GOP presidential candidates rally at Iowa fundraiser
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, speaks at U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson’s annual BBQ Bash in Cedar Rapids Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023. (Jay Waagmeester/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — In the wake of former President Donald Trump’s most recent indictments, his opponents in the campaign for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination railed against the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice at a fundraising event Sunday for U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson.
More than 300 people attended Hinson’s BBQ Bash at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids. It was an opportunity for presidential hopefuls to socialize and take photos with potential caucus-goers — and a chance for them to seek the support of Iowans who voted for Hinson and other Republicans in 2022.
Last year, Hinson said, Iowans helped remove U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House speaker – and in 2024, she said, they will help remove President Joe Biden from office.
“Taking our country back starts right here in Iowa, and starts right here today,” Hinson said. “And remember this: Iowa picks presidents.”
Seven of the 2024 GOP candidates spoke at the event. Trump, who was recently indicted on criminal charges tied to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, was not at the event, but was on the minds of many attending.
Linda Devark of Cedar Rapids said Trump remains her top choice as the 2024 Republican presidential nominee. Devark said she is not concerned about the former president’s indictments, saying the Justice Department’s focus on Trump is meant to draw attention away from the president and his son, Hunter Biden.
“I think it’s interesting that any day that something takes place with Hunter Biden or Joe Biden, by the next day there’s an indictment,” Devark said.
Hinson had expressed similar sentiments on Aug. 1, linking the most recent indictment of Trump to what she called “another Biden scandal,” adding, “We must stop the unAmerican politicization of the judicial system.”
Other Iowans attending Sunday’s event said they’re looking for alternatives to Trump. Rick Ransom, a retired salesman from Benton County said it is too early to make a decision, but Trump’s “baggage” hurts his chances at reclaiming the White House.
“I think his time has passed,” Ransom said. “He’s got too much baggage now. A lot of baggage.”
Ransom said he would vote for Trump if he happens to be the nominee, but until then, it is too early to make a decision. “I want to hear more,” he said, adding that his three preferred candidates are currently Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and South Carolia Sen. Tim Scott.
Don Bayliss of Wellman said Trump has proven himself but said he’s not entirely committed to the former president this far out from the caucuses. “We know what he can do,” Bayliss said. “He did it for four years.”
Bayliss said he is open to other candidates, with DeSantis, Burgum, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Scott ranking as his next choices for president.
“We’re listening,” Bayliss said. “We got to see what there is, what each candidate has to offer and what they would like to do for our country to put it on its feet again.”
Although Trump was not in attendance, members of his campaign team set up a booth at the event.
Here’s what presidential candidates told the crowd at Hinson’s fundraiser:
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
DeSantis did not bring up Trump, his top rival for the 2024 Iowa caucuses, instead focusing on his conservative victories in Florida.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and DeSantis bantered in their speeches about the competition among states with GOP governors, with Reynolds pointing to a recent study that found Iowa surpassed Florida as the best state to retire based on metrics like affordability, quality of health care, weather and crime.
DeSantis went through his accomplishments as governor, the crowd cheering when he said Florida “stood up” to Disney, cut taxes and served as a “refuge of sanity” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In Florida, most people that run for office, they overpromise and underdeliver,” DeSantis said. “We made bold promises to the people of Florida, we met every single commitment we made, and in fact, we over-delivered on our promises.”
If elected president, DeSantis said, he would end the “weaponization of government,” adding that he would replace FBI Director Christopher Wray on his first day as president and make changes to the Department of Justice. But, he said, voters need to make sure they don’t “squander” the election.
“I’m asking for your support in the January caucuses because I can pledge to you this: I will get the job done,” DeSantis said. “I will not let you down.”
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum
Not only are small-town values the key to a successful White House, Burgum said, they are a driving factor in his campaign.
“When someone tells me that you can’t be from a small town and run for president, it’s just like jumping on my start button, because D.C. needs more small-town values,” Burgum said.
Burgum described America as having two realities, “Two things can happen at the same time that are opposites,” Burgum said.
“You go to communities like this and see neighbors helping neighbors … We need to focus on the best of America, you turn on social media you never hear about the best of America.”
Burgum said the Biden administration “needs a course correction, they are 180 degrees wrong on the economy, energy and on national security.”
America must sell energy to allies instead of purchasing it from enemies, Burgum said, a common line from his stump speech.
Burgum also called for a smaller federal government.
“There’s a huge opportunity to take 10% or 20% of the cost out of the federal government,” Burgum said. “I know how to do that. I’ve done it before.”
