First major Iowa gathering of 2024 GOP presidential candidates

CLIVE — Over a thousand Christian conservatives gathered this weekend in central Iowa to hear from several likely competitors for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination.

Former President Donald Trump spoke at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event via a live video feed. Trump seemed to respond to a major anti-abortion group that’s criticized Trump for saying abortion policy should be left to the states.

“I will stand proudly in defense of innocent life, just as I did for four very powerful, strong years,” Trump said.

Trump reminded the audience he had appointed three U.S. Supreme Court justices, creating the court’s conservative majority that overturned Roe v Wade. “Nobody thought it was going to happen. They thought it would be another 50 years,” Trump said. “From my first day in life I took historic action to protect the unborn.”

The other declared and potential Republican presidential candidates appeared in-person. Former Vice President Mike Pence said it’s likely abortion policies will be decided at the state level. “But I don’t agree with the former president who says this is a states’ only issue,” Pence told reporters after speaking to the crowd. “I mean, we’ve been given a new beginning for life in this country.”

Pence has said he’d sign a federal law banning abortions after the 15th week of a pregnancy. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has previously said he’d be hesitant to take power away from the states, but this weekend Hutchinson said he’d sign a national 15-week abortion ban into law if he’s elected president.

“I signed 30 pro-life bills, over 30, during my eight years as governor,” Hutchinson said.

The other candidates and potential candidates who spoke — like South Carolina Senator Tim Scott — did not focus on the abortion issue. “The radical left has created a blueprint on how to ruin America,” Scott said. “…Not on watch. We’re going to save our great country.”

Larry Elder, a radio talk show host who ran for governor of California in 2021, launched a presidential campaign last week. Elder said the number one domestic problem in America is the number of children living in a home without a father married to their mother. “You talk about crime, you talk about people that are not competitive in our digital economy,” Elder said, “it all stems from the lack of fathers.”

Vivek Ramaswamy,a biotech entrepreneur, announced he was running for president in February and has criticized Democrats for pursuing a woke agenda. “We’ve spent a couple of decades celebrating our diversity,” Ramaswamy said Saturday. “…Our diversity is not our strength. Our strength is what unites us across our diversity.”

Entrepreneur Perry Johnson, who announced he was running for president in February, has begun sending copies of his book to likely Iowa Caucus-goers. Without mentioning Trump by name, Johnson criticized Trump’s business recor and the federal deficit that grew during Trump’s presidency.

“It’s OK to bankrupt a company four or five times, but it’s not OK to bankrupt America,” Johnson said, “and I have over 70 companies throughout the world. None of have gone bankrupt.”

Former Texas Congressman Will Hurd and former Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a 2020 Democratic candidate for president, also spoke at Saturday’s event in Clive. Gabbard left the Democratic Party in October and has been a paid contributor on Fox News since November and has been a guest host for “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”