DES MOINES – Strong support from White evangelicals and other social conservative voters helped former President Trump win the White House in 2016. And they stuck with the then-president his 2020 reelection defeat.
But as the former president, who remains extremely popular and influential with Republican base voters, flirts with another White House run in 2024, will such voters stick with Trump?
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Bob Vander Plaats, who for a dozen years has served as president and CEO of The Family Leader, a top social conservative organization in Iowa, tells Fox News that when it comes to the next presidential race, “we’re going to be looking for somebody who can win, who can champion conservative values, constitutional America, and who can unite this country.”
And Vander Plaats noted that for Christian conservative voters in Iowa – the state whose caucuses for a half century have kicked off the presidential nominating calendar – “they’re biggest concern is can he (Trump) win in 2024, or has the train left the station and can we find somebody who can win in 2024?”
“Without question there’s a lot of people who are in Trump’s base and camp and they still have that question. They love the president. It’s not about not loving Donald Trump. That’s not it. The thing is you have to win in order to lead. You have to win in order to govern,” he emphasized.
Vander Plaats spoke with Fox News ahead of his organization’s 10th annual leadership summit, which is being held Friday at an arena in Des Moines.
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Former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Gov. Kristi Noem of neighboring South Dakota – all considered possible 2024 Republican presidential contenders – will be speaking at the event.
“I think they’re all three stellar potential 2024 candidates,” Vander Plaats said.
And pointing to Pence, he highlighted that “our base knows him very well. They were huge supporters of him when President Trump chose him to be vice president. I think it’s one of the things that made our base comfortable with a President Trump.”
Vander Plaats said that Iowa evangelicals were “very excited about President Trump’s leadership, meaning what he did. What he said he was going to do, he actually followed through on and he did it.”
Among the most cherished things he delivered for evangelicals was the confirmation of three conservative justices on the Supreme Court.
Vander Plaats also noted that Trump “showed a bold and courageous spirit. Kind of disrupter to the status quo.”
“I think Americans are looking for that – a disrupter to the status quo and you’re doing to do what you said you were going to do,” he highlighted.
But he also said that “on the other hand there was some real consternation with the persona, some of the rhetoric.”
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Sandy Orth shares those concerns.
Orth, a lifelong Republican and conservative voter who lives in Des Moines, cast a ballot for Trump in 2016 but not in 2020.
“To me it’s important to have a president of the United States that’s of good character and it soon became evident after he became president that he was going to do things his way and it didn’t matter if he was rude to people, disrespectful to people,” she told Fox News. “Although there were many things he did as president that I thought were good things, in my mind it didn’t overcome his demeanor and his character.”
And she emphasized that “it just was a bad influence on our county. In my mind, he was like a misbehaved child and that is not somebody that I am proud to have a president of the United States.”
But Republican voter Bonnie Reinders of Sioux Center told Fox News that “I absolutely, unequivocally, 100% would vote for him (Trump) against anyone” if he runs again in 2024 and wins the GOP nomination.
“Donald Trump begrudging earned my vote in 2016 because of the unacceptable alternative,” Reinders explained. “Donald Trump earned my vote in 2020 because….I was very impressed with his ability to say clearly what he planned to do and then execute it.”
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Reinders, who said her top issue is abortion, described Trump as “the most pro-life president ever.”
The evangelical vote is a crucial factor in Hawkeye State Republican politics.
“They are definitely an important part of our electorate,” Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann told Fox News. He described them as “one of five or six key factions in our state.”
Vander Plaats said that those voters attending the summit on Friday will be “looking for authenticity” from Pence, Pompeo, and Noem.
“We want to know about consistency of convictions. Is there a track record of your convictions, which really defines your character,” he said.
And he added that the crows also wants to know “what is the vision that you have that would really unite America, around common principles, common values, common beliefs, where all of us would be lifted up by your leadership, not just some of us. Because this country, the way we’ll collapse is from the division within, not from without.”
But Vander Plaats also spotlighted a potential Republican presidential contender who isn’t speaking at the summit but who’s seen his popularity among the GOP base soar over the past year.
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“There’s a lot of hype around Ron DeSantis right now,” he said. “Because he’s been showing bold and courageous leadership in Florida…and still being able to balance that persona, that respect, for others.”
And looking to the future, he said if a potential 2024 contender “rises up” to fill the current void in the GOP, “it may be where people aren’t clamoring for Trump to run again.”