party shares responsibility for the nation’s $32 trillion debt.
“I would love to say that Biden did that to us. Our Republicans did that to us too,” Haley said. “Did Republicans try to make it right? Nope. All while one in six families can’t pay their utility bills.”
Among the lesser-known candidates to grab the attention of the audience, businessman and pastor Ryan Binkley received a strong reaction when he said he wants to invest in “urban America.”
“We need both parties to solve this 50-year crisis and make smart, caring solutions,” Binkley said. “When we care for the most hurting, the immigrant, the poor, the stranger at the gate — we will have God’s attention again. This is how we get unstuck.”