Burgum plans to visit the U.S.-Mexico border Monday.
Businessman Perry Johnson said he wants to make sure the Republican National Committee is not “corrupt,” calling for all candidates to be included in any polling focused on the 2024 Republican field.
Johnson said “they have done everything to try to get me out of the debate,” but that he now has 40,000 individual donors — meeting the threshold needed to make it onto the Milwaukee debate stage.
“I’m going to have 50,000,” Johnson said. “I just need to make sure they include me in the poll.”
He said other candidates that have not met that threshold should also be included in polling.
Johnson also called for the impeachment of Biden and the pardoning of Trump, who has yet to be convicted of any crimes. The Michigan Republican said that Americans know roughly $10 million went to the Biden family through a “myriad of corporations.”
“They have all these corporations strung together, stealing that money, bribing – who knows what it is,” Johnson said. “But I say let’s investigate it.”
Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur, gathered applause when he said he will “drain the swamp,” if elected.
The youngest candidate in the field called for term limits for “the bureaucracy,” and he also called for term limits for employees of government agencies.
“We will not just reform those agencies, we will get in there and shut them down, that is how we revive our constitutional republic in the United States of America,” Ramaswamy said.
Arguing that America has an identity crisis, Ramaswamy called for a revolution.
“Do you want incremental reform or do you want revolution?” he asked the crowd. He said he “stands on the side of the American Revolution, those 1776 ideals that set this county in motion.”
“We are so starved for purpose and meaning and identity at a time in our national history with the things that used to fill that hunger — faith, patriotism, hard work, family, these things have disappeared,” Ramaswamy said. “And that leaves a black hole or moral vacuum in its wake. And when you have a black hole that runs that deep, that is when the poison fills the void. Wokeism, transgenderism, climateism, COVIDism, globalism, depression, anxiety, fentanyl, suicide. These are symptoms of a deeper void of purpose and meaning in our country.”
Ramaswamy also criticized affirmative action, saying it “has been a cancer on our national soul.”
Larry Elder, who ran for California governor against Gov. Gavin Newsom in the 2021 gubernatorial recall election, brought up his former rival’s agreement to debate DeSantis – one of Elder’s current rivals for the nomination.
“Wouldn’t it have been nice if somebody had pressured him to debate me during the recall election when it mattered?” Elder asked.
In June, Newsom told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he would be willing to debate DeSantis. The Florida governor agreed to the debate when speaking with Hannity, who would moderate, earlier in August.
Both governors have proposed several dates to hold the debate, but have not agreed on proposed rules, such as whether to have a live audience or to give opening remarks.
Elder asked Iowans to donate to his campaign so he can get on the August debate stage, saying he was the only candidate to speak about issues such as the “epidemic of fatherlessness” and to call for a U.S. constitutional amendment that would tie federal spending to a percentage of the country’s GDP.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson took the stage to share his criticisms of Biden and outline his goal of restoring the rule of law.
“Biden has diminished respect for rule of law in this country,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said he supported rule of law during periods of unrest after the murder of George Floyd by bringing in the National Guard and the state police.
“I’ve met challenges in our country, as governor, we had protests all across the country after the George Floyd murder,” Hutchinson said. “And whatever we have those protests, many of them turned violent. In Little Rock, Arkansas there was no exception. I saw violence in the street, buildings being burned, the Capitol being threatened and I said enough is enough.”
The former governor also thanked the Iowa Legislature for passing a 6-week abortion ban and acknowleged the challenges he faces in his campaign.
“I know that this is an uphill battle, because there’s one candidate in the race that has got, like, 50% of the vote,” he said referring to Trump.
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Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley
China represents the biggest threat to the U.S. “since Pearl Harbor,” former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said.
China has been “planning war with the United States for years,” she told the crowd, pointing to Chinese companies buying land in the U.S. She cited fentanyl trafficking and intellectual property theft as proof that China is the biggest national security threat that America faces.
“Don’t think for a second China doesn’t know what they’re doing,” Haley said.
If elected president, Haley said, she would take steps such as denying China access to certain U.S.-developed technology, preventing foreign interests from lobbying members of Congress and stopping “favoritism with defense projects” to make sure the country is prepared for potential conflict with China.
She said Americans are “totally distracted” from the threat of China by issues now being discussed in the 2024 presidential campaign.
“We’re talking about a bunch of other things that don’t even matter,” Haley said. “All of these issues are big issues. But if we don’t have national security, none of it matters.”
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