Trump, Pence and more make their pitch to Iowa voters — but differ on abortion


(CLIVE, Iowa) — Multiple 2024 Republican presidential candidates and those continuing to mull a bid for the White House pitched their platforms on Saturday to hundreds of Christian conservatives at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual spring kickoff in Clive.

The back-to-back candidate forum allowed speakers to court a vital voting bloc in Iowa, which will host the first nominating contest for Republican hopefuls next February.

The topic of abortion took center stage as GOP politicians continue to stake out their own stances on the issue.

Saturday’s event was held one day after the Supreme Court paused a lower court’s ruling to restrict access to the widely used abortion pill mifepristone while legal battles over the FDA’s approval of the drug play out in court.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and other Republicans emphasized their backing for limits on abortion access, opposition to transgender rights and the importance of school choice.

Also speaking on Saturday were lesser-known presidential candidates Larry Elder, Perry Johnson and Vivek Ramaswamy.

Former President Donald Trump addressed the crowd virtually. Below are highlights from the forum.

Donald Trump

Facing criticism from some abortion opponents over his position that abortion access should be decided at the state level, Trump defended his stance on restrictions by focusing on his judicial appointments while in office — including successfully naming three Supreme Court justices, all of whom helped reverse the Roe v. Wade decision last year.

“Nobody thought it was gonna happen, they thought it would be another 50 years. Because Republicans had been trying to do it for that period of time,” Trump said in his pre-taped remarks.

“I appointed over 300 judges to fill the federal bench with constitutional warriors who interpret the laws as written. I faced down vile attacks to confirm our three Supreme Court justices: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett,” Trump said.

He said he would continue to “stand in defense of life” and, if elected to a second term, he promised to work to curb transgender rights — which conservatives claim harm society, drawing fierce outcry from LGBTQ advocates — while attacking the U.S. Department of Education.

“We will reassert the Judeo-Christian values of our nation’s founding. We will protect our heritage and traditions,” he said.

Mike Pence

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision on mifepristone on Friday, Pence said he wanted to see the justices ban chemical abortions, labeling the FDA-approved drug as “a dangerous medication,” though doctors and the U.S. government say it is safe.

“I think that chemical abortions, mail-order abortions that the Biden administration has now allowed should be banned,” Pence told ABC News after his speech.

He broke with the former president, his former boss, saying he disagreed with Trump’s view that abortion is a state-level matter even though “I do think it’s more likely that this issue is resolved at the state level.”

“We’ve been given a new beginning for life in this country,” Pence said. I think we have an opportunity to advance the sanctity of life.”

Asa Hutchinson

Hutchinson, Arkansas’ most recent former governor, centered his speech around faith, arguing that “our leadership in the public arena should reflect our as well.” Like others, he stressed his opposition to abortion while addressing Iowans.

“As governor I was proud of the fact that we were the most pro-life state. I signed 30 pro-life bills over my eight years as governor,” he said.

Asked about his presidential priorities, Hutchinson discussed eliminating “wokeness” in schools, which Republicans describe as a left-wing movement wrongly emphasizing identity politics, and advocating for parental rights.

“The most important way to push back is by parents being engaged in our schools,” he said.

Tim Scott

Scott discussed the topic of life — not solely by focusing on abortion but through his view of American exceptionalism as it relates to race.

“We have the ultimate responsibility to protect the future of this nation not for ourselves but for Americans unborn. I would simply say, the lies of the left have been disproven by my life,” he said, reiterating what has been a key part of his persona on the political stage.

Scott said that while “the radical left are selling a drug of victimhood,” he advocated that people could achieve whatever they work toward despite their racial identity or upbringing.

“We have to tell them the whole story, the story of truth and redemption, that America is the freest, fairest land in the history of the world,” Scott said. “I will say this: With a praying mama, all things are possible.”

Vivek Ramaswamy

Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur, also focused on race during his remarks, stating he would end affirmative action and shut down the U.S. Department of Education if he were elected. “Do you know what it means to be an American? It means you believe in the ideals that set this country into motion,” he said.

Ramaswamy told ABC News before he spoke that he was “unapologetically pro-life” in response to being asked about the legal battles surrounding access to mifepristone.

“The scope of the administrative state has reached far too broad we need to constrain it,” he said.

Elder, a popular commentator, and businessman Johnson, who recently announced their own long shot presidential bids, also took the stage Saturday.

“The reason I ran for office is because I felt like I had an obligation, a moral obligation and a religious obligation. Our family, our country, is moving away from the Judeo-Christian values that founded this country,” said Elder, who unsuccessfully challenged California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a recall race in 2021.

Johnson opened his remarks by saying he was probably “too conservative” for the Iowa group before criticizing Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to repeal the state’s abortion ban.

“I say, let’s stop all of this and go on the offensive on the subject,” he said.

One notable politician missing in Iowa was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was at the Utah GOP’s state convention on Saturday.

Some locals remain undecided on 2024 pick

Several Iowans attending Saturday’s event told ABC News they were largely undecided about their candidate choice, emphasizing the importance of forums ahead of the 2024 nominating process.

“We take our job seriously and I love it. And we’ve been living in Iowa a long time. And we get out and see the candidates,” said George Wood, a retired businessman.

“You listen and ask questions. This is the only place in the country you can do that,” he said.

Becky McKibben, a retired school nurse, said she was “not yet 100%” on her choice.

“I think it’s good to hear what other people have to say and hear lots of different ideas and what their thoughts are on what they see as the vision for our country,” she said.

Others said they already know who they want and are using every opportunity to see their candidate speak.

“I would like Trump to be the president again,” Juanita Blonigan, an IT worker said. “That’s what I want. But I don’t know if the country is going to allow that.”

Blonigan said Trump’s recent indictment in New York related to hush money payments made her feel “frustrated and annoyed” but her support of the former president has only strengthened since his recent court appearance, where he pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records.

“You know, I’m hoping that whatever it takes, people will swing his way and make America great again,” she said.

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