But now, with Donald Trump dominating the field, he’s willing to back a candidate who’s 30 points behind the front-runner here — testing not only the influence of his own support, but also the willingness of evangelicals to abandon Trump.
“Bob normally rushes to the front of the parade toward the end of the caucus campaign,” said GOP operative Doug Gross, who was chief of staff to former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and is considering forming a caucus for former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. “In this case, I think he’s trying to move the parade, and that’s a lot harder to do.”
For DeSantis, support from Vander Plaats — on the heels of recent support from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds — would provide a boost to his campaign as he seeks to erode Trump’s lead in the Hawkeye State . He’s banking his White House aspirations on a strong showing in Iowa, amid dismal polling in New Hampshire and Haley’s rise.
But for Vander Plaats, supporting DeSantis presents a risk. He is almost certain to further anger the former president and favorite – some of whose supporters have taken to derisively calling him “Vander Poop”.
And he risks splitting from evangelical Christians who support Trump over more religious candidates like DeSantis, even as Trump continues to skip family-hosted events, disparages the strict abortion bans cherished by evangelicals and espouses Vander’s kind of threatening language. Plaats was ridiculed at his “Thanksgiving Family Forum” Friday night in Des Moines.
Despite everything, evangelical Christians continue to support Trump.
While interviewing DeSantis, Haley and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy in a Marriott ballroom, Vander Plaats recognized him.
“Iowa Poll Released; showed you a distant second,” Vander Plaats told DeSantis. “You dig deeper into the poll and you see that you are the second choice for Trump voters and your voters – the second choice is Trump. And so the biggest comment or the biggest question is: why doesn’t he just wait his turn?
Masked as a challenge, the question gave DeSantis the opportunity to make his closing argument to the nearly 800 people in attendance.
“We are a republic. This is not about waiting your turn,” DeSantis said to applause. “We risk handing over to the next generation of Americans an America less prosperous and less free than the America we inherited.”
He peppered his response with criticism of Trump, from his failure to deliver on 2016 campaign promises, such as building a wall on the southern border, to concerns about his viability in the election. general, through his penchant for “entertainment”.
But DeSantis and his rivals tacitly acknowledged Trump’s popularity minutes later. When Vander Plaats asked everyone to describe “the greatest moral threat we face as a country,” none mentioned the 91 criminal charges against Trump or the former president’s false insistence that that the 2020 elections were rigged.
DeSantis’ performance earned applause from some pastors in the audience who plan to participate in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15.
“It was definitely DeSantis’ night,” said Mike Demastus, executive pastor of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ. “He had the most deliberate and effective responses. He received the biggest applause.
Demastus said he had not yet decided on his preferred candidate and called Vander Plaats’ likely support “the worst kept secret in Iowa politics.”
Earlier this week, CBS reported that DeSantis told fundraisers he expected Vander Plaats’ endorsement within a week of the summit, something DeSantis’ campaign denied.
DeSantis’ company — which has said it would settle for a strong second place in Iowa — has invested more money in ads in Iowa by far than any of its rivals. By Friday’s tally of ad buys, DeSantis and the super PAC that nearly ran his campaign bought nearly $19 million in ads here through the caucuses, according to AdImpact.
“DeSantis is having a good resurgence in Iowa,” said GOP operative David Kochel, who has worked on several presidential campaigns in Iowa. “If he wants to compete to win Iowa, this is the coalition he needs.”
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