A prominent Iowa conservative says evangelicals have not forgotten that Trump blamed the pro-life movement for GOP midterm losses
Bob Vander Plaats told the NYT that evangelicals took note of Trump's remarks on the 2022 midterms.
The conservative leader said Trump "cast the blame on the pro-life movement" for the party's losses.
Trump will need to secure robust support from social conservatives to win the Iowa caucuses in 2024.
Former President Donald Trump easily won Iowa — a pivotal swing state — in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
And he retains considerable support among Republicans in the Hawkeye State headed into 2024.
But as prominent conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats recently told The New York Times, Trump's "character" was on display after the former president suggested that Republicans underperformed nationally in the 2022 midterms because they championed far-reaching abortion restrictions.
"It wasn't my fault that the Republicans didn't live up to expectations," Trump wrote on his Truth Social account in January. "I was 233-20! It was the 'abortion issue,' poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother, that lost large numbers of Voters."
Vander Plaats, the president and chief executive of The Family Leader, a conservative nonprofit organization that strongly opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, told The Times that the state's influential evangelical bloc had not forgotten about the former president's comments.
"It showed a character thing with Trump that he cast the blame on the pro-life movement," Vander Plaats told the newspaper. "If you're trying to win the Iowa caucuses, I would not put that base under the bus."
Vander Plaats, who backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries and in a 2022 interview with Semafor said the former president's electability was his "highest hurdle" in the 2024 race, also told The Times that many conservatives were open to other candidates.
"My fear, along with a lot of other people's fears, is we're concerned about how America has largely made up its mind about Donald Trump," he told the newspaper. "I think it's time to get behind the next leader who can win in 2024."
Trump, who announced his 2024 campaign shortly after the 2022 midterms, had the Republican presidential field largely to himself until recent weeks. But that dynamic has changed.
Last month, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy entered the 2024 Republican primary contest.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is also a potential 2024 candidate and could pose the biggest threat to Trump securing the GOP nomination. DeSantis visited Iowa earlier this month as part of his book tour.
And former Vice President Mike Pence, an ex-congressman and former Indiana governor whose political rise has been rooted in support from social conservatives, may enter the GOP primary as well, which could very well siphon support from Trump among this critical group.
With Iowa retaining its first-in-the-nation status in the Republican nomination contest, the importance of the caucuses isn't lost among any of the major players set to compete in the state.
Trump, who came in second place to Cruz in the 2016 Iowa caucuses, is making a sustained effort to make sure he comes out on top in the GOP contest next year.
"For the former president, winning the Iowa caucuses is everything," Vander Plaats told The Times. "If he loses, it's 'game on' to the nomination for everyone else. If he wins the Iowa caucuses, there's nobody stopping him."
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