Former President Trump’s criticism of a six-week abortion ban poses risks in Iowa, which boasts a strong conservative grassroots base and happens to be the first presidential contest state.
Trump attacked his closest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), for his signing of a six-week abortion ban, calling the move “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake” during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Trump went on to say that he would find a solution with which “both sides will be happy.”
The comments come as Trump ramps up his efforts in the Hawkeye State as his rivals continue to make inroads in the state.
“There’s a variance of opinions but I don’t think the average Iowa pro-life voter would appreciate what he had to say,” said David Kochel, a veteran Iowa GOP strategist.
A New York Times/Siena College poll released last month showed 70 percent of Trump’s supporters in Iowa saying they were in favor of a state law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. On top of that, the poll showed 69 percent of white, evangelical voters in Iowa, a critical group in the GOP nominating process, saying they supported a six-week ban as well.
Terry Amann, a Des Moines-based evangelical pastor who has met with Trump and several other GOP contenders, called Trump’s comments “disappointing.”
“I can’t speak for all caucusgoers but for the evangelical Christian community, it’s very troubling. Our goal is to see the number of weeks go down, not increase,” Amann said, referring to abortion restrictions.
“It makes it really difficult for evangelicals and evangelical pastors like myself to really step up and give support because we just can’t support that type of position,” he continues.
DeSantis’s campaign was quick to hit back against Trump, citing existing six-week abortion bans in states including Iowa, where Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed such a bill into law in July.
“Trump says he will compromise with Democrats on abortion so that they’re nice to him: ‘Both sides are going to like me,’” the DeSantis War Room account said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Then he says it’s ‘a terrible thing’ babies with heartbeats are protected in Iowa, Florida and South Carolina. Ron DeSantis will never sell out conservatives to win praise from corporate media or the Left.”
The legislation signed by Reynolds banned most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in the Hawkeye State, with the exception of the well-being of the mother and in cases of rape and incest. Later that same month, a state court temporarily blocked the ban from going into place.
“Most Republicans in Iowa do not think that that position is a stupid position, which is basically what Trump is saying,” Kochel said.
Iowa is home to a strong anti-abortion activist base with groups like the Family Leader and the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition calling the state home.
Bob Vander Plaats, the president and CEO of The Family Leader, told The Hill on Monday that Trump’s comments reveal “his true colors.”
“He was willing to appoint three Supreme Court justices that would lead to the overturn of Roe v. Wade because it was a transactional deal which led to a transformational decision to appoint three justices,” said Vander Plaats, who has been a vocal Trump critic.
“He’s willing to make a deal to make both sides happy, and I think all Americans know that’s probably not going to happen,” he continued, referring to Trump’s comments on “Meet the Press.”
Timothy Head, the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, was a bit more optimistic.
“If anybody can do it, he can do it, but I do think that most of the pro-life and, frankly, also the pro-choice camps are not expecting anything in the realm of compromise anytime soon, at least in federal bills,” Head said.
Trump, who lost the Iowa caucuses to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2016, has recently turned much of his campaign’s attention toward the state. The former president will head to Dubuque and Maquoketa on Wednesday, marking the first of five trips to the state in September and October.
Wednesday’s event will mark Trump’s eighth visit to the state, fewer times than many of his rivals, who have spent significantly more time campaigning there.
“He doesn’t have to do the things that other candidates have to do to get known because he’s got 100 percent name ID and most people know how they feel about Trump already,” Kochel said.
And polling shows Trump holds a relatively commanding lead in the state, despite slipping in some polls. An Emerson College poll released last week showed the former president with 49 percent support among Iowa Republican caucusgoers, down from 62 percent in May. DeSantis’s support among the same group of voters sat at 14 percent, down from 20 percent in May.
“If it looks like [Trump is] trying to get Iowa on the cheap, I think that runs the risk of alienating some voters who really want to engage with candidates and want to be able to ask questions and go to townhalls,” Kochel said.
DeSantis’s campaign has made the state a top priority heading into next year’s primary and caucus season, with a pledge to visit all of Iowa’s 99 counties, also known as the “Full Grassley.”
Over the weekend, DeSantis and Trump’s other rivals attended the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual banquet in an effort to court the state’s evangelical voters. Trump, however, was noticeably absent from the gathering. The former president did address the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee in Washington, D.C., on Friday and at the Family Research Council and FRC Action’s annual Pray, Vote, Stand conference.
Head said Trump’s absence at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event was due to scheduling and said the group had maintained a great relationship with Trump. But he acknowledged his absence, along with his comments on “Meet the Press,” could open him up to attacks from his GOP opponents.
“It will just be all the more incumbent on President Trump and their team to reiterate or remind Iowa religious voters that he was the driving force behind the current Supreme Court and clearly the Dobbs decision,” Head said.
However, Vander Plaats said Trump’s increased attention on the state shows that, unlike in 2016, Iowa could be the key to the GOP nomination in 2024.
“He sees Iowa very much in play, that this is not a sure victory for him,” Vander Plaats said. “If Trump is to get beat here, I think Trump knows and everybody else knows it’ll be game on to a nomination. If Trump wins here, I just don’t think anyone is going to beat him.”