WASHINGTON – Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates visited Washington on Friday to speak with social conservatives and address a central factor in the race: Trump’s huge lead.
“We’re leading by a lot everywhere,” Trump told cheering delegates at a Concerned Women for America’s Leadership Summit in the nation’s capital.
Trump spoke hours after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told the same group of social conservatives to choose carefully in the 2024 election, delivering a standard speech attacking Democrats and “woke” ideology in schools and businesses.
“We are in the midst of a national malaise,” DeSantis said while mostly bashing President Joe Biden.
DeSantis did not mention Trump by name, while the former president attacked the Florida governor at length during his 55-minute speech.
Pence, Ramaswamy also in D.C.
Four GOP candidates – Trump, DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, and former Vice President Mike Pence – also addressed another group of religious conservatives meeting in Washington, the “Pray, Vote, Stand Summit” sponsored by the Family Research Council.
On social media and in public, Trump spent most of his day talking about polls showing him way ahead of DeSantis and others, both nationally and in early contest states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
Trump promotes social issues, bashes indictments
In his speech to members of Concerned Women for America, Trump stressed his presidential record on issues like abortion and “religious liberty.” He cited appointments of many conservative judges, including three members of the Supreme Court who voted to overturn the Roe vs. Wade ruling on abortion rights.
Trump also defended his own abortion views, repeating that he supports exceptions to bans in cases of rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother. That position has drawn criticism from some social conservatives.
Noting that Democrats plan to use the abortion issue against GOP candidates in 2024, Trump warned social conservatives that “you have to be able to discuss it properly.”
After bragging about his polls, Trump also protested the four criminal cases that are pending against him, describing the indictments against him as efforts to hurt his presidential bid.
At another point, Trump attacked criticized Special Counsel Jack Smith for seeking a gag order against him.
“Our nation is being challenged like never before,” Trump said.
During his late-night speech to the Family Research Council, Trump also defended protesters sentenced to prison for their roles in the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, and suggested he would like to pardon many of them.
If elected, Trump pledged to appoint a task force to “rapidly review the case of every political prisoner.”
DeSantis and evangelicals
DeSantis’ Washington speech came in the midst of a renewed appeal to social conservatives. “We must reverse this national decline,” DeSantis told members of Concerned Women for America.
On Saturday, DeSantis travels to Iowa to promote his “Faith and Family” coalition at a “God Above Government” in Des Moines.
Later in the day, eight Republican candidates – but not Trump – will also speak Saturday at the the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Fall Banquet, another event focused on social issues.
The guests at that event include South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Pence assails ‘erosion of the traditional family’
In his speech at the Family Research Council, Pence offered proposals to address what he called “the erosion of the traditional family.”
Pence also did not mention Trump by name and spent most of his time attacking Biden while bemoaning the state of the nation.
“I believe this country is in a lot of trouble,” Pence said, including the fact that people are “losing faith in our institutions.”
In previewing his speech to social conservatives, Ramaswamy said he opposes what he called “the Left’s commandments” of “Race, Gender, Sexuality, Climate.”
“We can’t just be against their vision,” he said on X, formerly Twitter. “We must offer our own: Individual. Family. Nation. God.”
Republican candidates are also gearing up for a Sept. 27 debate at the Ronald Reagan library in California – again, all except Trump, who has said he will skip the event.
Trump also refused to attend the first GOP debate on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee.
Republicans are more hopeful that Trump will show up a third debate. Republican National Committee members disclosed this week that they are planning hold a third debate in Miami, very near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Fla.