Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition organizers say they sold 1,400 tickets for tonight’s forum featuring eight presidential candidates. Monte Knudsen, the pastor of the Faith Christian Outreach Church in Mount Pleasant, opened the nearly five-hour-long event with prayer.
“Help us God, tonight, to be wise, to pick those who are moral, who have a conscience toward you, who will honor you, who will lift up you and our nation so our nation will again be exalted,” Knudsen prayed.
The fight to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood was top of mind for the Christian conservative activists. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the night’s closing speaker, roused the crowd by talking about what he called the looming “battle” over federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
“Republican leadership has already, preemptively surrendered,” Cruz said and boos supporting Cruz’s battle against GOP leaders in congress rang out in the hall.
Cruz continued on the theme, saying Republicans hadn’t won majorities in both the House just to capitulate on issues like this rather than take the kind of action Christian conservatives want.
“Republican leadership is not trying to defeat Obama. They’re not trying to stop Planned Parenthood. They’re trying to beat all of us. They’re trying to pound all of us into submission,” Cruz said. “I would encourage every one of you, reach out to your elected officials and say: ‘Just do what you said you would do.'”
It was the second year in a row that Cruz was the closer at the fall fundraiser for the Christian conservative group. It was businessman Donald Trump’s first time speaking to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition and he brought along his Bible.
“I’m better than you thought, you see?” Trump said as he took the stage, Bible in hand, and the crowd cheered. “…I also brought my confirmation picture ’cause nobody can believe it. Nobody believes this. Oh, what went wrong?” The crowd laughed and applauded.
Trump spoke about the latest media storm surrounding his candidacy. It started Thursday when a man at a Trump rally called President Obama a Muslim who is not a legal U.S. citizen. Trump told the crowd of Christian activists he is not “morally obligated” to defend Obama every time somebody says something bad or controversial about the president.
“You know, for the first time in my life I got in trouble by not saying anything,” Trump said. “…CNN, FOX, CBS, every newscast — it was the biggest story…The only time I’ll ever beat out the pope.”
The crowd gave Trump a warm reception and many stood to applaud as Trump left the stage, but Trump did not address the Planned Parenthood controversy. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee did and got a standing ovation with this pledge: “I will protect every person under the law and that means we will do more than defund Planned Parenthood. We will end the scourge of abortion in this country.” The crowd cheered, whistled and applauded Huckabee at length.
The crowd thinned as the evening wore on, but after the doors to the venue on the Iowa State Fairgrounds opened at 4 p.m. people waited in a long-line for a fried chicken dinner and there were more people than chairs at tables to accommodate the crowd, so some people ate in shifts. Joyce Hagen of Fertile said Trump brought up some important issues during the campaign, but she’s leaning toward other candidates like Cruz and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and plans to wait ’til January before making a decision.
“I have eliminated more than I’ve chosen right now, but I do have a couple of favorites,” she said. “I do really like Ben Carson. I just don’t know if he’s electable.”
Karen Bollhoefer of Newton plans to support an anti-establishment candidate and she’s leaning toward Cruz, but not Trump.
“He’s got too big of an ego. We don’t need that in Washington,” she said. “I like that he’s mixed it up a little bit and brought (up) the political correctness — that we need to get rid of some of that kind of stuff…so he was good for the race, but I wouldn’t want him for a president.”
Karen Kaufman of Adel has a checklist of qualities she’s looking for in a candidate and honesty is at the top of the list.
“We like Carly Fiorina. We like Jeb Bush. Actually Donald Trump has some really good financial background. We like a lot of Rand Paul’s things,” Kaufman said. “There’s just so many that we haven’t ruled out any, so we’re wide open.”
Dave Veeder of Johnston isn’t ready to choose a candidate yet, either, but he is impressed by businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and by Cruz.
“I like that he’s in such good command of his thoughts,” he said. “He’s such a good debater. You give him a question, he’s got a quick, direct, pretty thorough answer on everything.”
The winner of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses was the first 2016 candidate to speak Saturday evening. With an anti-establishment persona so popular, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum told the crowd he was an outsider with an insider’s skills to navigate the “shark tank” of Washington, D.C.
“Please, you did a good job last time,” Santorum said. “Repeat.”
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former New York Governor George Pataki also spoke to the crowd.
“Anybody that would listen to this many speeches is going to heaven because this is what hell would be like — never-ending speeches,” said Graham, laughing along with the crowd as he took the stage as the next-to-last speaker of the night. Graham later talked about a bill he’s authored that would ban abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy.
Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and John Kasich sent recorded videos that were played on a large video screen at the front of the room. Jeb Bush and Rand Paul had others speak briefly on their behalf.
(This post has been updated with additional quotes from the candidates.)