Former President Donald J. Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made competing appearances in Washington on Friday, both vying for the support of evangelical Republicans ahead of the 2024 presidential primary. The dueling speeches highlighted the significant influence of evangelical voters in the GOP. DeSantis, positioning himself as a strong candidate for the religious right, delivered a passionate address at the Pray Vote Stand Summit organized by the Family Research Council. He emphasized the need to restore religious freedom and vowed to create new divisions within federal agencies to protect conscience and religious freedom. DeSantis also announced plans to ensure that private funding for nonreligious schools would be available to faith-based private schools.
Meanwhile, less than two miles away, Trump addressed the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, asserting that he had delivered for the religious right during his presidency and would continue to do so. He expressed his appreciation for the support of the crowd and took a jab at DeSantis, referring to him as a political mimic who imitates Trump's gestures.
The overlapping speeches underscored the crucial role that Christian conservatives will play in the upcoming presidential race, particularly in Iowa, where white evangelicals are expected to make up a significant portion of the electorate. DeSantis, in particular, needs to court evangelical voters if he hopes to close the polling gap between himself and Trump.
Both DeSantis and Trump touched on similar themes such as defending religious liberty and opposing the expansion of transgender rights. However, their styles and approaches differed, with Trump employing his signature brashness and digressing into extraneous topics. Despite his previous unconventional relationship with social conservatives, Trump emphasized his conservative judicial appointments, including three Supreme Court justices who helped overturn Roe v. Wade.
DeSantis has actively sought support from evangelical leaders and has made multiple visits to Iowa to connect with voters. He has tried to use his signing of the Heartbeat Protection Act, a six-week abortion ban, to differentiate himself from Trump. However, Trump's appointment of conservative justices remains a strong point of support among social conservatives.
The joint appearances in Washington highlight the intensifying campaign schedule as the Iowa caucuses draw nearer. DeSantis has been actively participating in events and visits to Iowa, while Trump has maintained a relatively lighter campaign schedule. The overlapping appearances provide DeSantis with an opportunity to highlight contrasts between himself and the primary front-runner.
In an interview with CBS News, DeSantis emphasized the need for a "generational passing of the torch" and took a swipe at both President Joe Biden and Trump, asserting that the presidency is not a job for someone in their 80s. This comment reflects his attempt to position himself as a younger and more energetic candidate.
DeSantis faces challenges in winning over enough religious conservatives to build a viable coalition, as Trump maintains a significant lead among evangelical Christians in polling. Many Christian activists credit Trump for his efforts to protect unborn lives through his Supreme Court appointments. DeSantis has sought to build support through the establishment of a "Faith and Family Coalition" and a strong emphasis on religious liberty.
The reception to DeSantis at the events in Washington was positive but not overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Some attendees expressed initial interest in DeSantis but had ultimately turned back to supporting Trump. DeSantis will have another opportunity to court evangelical voters at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's fall banquet on Saturday, where he will be joined by other Republican primary contenders. Trump, however, will not be attending due to his strained relationships with key figures in Iowa.
Overall, the competing speeches by DeSantis and Trump highlight the significance of evangelical voters in the upcoming presidential primary. Both candidates are vying for their support and are making efforts to distinguish themselves as champions of the religious right. The Iowa caucuses will serve as a crucial test for these candidates, as they seek to win over this influential voting bloc.
themes: Joe Biden Florida Washington Iowa