Former President Donald Trump greets supporters before the Bedminster Invitational LIV Golf tournament in Bedminster, N.J., Aug. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Despite former President Donald Trump’s growing legal issues, he still holds a formidable lead in the GOP primaries. While current polls indicate it might not be possible for any candidate to beat him, one evangelical leader tells CBN News that’s not what he’s hearing from evangelical voters in Iowa, the nation’s first Republican caucus state.
“I think Iowa is going to be wide open, I do think it’s very open to defeat Donald Trump,” Bob Vander Plaats from The Family Leader in Iowa told CBN News.
Conservative evangelicals played a key role in sending Trump to the White House in 2016. While he delivered on many policy promises, voters in Iowa tell CBN News his demeanor this time around remains a challenge for the values-based voting block. That leaves 2024 GOP candidates hopeful there’s an opportunity to chip away at the front-runner’s evangelical support.
In a recent interview with CBN News, Vander Plaats cast serious doubts on Trump’s lead in primary polls, with recent polls indicating the lead is about 26 points in Iowa.
“First of all, it’s not my first rodeo so I’ve looked at polls before and in 2008 Giuliani would have been your nominee, in ’12 Rick Perry would have been your nominee, in ’16 Jeb Bush or Scott Walker would have been your nominee, and I don’t see anything on the ground that supports that wide of a margin in the polls,” he explained.
Vander Plaats successfully predicted the last three GOP caucus winners in Iowa, Ted Cruz in 2016, Rick Santorum in 2012, and Mike Huckabee in 2008. He tells CBN News he’ll determine around Thanksgiving whether or not he’ll endorse, and he believes evangelical voters are focused on one key issue.
“Who can win in 2024,” Vander Plaats declared. “And I would say that’s more of a priority this go around than before. Every two years we say this is the most important election of our lifetime, in 2024 we really believe this is the most important election of our lifetime, that we believe a Christian conservative statesman needs to win in 2024.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence is one of the 2024 contenders hoping to stand out as a champion for evangelical voters. CBN News recently spoke to Pence in Iowa after a religious liberty summit he held with leaders of Christian colleges around the country.
“I hope people see me as the most consistent proven conservative in this race,” Pence told CBN News. “I think the challenge today with the changing culture is to ensure that we are defending the right of religious education in America. The First Amendment protects the freedom of religion in this country and as president of the United States, I’ll be appointing judges to our courts at every level that will uphold religious liberty.”
Pence tells CBN News he believes he’s well known, but not known well.
“People know me as that loyal Vice President standing beside the president through a consequential administration, I was always loyal to President Donald Trump until my oath to the Constitution required me to do otherwise,” Pence said. “But they may not know that I was a governor of a state that balanced budgets, cut taxes, had record employment, stood for the right to life, stood for educational choice for parents.”
His platform includes plans to end inflation, make America energy independent by 2040, and enact a minimum national standard for abortion.
“I’m going to be a champion for life in the Oval Office and I believe the time has come for a minimum national standard although I’ll strongly support heartbeat legislation at six weeks, pain capable legislation is closer to 15 weeks, but I think having a minimum national standard that would more align American law with other Western nations is an idea whose time has come and it’s supported by more than 70% of Americans,” said Pence.
Recent polls have Pence polling around 3% in Iowa. On the campaign trail, Pence has been met with a mix of people calling him a traitor or thanking him for his actions to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory on January 6th, 2020.
“The American people deserve to know that the president asked me to choose him over my oath to the Constitution but I chose the Constitution and I always will,” Pence told CBN News. “I must tell you while I occasionally hear from detractors, my wife and I once again this week at the Iowa State fair, we’re deeply humbled how many people came up and thanked us for the stand we took that day.”
As he shares his message around Iowa, voters there are hearing him out.
“We had a little bit of concern about how he handled his time with Trump in office, but I think the more I hear, the more he did, he was loyal to him,” Patrick from Oskaloosa, Iowa, told CBN News.
But Vander Plaats lists Pence as just one of many candidates hoping to pull voters away from the current GOP frontrunner.
“They’re all doing a good job because they’re here a lot, they’re shaking hands, they’re looking people in the eye and that’s part of the battle,” explains Vander Plaats. “You gotta show up, people need to determine can I trust you, and so I would say Governor DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Tim Scott – they’re all working that exceptionally hard.”
With many Iowa evangelicals telling CBN News over the weekend, they’re open to someone besides Trump, the state’s January caucus will be the first official indicator of whether evangelical voters will indeed move on from the former president.