“I’m thrilled to throw my personal endorsement and support behind Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida,” he said in a Fox News interview.
Vander Plaats, the CEO and President of The Family Leader, has clashed with former President Donald Trump and urged Republicans to move on from the former president while heaping praise on DeSantis. A longtime GOP powerbroker, he has thrown his weight behind the eventual winner of the past three Iowa caucuses not to feature an incumbent Republican president.
Vander Plaats said he had leaned toward DeSantis from the outset of the primary due to his strong performance in the 2022 midterm elections, winning Florida by a sizable margin while Republicans around the country largely underperformed expectations. But he said DeSantis “closed the sale” during his appearance at The Family Leader’s Thanksgiving Family Forum event in Iowa last week.
“He was very clear about, we need a president who can serve two terms, not one term. We don’t need a president that’s gonna be a lame duck on day one,” Vander Plaats said.
In a tweet, DeSantis thanked Vander Plaats for his endorsement, characterizing support from the Christian leader as a sign that Iowa evangelicals “can trust me to fight and win for them.”
“As I’ve made my way through 98 of Iowa’s 99 counties, Iowans have shared what a critical role @bobvanderplaats plays in engaging Iowa’s faith community in the key battles that matter. His support tells Iowans they can trust me to fight and win for them,” he wrote in a social media post.
The backing from Vander Plaats comes after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds endorsed DeSantis as the Florida governor has focused his campaign’s strategy on Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. He previously said that he has discussed a possible endorsement with Reynolds.
Vander Plaats told Fox that he believes his endorsement, combined with the endorsement from Reynolds, could propel DeSantis to success in Iowa, and speculated it could give him momentum in subsequent primaries.
“I think Gov. Reynolds’ endorsement of Ron DeSantis is a key play in the state of Iowa. And if Iowa launches a Ron DeSantis, I think it gives New Hampshire a new look, South Carolina new look, and you have a real primary that’s going to take place,” he said.
News Nation was first to report the news of the expected endorsement.
On the same day as Vander Plaats’ expected announcement, Trump’s campaign said that more than 150 faith leaders in Iowa had backed the former president.
“This announcement is not just a number; it’s a powerful message that faith communities trust President Trump to lead our nation forward with integrity and moral clarity,” Dan McCoy, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Urbandale, Iowa, said in a news release from the campaign.
Vander Plaats said he believes the Republican primary is a “two-person race” between DeSantis and Trump and acknowledged that the former president winning the Iowa caucuses would put him in a strong position to become the eventual nominee. But he said he believes the state is “tailor-made” for DeSantis to win.
“If President Trump wins Iowa here, I think it’s going to be awfully hard to make the case that you can beat President Trump, and he’s gonna be your eventual nominee,” he said. “But I think America would be well served to have a choice, and I really believe Ron DeSantis is that guy and I think Iowa’s tailor-made for him to win this.”
This headline and story have been updated with additional developments.
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