DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Republicans battling to be the alternative to former President Donald Trump will come together for what an influential Christian organization in Iowa is billing as a friendly conversation on politics and their world views.
Three candidates — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy — will appear at the roundtable “family discussion” in Des Moines Friday. Trump is not expected to attend, though he was invited.
The field around Trump is winnowing with less than two months before the Iowa caucuses kick off the GOP nominating calendar. In a sign of the urgency the field faces, many of his rivals are going after each other more frequently with jabs that have often turned personal.
This week, DeSantis and Ramaswamy both criticized Haley after she said Tuesday that social media companies should ban people from posting anonymously online.
DeSantis posted on social media that the proposal was “dangerous and unconstitutional,” while Ramaswamy referenced the idea as “disgusting.” Ramaswamy and Haley have frequently feuded in recent candidate debates, culminating with Haley calling Ramaswamy “scum” after he attacked her daughter for using TikTok, the video-sharing app that many Republicans want to ban due to its links to China.
And the rivalry between DeSantis and Haley is also growing, with both sides competing hard for major donors and arguing over who has a better chance of beating Trump.
The Family Forum will put candidates at one table to give Iowans “a chance to see what’s in the candidates’ hearts, not just in their plans,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the influential Family Leader, in a statement. Vander Plaats will moderate the discussion.
The Family Leader reiterated that the event is not a debate after the Republican National Committee’s counsel’s office circulated a letter to campaigns dated Oct. 28 reminding candidates of their pledge not to participate in non-sanctioned debates and warning that attending the Family Leader’s forum would disqualify them from future RNC debates.
After DeSantis committed to attending anyway last Friday, Vander Plaats posted on social media and the RNC issued a second letter to campaigns stating that the two had come to an agreement on the format and the forum would proceed as planned.
Trump, the dominant front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination, has skipped all three primary debates so far and instead hosted large rallies to appeal to his supporters, as he will on Saturday in Fort Dodge, Iowa.