Iowa evangelical voters are 'exhausted' by Trump and could 'upend' his run for the presidency, a prominent Iowa conservative says

Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pa., on July 29, 2023.Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
  • Conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats said that the road to the GOP nomination goes through Iowa.

  • And Vander Plaats told CNN that evangelical voters are both "appreciative" and "exhausted" of Trump.

  • Trump recently said the six-week abortion ban in Fla. signed by DeSantis was a "terrible mistake."

While Trump retains a sizable lead in Iowa, the first-in-the-nation voting state for Republicans next year, conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats recently told CNN that the Hawkeye State still has the potential to blunt the former president's momentum.

Evangelicals, perhaps the most critical part of the GOP coalition in the state, are poised to make or break Trump's campaign.

"They are very appreciative of the former president, but they are exhausted as well," Vander Plaats, the president and chief executive of the nonprofit organization The Family Leader, told the network.

"Iowa is tailor-made to upend Trump," he continued. "If he loses Iowa, there's a competitive nomination process. If he wins Iowa, I think it's over."

In March, Vander Plaats told The New York Times that the former president's "character" was on display after suggesting that Republicans underperformed nationally in the 2022 midterm elections because they pushed for far-reaching abortion restrictions.

Vander Plaats has been a key figure in the anti-abortion movement and told The Times at the time that the evangelical bloc had not forgotten about Trump's comments.

"It showed a character thing with Trump that he cast the blame on the pro-life movement," he told the newspaper. "If you're trying to win the Iowa caucuses, I would not put that base under the bus."

Trump during his presidency appointed three conservative Supreme Court jurists — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett — who all voted to overturn Roe v. Wade last year, which has endeared him to many anti-abortion voters.

But his most recent comments on abortion might also give evangelicals some pause, as he has sought to muddle the waters on a subject that has tanked many GOP candidates across the country — especially among women and suburban voters.

The former president during a Sunday interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" blasted GOP presidential rival and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the state's six-week abortion ban, which he said was a "terrible mistake."

And during that same interview, he said that he would bring together both Democrats and Republicans to enforce an abortion compromise, yet it is unclear how that would happen given the contentious nature of the issue.

DeSantis on Monday blasted Trump's remarks during an interview on Radio Iowa, questioning the former president's anti-abortion credentials.

"I don't know how you can even make the claim that you're somehow pro-life if you're criticizing states for enacting pro-life protections for babies," the governor said. "I think all pro-lifers should know that he's preparing to sell you out."

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