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The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Republican candidates focus on variety of issues including Biden, education at Lincoln Dinner

The yearly dinner hosted 13 Republican presidential candidates, each taking turns to speak to a sold-out Des Moines audience, with most focusing on Biden, education, the border, and more.
Cody Blissett
Former President and 2024 presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during the annual Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines on Friday, July 28, 2023.

On one of the hottest days of the summer, dozens upon dozens of people dressed all in black scurried around a large banquet hall preparing tables. Placing glasses of water, plates of decadent food, shining cutlery, and decorative candles, the room soon took shape.

At first glance, it appeared to be an ordinary formal dinner event. But taking a look at the main stage in the back of the room at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa, revealed the true occasion: the Iowa Republican Party’s 2023 Lincoln Dinner.

The dinner is a yearly event held by the Republican Party in Iowa, with this year’s unique event on July 28 featuring a total of 13 Republican presidential candidates:

  • Former President Donald Trump
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
  • South Carolina Tim Scott
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson
  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum
  • Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley
  • Michigan businessman Perry Johnson
  • Former Texas Sen. Will Hurd
  • Mayor of Miami, Florida, Francis Suarez
  • Texas businessman Ryan Binkley
  • Political commentator and talk-show host Larry Elder
  • Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy

Tickets for the event were sold out, with roughly 1,000 people in attendance. Ticket packages for the event ranged in price from $10,000 for a table of 10 with “premier” seating and tickets for the reception, to $1,500 for a non-premier just a table of 10, according to the Iowa GOP’s website.

The event was one of many campaign stops for the candidates as the Iowa Republican Party gears up for its caucus in January, still serving as the GOP’s first caucus in the nation. The lineup was largely the same as the “Roast and Ride” event hosted on June 3, with the only additions this time being Trump, Burgum, Hurd, Suarez, and Binkley.

The dinner was kicked off by a short introduction, followed by a prayer, the pledge of allegiance, and a live rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Rounding off the introduction was a speech by Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann.

Kaufmann began by referencing the controversial new song “Try that in a Small Town” by country musician Jason Aldean, that is alleged to contain racist language and “dog whistles,” or coded language that one specific group might understand.

“In Iowa small towns we honor tradition. In Iowa small towns we stand up for the anthem. In Iowa small towns, we protect women’s sports. In Iowa small towns we believe in the power of the people to make decisions with their own money,” Kaufmann said.

Following him was a speech from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who emphasized the importance of Iowa maintaining its first-in-the-nation status. She also highlighted the recent work and legislation the GOP-controlled House and Senate have passed this year, such as the law passed in April that restructured the Iowa’s government.

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After Reynolds’ speech, the 13 candidates each took turns speaking on stage.

Border security, COVID-19, education, and the economy main talking points

Each of the 13 candidates took the stage with the song “Only in America” by Brooks & Dunn playing. Most of the 13 speeches addressed concerns about security at the southern border with Mexico, lockdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic, issues surrounding education, and claims of a staggering or even failing economy, despite recent data which shows that the U.S. GDP has slightly increased.

Regarding education, some candidates like Haley called for parents to have a choice in sending their students to public or private schools across the country, and to ensure parents are more aware and involved with the curriculum being taught in schools.

“When it comes to education, let’s do what your great Gov. Kim Reynolds did. Let’s make sure our kids can read by the third grade, let’s have complete transparency in the classroom, and let parents decide where their kids should go to school,” Haley said.

Haley’s comments came in reference to the education bills passed by Reynolds in June that changed the curriculum and gave parents more freedom to change their child’s school.

Education was also a main talking point for DeSantis, who also touted his record during the pandemic, which included keeping schools and businesses open, and not requiring face coverings.

“Those [pandemic] policies were disruptive for this country,” DeSantis said. “They hurt people, they hurt our economy, and we still haven’t fully recovered from it.”

Attacks on Biden

The other main theme across all the speeches was renewed calls to action to vote Biden out of the White House in 2024, with many also calling into question his competency to do so. This included a remark from Haley, who suggested implementing a mental competency test.

“We got to have mental competency test for anyone over the age of 70,” Haley said. “That’s not being disrespectful. These are people who are making decisions on our national security decisions on our economic tough test.”

Possible questions, Haley suggested, could include asking a person how many grandchildren they have, a jab at Biden who last week publicly acknowledged a seventh granddaughter for the first time.

But it also comes after House Minority leader Mitch McConnell froze while at a press conference last week, raising health concerns about the GOP’s top leader.

Other candidates chose to take a different route, instead choosing to simply attack Biden’s decisions and administration, such as Burgum.

“America needs a 180-degree change from the direction where Joe Biden is taking us right now. Joe Biden is wrong on the economy, he’s wrong on energy and he’s wrong on national security, which includes food security and border security,” Burgum said. “To turn this country around, we need someone who understands how to compete and win in a changing economy.”

Trump: The main event

The headliner for the event was Trump, the last of the 13 candidates to speak. He received a standing ovation when his name was announced, before he even stepped foot on stage.

Once on stage, he appeared to revel in the moment, taking a few moments to walk around the stage and wave to the applauding crowd before his speech.

He began his speech by saying that the state of Iowa had never “had a better friend in the White House,” and then highlighted the work his administration had done.

This included his work on the ethanol industry, a major energy source in Iowa which at its mention sparked applause and cheers from the audience, while also talking about his role in appointing several conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.

For the latter point, he referenced the recent abortion laws Iowa has passed, laws that he said were made possible thanks to the justices he appointed overturning Roe v. Wade, which sent the decision of abortion back to the states.

“We will win the election big, and we will make America great again,” Trump said to round off his speech.

Throughout the evening, almost all of the candidates shied away from referring to Trump, instead focusing on Biden and their promises. The one exception to this was Hurd, who not only named Trump in his speech but said Trump was running for one specific reason.

“Donald Trump is not running for president make America great again. Donald Trump is not running to represent the people that voted for him in 2016. Donald Trump is running to stay out of prison,” Hurd said, to audible boos and jeers from the audience.

It was fitting, then, that when Trump had stepped on stage, the line from “Only in America” being played at that moment would serve up an ironic, almost self-aware moment:  “One could end up going to prison/ One just might be president.”

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About the Contributors
Alejandro Rojas
Alejandro Rojas, News Editor
Alejandro Rojas is The Daily Iowan's news editor. He previously worked as a news reporter covering Johnson County and was the summer executive editor in 2023. He is a senior, double majoring in journalism and political science.
Cody Blissett
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.