The race for the Republican presidential nomination will pass through the crucial first-caucus state of Iowa in just under two months, and former President Donald Trump continues to hold a commanding lead in the Hawkeye State, at around 48 percent support in recent polls.
His nearest rivals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former United Nations ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley lag far behind in the mid to high teens, according to FiveThirtyEight.
However, Trump’s snub of the presidential forum held by The Family Leader on Friday in a state where the evangelical Christian vote is a major factor had some influential conservative leaders warning that the former president could still be beatable, according to Fox News.
Trump also did not attend The Family Leader’s summit in July.
Bob Vander Plaats, CEO of the conservative group The Family Leader, said Trump’s absence from the forum “communicates a lot to our base” and suggested his support could dip below 35 percent by caucus day, Jan. 15.
“It’s a forum he’d want to take advantage of and remind our base of all the good things he did while he was president,” he said.
While Trump’s standing still remains high among Christian conservatives, skipping such an event runs the risk of taking that support for granted.
Rivals like DeSantis, Haley and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy clearly saw an opening by being there in person to appeal to “values voters,” despite being initially warned by the Republican National Committee that their participation in the forum could disqualify them from future RNC debates.
Eventually, the RNC caved, allowing the candidates to participate in the event.
Three Republican presidential candidates gathered Friday at a proverbial Thanksgiving dinner in Iowa for a “family discussion” on issues important to Iowa evangelicals like faith, Israel, agriculture, abortion and energy. https://t.co/ndJofix63b
— KWWL (@KWWL) November 19, 2023
DeSantis was unequivocal in his decision to attend the forum, showing that he understood the importance of this voting bloc.
He told Vander Plaats he would be there “no matter what happens,” according to The Des Moines Register.
Vander Plaats has ties to multiple candidates but appears likely to back Ron DeSantis and has indicated that he will make his endorsement “sometime after the forum and before Christmas.”
It seems Trump has officially lost Vander Plaats. https://t.co/TL8hmWyFcu
— Independent Fact Checker SiggmaK (@Siggmak) August 11, 2023
Vander Plaats’ endorsement carries weight with social conservatives, but Trump allies downplay its importance. Pollster Tony Fabrizio, who works with the Trump-affiliated super PAC Make America Great Again Inc., said it would have “no significant impact,” according to Fox.
DeSantis received another boost this month from the endorsement of popular Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Trump is still the prohibitive favorite, but declining this invitation may have been a rare error by a campaign that cannot afford to give any ground, even with a group firmly in their corner already.
Doubts among evangelicals, however small, could provide just enough of an opening for a rival.
The Trump camp may wish it had sealed the deal by attending the forum.
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