DES MOINES, Iowa — A dozen of the Republican White House contenders who want to keep former President Donald Trump from winning the 2024 nomination joined him here Friday for a dinner with hundreds of influential activists in the state that will hold the first caucuses.
But — as has been the case for months in a race in which Trump polls as the comfortable front-runner — few dared to take even an indirect shot at him. And the one who delivered the night’s most slashing attack, former Texas Rep. Will Hurd, was booed as he left the stage.
“Donald Trump is not running for president to make America great again,” Hurd said, invoking Trump’s slogan before invoking the legal troubles cascading around him, including a superseding indictment this week. “Donald Trump is running to stay out of prison.”
The loud jeers that rang out inside the Iowa Events Center ballroom at the state party’s Lincoln Dinner were at once instructive of the power and loyalty Trump still commands and the challenges in trying to beat him.
“Listen, I know the truth,” Hurd said, talking over the crowd as he neared the 10-minute time limit given to all candidates. “The truth is hard. But if we elect Donald Trump, we are willingly giving [President] Joe Biden four more years in the White House and America can’t handle that.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson — like Hurd, a long-shot barely registering in the polls — was the only other candidate to criticize Trump overtly and by name. Hutchinson’s approach was more mild-mannered, and his speech stirred little reaction among the audience.
“As it stands right now, you will be voting in Iowa while multiple criminal cases are pending against former President Trump,” Hutchinson said. “Iowa has an opportunity to say, we as a party, we need a new direction for America and for the GOP. We are a party of individual responsibility, accountability and support for the rule of law. We must not abandon that.”
While not crowd-pleasers, Hurd and Hutchinson stood out at an event where all 13 candidates had equal footing. Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann emphasized at the outset that everyone would be held to the time-limit. Only Hutchinson went over 10 minutes; his condemnation of Trump was interrupted by music.
Trump, known for rambling campaign speeches that can go on for hours, spoke last and ended with seconds to spare. He appeared rushed, reading from a list of accomplishments — he emphasized how his Supreme Court picks had overturned Roe v. Wade — and favorable poll numbers. He sprinkled in a few attacks on his closest competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom he repeatedly called “Ron DeSanctus.” Trump also repeated his lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
“They rigged the presidential election in 2020,” Trump said. “We’re not going to allow them to rig the presidential election of 2024.”