Midwesterners have a reputation for restraint. But the audience at the July 14 Iowa Republican presidential candidate forum didn’t hold back as journalist Tucker Carlson deftly drew out his conversation partners.
While biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy received a standing ovation from the heavily Christian crowd, former Vice President Mike Pence’s evangelical bona fides didn’t carry him very far.
“I believe that it is in the interest of the United States of America to continue to give the Ukrainian military the resources that they need to repel the Russian invasion and restore their sovereignty,” Mr. Pence told Mr. Carlson to a mixture of boos and applause.
On the ground, attendees who spoke with The Epoch Times offered a range of perspectives, including on the biggest name in the field, former President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump didn’t attend the forum, which was hosted by The FAMiLY Leader and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze.
Mr. Trump’s Iowa spokesman said the event conflicted with the Turning Point Action Conference in Florida. Mr. Carlson and Mr. Ramaswamy are among the speakers at that event, along with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), and other conservatives.
While former President Trump had both supporters and critics, it was as clear in Des Moines as elsewhere on the campaign trail that the Manhattan real estate mogul has reshaped the GOP electorate and its priorities. For one thing, by appointing the justices who helped overturn Roe v. Wade last year, Mr. Trump’s presidency is seen to have shifted the abortion debate for good by pushing policy decisions closer to the people, from U.S. Congress to state legislatures.
Grant Gardner told The Epoch Times he’d switch his support from Trump “only if he doesn’t run.”
“Vivek Ramaswamy would be my next choice,” he added.
David Johnson, an Iowan who supports Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, said, “I love what Trump did, [but] I am so tired of Trump’s adversarial aspect.”
DeSantis, Ramaswamy Popular
Mr. Johnson, who described himself as Christian and conservative “in that order,” told The Epoch Times he was perplexed by former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s defense of his 2021 veto of a bill that would have barred gender transition surgeries and similar procedures for minors. Yet he also described Mr. Hutchinson as both intelligent and experienced.
Mr. Gardner said Mr. Hutchinson “had some smart lawyer dodges” for the host’s questioning.
Mr. Johnson commented somewhat more positively on Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who also spoke with Mr. Carlson in Des Moines.
“I love the man. I don’t think he’s got a chance to win,” Mr. Johnson said.
“Tucker’s tenacious. [He’ll] ask a question. If they turn into a politician and go to their speech, he comes right back with the same question,” said Phil Bonifazi, another Iowan at the forum.
He suggested the crowd’s hostility to Mr. Pence stems from his statements regarding Jan. 6.
“President Trump’s words that day were reckless,” Mr. Pence told Mr. Carlson on stage.
“I believe whatever his intentions in that moment, it endangered me and my family and everyone that was at the Capitol that day. I believe we will hold him accountable for that, just as the law will hold everyone that engaged in acts of violence.”
Yet Mr. Pence had virtually nothing to say about more controversial cases being brought in connection with Jan. 6: for example, the prosecution of young conservative Stephen Horn, who faces multiple charges despite the fact that he attended the protest as a journalist, and not as a Trump supporter.
Mr. Bonifazi told The Epoch Times that he plans to vote for Mr. DeSantis.
“He [Mr. Trump] was an outstanding president,” Mr. Bonifazi said.
Yet he worries that media hostility to the former commander-in-chief could hobble Mr. Trump if he is reelected to office.
“He’s not here today,” Mr. Bonifazi added.
He voiced less enthusiasm for Mr. Ramaswamy.
“I’ve heard him say things that are against the core of my Christian conservative stance,” Mr. Bonifazi said.
In a May interview with NPR, Mr. Ramaswamy described gay marriage as a new “norm in this country” that Americans had “achieve[d]”—an apparent endorsement of an institution that only dates back to a Supreme Court decision during former President Barack Obama’s second term.
Rachel Terhaar said she was impressed by both Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Ramaswamy. Yet the governor of Florida is still her pick.
“I see a bright future for Vivek,” she told The Epoch Times.
‘City People Don’t Understand’
Joyce Spencer shared her thoughts multiple times during the event. The born-and-bred Iowan initially spoke with The Epoch Times after the morning session, when Mr. Hutchinson, Mr. Scott, and Mr. Pence spoke.
Ms. Spencer, who grew up on a small farm, said ethanol is a major issue in her home state.
“Some of the city people don’t understand,” she added.
She praised Mr. Scott, explaining that she knew very little about him before coming to the event.
“I was glad that he put Jesus first,” she said.
Like Mr. Johnson, she questioned Mr. Hutchinson’s comments on gender transition.
“He says he wants to leave it to the parents. Well, so many times, the parents are left in the dark,” she said.
Ms. Spencer also took a dim view of Mr. Pence, citing his response to a question on the Jan. 6 protests and breach of the U.S. Capitol.
When Mr. Carlson first asked the former vice president if he believed the events on that date constituted an insurrection, Mr. Pence didn’t immediately clarify his position.
“First, can I just take a moment to say ‘thank you’ to The FAMiLY Leader?” he said.
“I don’t like it when somebody asks a direct question and you take them on a walk through the garden,” Ms. Spencer said.
Ms. Spencer shared her thoughts with The Epoch Times again after the second session, when Mr. Ramaswamy, Mr. DeSantis, and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley spoke with Mr. Carlson.
“Nikki Haley, I thought she was tremendous,” Ms. Spencer said.
“She had some very good ideas about how she would clean out the government.”
Mr. Ramaswamy made less of an impression on her. She had positive things to say about his and Mr. DeSantis’s comments on Ukraine.
“We gotta find out what we’re in this for,” Ms. Spencer said.
The Iowan sounded most enthusiastic about the day’s moderator, long a familiar face in conservative media.
“Tucker Carlson was very impressive,” she said.