Republican Candidates Grilled on Ukraine Support at Conservative Christian Forum
Republican presidential contenders attending a forum of Christian conservatives in Iowa, which typically focuses on social issues, found themselves facing skeptical questions from the crowd regarding their support for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
The forum, organized by the Family Leader, a prominent evangelical group in Iowa, has been a customary event for Republican candidates aiming to bolster their conservative credentials in the state. Iowa holds the first contest in the race to determine the Republican nominee for the 2024 presidential election against Democratic President Joe Biden.
While candidates are accustomed to addressing popular conservative social issues like abortion and transgender rights, they were confronted with challenging inquiries related to foreign policy.
Moderator Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host, pressed former Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina to justify their positions on Ukraine. Both Pence and Scott emphasized the importance of countering Russian aggression, with Pence warning that if Ukraine falls to Vladimir Putin, there is a risk of Russian forces crossing into NATO territory, necessitating U.S. defense.
Pence appeared visibly frustrated as Carlson questioned the national interest of the United States in the Ukraine conflict.
Scott also defended providing assistance to Ukraine, stating that anything weakening the Russian military is beneficial for America.
Although front-runner Donald Trump chose not to attend the forum and scheduled his own event for the following week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who ranks second in the polls, made an appearance.
Earlier this year, DeSantis described the war as a mere "territorial dispute" before retracting his statement and labeling Putin a "war criminal." At the forum, DeSantis argued that Biden's administration had failed to sufficiently define America's interests in Ukraine.
DeSantis claimed that the ultimate goal should be achieving a sustainable peace in Europe, but he did not provide specific details on how to accomplish that.
In contrast, candidate Vivek Ramaswamy called for an immediate end to the war and for Russia to retain its territorial gains.
Most attendees seemed to align with Carlson's perspective, advocating for the United States to impose an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine. The majority remained quiet when Pence and Scott expressed differing opinions.
Trump has been highly critical of U.S. support for the war, accusing Biden of engaging in a "reckless escalation" by mobilizing 3,000 reservists from the U.S. military. Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election.
Republican candidates who have pledged support for Ukraine, including Pence, Scott, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who also spoke at the forum, have struggled to gain significant traction in opinion polls.
According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, a slight majority of Republicans (56%) endorsed U.S. weapons shipments to Ukraine, compared to 65% of the overall American population.
Carlson also questioned Pence about his role in certifying the 2020 election results in Congress while Trump and his allies made baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. On the day of the certification vote, Trump supporters stormed the Capitol following his directive to "fight like hell" to "stop the steal."
Pence defended his actions and criticized Trump, acknowledging that the former president's words that day were reckless. Pence expressed his belief that history would hold Trump accountable, but his statement did not elicit applause from the audience.
Iowa's nominating contest is scheduled for January 15th, and candidates who receive strong support from evangelical voters have historically prevailed in the state's caucuses.