Trump and DeSantis Collide as They Court Social Conservatives

The former president and the Florida governor, leading the Republican primary field, will address two conservative events, presenting an opportunity for Ron DeSantis to contrast himself with Donald Trump.

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Trump and DeSantis Collide as They Court Social Conservatives |

Former President Donald J. Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis will both appear at two different conservative gatherings in Washington on Friday.

Former President Donald J. Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida are set to collide again on Friday as the leading Republican presidential candidates make dueling appearances at two different influential social conservative gatherings in Washington.

The events — a Pray Vote Stand Summit organized by the Family Research Council and a leadership summit of the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee — will be a showcase for the evangelical voters with whom Mr. DeSantis urgently needs to make inroads if he has any chance to catch up with Mr. Trump, who holds a wide lead in most primary polls.

The decision for both men to come to the nation’s capital highlights the significant role that Christian conservatives will play in the 2024 nominating contest, beginning in Iowa, where white evangelicals are projected to be a sizable share of the likely electorate in January’s caucuses.

Former Vice President Mike Pence and Vivek Ramaswamy are also expected to speak at the Family Research Council’s event.

Mr. DeSantis has actively courted evangelical leaders, particularly in Iowa, where he began his campaign with a speech at a church in the suburbs of Des Moines. On Thursday, the DeSantis campaign unveiled a 70-member Faith and Family Coalition and put out a video that ended with the words “God Over Government.”

The twice-divorced Mr. Trump was not a natural ally of social conservatives in his first campaign. But he hewed closely to their priorities as president and appointed three Supreme Court justices who helped to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had been a decades-long pursuit.

“Women are not looking for a pastor or a husband when considering a presidential candidate, they are looking for a bodyguard, someone who will fight for them and their families on the issues they hold dear,” said Penny Nance, the chief executive of Concerned Women for America.

Asked if anyone could catch Mr. Trump in 2024, Ms. Nance said, “Well, that’s a heavy lift.”

On Saturday, Mr. DeSantis will follow up his Washington trip by traveling to Iowa for yet another chance to woo evangelical voters at an event that is drawing most of the leading candidates in the 2024 race — except Mr. Trump. Mr. DeSantis has already visited more than half of Iowa’s 99 counties.

The joint Washington visits insert presidential politics into a fragile moment for congressional Republicans. Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced this week that the House would move forward with an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. He is also scrambling to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month, as part of a spending fight with the right wing of his own conference.

Mr. DeSantis, a former congressman who helped found the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, has leaned into the spending fight, and blamed Republicans for overspending during the Trump years.

In a private call this week, which was first reported by Politico, Mr. DeSantis encouraged some of his congressional backers who are also pressing for spending cuts, including Representatives Chip Roy of Texas, Bob Good of Virginia and Thomas Massie of Kentucky. Mr. DeSantis said he supported their efforts, according to two people with knowledge of the call: “Keep fighting,” the governor said.

On Friday, Mr. DeSantis is set to deliver a lunchtime speech to Concerned Women for America while Mr. Trump will address that group in the early evening. Both will speak at the Pray Vote Stand summit in the evening, with Mr. Trump speaking last.

The overlap is also a sign of an intensifying campaign schedule with four months until the Iowa caucuses. Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis have made near-simultaneous stops in the same locations throughout the summer, even as Mr. Trump has kept up a relatively light campaign schedule: Both have attended a state party dinner in Iowa, the Iowa State Fair and an Iowa football game.

Mr. Trump skipped the first primary debate last month and is expected to bypass the second debate later this month, meaning that overlapping appearances are opportunities for Mr. DeSantis to sharpen the contrast with the primary front-runner. In an interview with CBS News this week, Mr. DeSantis, 45, spoke about what he argued was voters’ desire for a “generational passing of the torch” in a jab at both President Biden and Mr. Trump, who are 80 and 77.

“The presidency is not a job for someone that’s 80 years old,” Mr. DeSantis said.

Mr. DeSantis and his allies have made disagreements with Mr. Trump over some social policies a focus of the campaign. Last weekend, when Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump both attended the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry football game, the pro-DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, ran an ad about “transgender insanity,” and used a clip of a decade-old interview that showed Mr. Trump saying he would allow a transgender woman to compete in the Miss Universe competition in 2012.

Shane Goldmacher is a national political reporter and was previously the chief political correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times, he worked at Politico, where he covered national Republican politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. More about Shane Goldmacher

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