GOP presidential hopefuls speak to conservative Iowa voters

Event featured Pence, Noem and Pompeo in what could be an early look at possible 2024 candidates

By: - July 19, 2021 10:54 am

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Des Moines July 16, 2021. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

In a preview of the 2024 presidential election, several big-name Republicans on Friday touted pro-life, anti-“critical race theory” policies to win over a group of Iowa Christian conservatives. 

The Family Leader, an Iowa-based religious advocacy group, held Friday’s event. Family Leader President Bob Vander Plaats said he specifically invited three potential 2024 candidates — Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and former Vice Presidents Mike Pence — to allow Iowans a glimpse of what their candidacy might look like. 

All three speeches shared common refrains: opposition to “critical race theory,” staunch support of pro-life policies and opposition to President Joe Biden.

Pence: ‘America is the most just, noble and inclusive nation’

Pence repeated his frequent line that he prefers to be introduced as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”

He took the crowd on a detailed journey through his tenure as vice president, from appointing conservative judges to casting the tie-breaking vote to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood. He also highlighted the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic and the high daily vaccination rate in January, to little response from the audience.

But the Biden administration, he warned, is trying “to wipe out all the progress that we’ve made for American families and American values.”

“I mean, Democrats have moved so fast to move their liberal agenda,” Pence said. “Sometimes I feel like the left hand doesn’t know what the far left hand is doing.”

Pence specifically criticized the concept of “critical race theory,” calling it “state-sanctioned racism.” The Iowa Legislature this year passed a bill preventing the instruction of certain race-related concepts, like the idea that a person or country could be inherently racist.

“America is the most just, noble and inclusive nation ever to exist on the face of the earth,” Pence said. “And the United States military is the greatest force for good the world has ever known.”

Pence came to the Family Leader event after campaigning with U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra in western Iowa. He also mentioned “landslide Miller-Meeks,” referencing Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’s narrow 2020 win as evidence that Americans support conservative policies.

Noem: ‘We just trusted people’ during pandemic

Noem began her speech with a glance into her background and family life: She had worked as a vacuum and carpet cleaner salesperson, and she grew up wanting to be a farmer and a rancher. She also told the crowd that she was a new grandmother, asking all the grandparents in the audience to raise their hands. 

“I hate this America that we’re giving her,” Noem said. “I don’t recognize the country I had the opportunity to grow up in.”

She identified crime, violence and a lack of unity as some of the reasons she would be staying in politics and running for reelection. 

Noem highlighted her handling of the pandemic in South Dakota as a triumph, even as she was “attacked by the liberals and the media for making all the wrong decisions for my people.”

“We didn’t shelter in place, we didn’t mandate anything, we just trusted people,” Noem said. Because of that, she argued, South Dakota had fewer hours lost for workers and fewer businesses permanently closed by the pandemic. 

Noem, like Gov. Kim Reynolds did hours before, also touted her state’s legislative record. She said South Dakota passed eight pro-life bills, and that the first bill she signed into law was “constitutional carry” for firearms.

Noem concluded her speech by leading the audience in a rendition of her favorite song: “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Pompeo: ‘Don’t let the woke socialists get you down’

Pompeo emphasized his faith and railed against China in a speech to Iowa conservatives on Friday.

Pompeo began the speech at the Family Leadership Summit a string of jokes about his Midwest roots and being unemployed following his tenure as Secretary of State. He then dug into his foreign policy record, focusing extensively on China, which he called “godless.” He compared the Chinese internment of Muslims to German concentration camps in World War II.

“I was proud of the work we did to call them out and to build a global coalition to recognize that this is fundamentally immoral and that to permit this to continue undermines American security in a way that is deep and important and fundamental,” Pompeo said. 

He also reiterated his support for Israel, saying “it was important to make clear that we don’t view Israel as an occupying power.” During Pompeo’s tenure as Secretary of State, the U.S. moved its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, causing controversy. 

Domestically, Pompeo said the left is trying to undermine an already-deteriorating family structure, a root cause behind many of today’s problems. He also identified as an issue the teaching of critical race theory — a major focus for Republicans in recent months — and objected to the idea that America is inherently racist. 

“We should be proud of (the nation),” Pompeo said. “We should not challenge our founding. It was noble.”

Ultimately, though, Pompeo said the nation’s problems would be solved through God, not by any individual politician.

“It is He that will make the changes that our nation so richly needs and will defend our nation at its most dire time of need,” he said. 

“We are a God-blessed, Christian nation,” Pompeo said near the end of his speech. A woman in the audience cheered a solitary woo-hoo. “Don’t let the woke socialists get you down.”

The convention comes as Iowa Republicans set their sights on the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election.

Other potential candidates have already toured Iowa in recent weeks: Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton visited Sioux Center with members of Iowa’s congressional delegation, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke at an Iowa Republican Party dinner.

“Right now, when I take a look at the field on the Republican side of potential 2024 (candidates), it is a deep, deep bench,” Vander Plaats said on a July 9 episode of “Iowa Press.” Vander Plaats and the Iowa-based Family Leader hosted Friday’s event. 

The elephant in the Republican Party, however, is whether former President Donald Trump will run again in 2024, potentially clearing the field of competitors. Vander Plaats said he wasn’t sure how a Trump candidacy would affect the race. If Trump did enter and win the nomination, Vander Plaats predicted Noem or Reynolds could be among the vice presidential options.

The Iowa Democratic Party criticized Reynolds and Iowa Republicans for attending the event hosted by the Family Leader. 

“It’s shameful to see Governor Reynolds and Iowa Republicans continue to support an organization that promotes a hateful agenda and discriminates against LGBTQ+ Iowans,” IDP Chair Ross Wilburn said in a news release.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.

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