Eight Republican presidential hopefuls attended the "Roast and Ride" event in Iowa to pitch themselves to prospective voters as the busy summer campaign season kicks off, with GOP front-runner former President Donald Trump notably absent.
The combination barbecue rally and motorcycle ride on June 3, hosted by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, had the following declared or presumed Republican presidential candidates in attendance: former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Michigan businessman Perry Johnson, author Vivek Ramaswamy, and conservative talk radio host Larry Elder.
Pence, who hasn't officially declared his candidacy for 2024 but is widely rumored to make an announcement soon, was the only one who took part in a morning motorcycle ride for charity.
Pence rode with the group to the fairgrounds, where candidates later gave speeches and chatted with barbecue-eating voters.
The former vice president, who has made frequent trips to Iowa over the past year, is expected to announce his 2024 presidential campaign at an event in Des Moines on June 7.
'Standing Up to Disney'Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared at the rally, along with his wife, Casey, and their three young children.
DeSantis chatted with voters, gave out autographs, and signed the Bible of a man who thanked the Florida governor for "standing up to Disney."
“Florida stands for the protection of children; we believe jamming gender ideology in elementary school is wrong,” DeSantis said in late May. “Disney obviously supported injecting gender ideology in elementary school.”
Disney sued DeSantis over the move, accusing his administration of "weaponizing its power to inflict political punishment" on the media giant for its opposition to the Parental Rights in Education legislation.
'New-Generation Leader'?In their speeches at the "Roast and Ride" event, the candidates all tiptoed around the subject of Trump.
Haley repeated a version of a line she has been using as a candidate that seems to allude to the 76-year-old former president and the controversies associated with his political career.
“It’s time for a new-generation leader. We’ve got to leave the baggage of the negativity behind," she said.
Trump's Iowa Town HallEarlier in the week, the former president held a town hall-style event in Clive, Iowa, with Fox News host Sean Hannity serving as moderator.
Hannity said the "massive, incredible, enthusiastic" audience came out in "rain, thunder, and lightning" for the chance to hear Trump speak in person.
Asked why he doesn't "tone it down" when it comes to his tough rhetoric regarding his political opponents, the former president said that the fierce opposition he faced while in office taught him that he needs to fight to stay in contention.
"I won an election. It was unprecedented ... and from the day I got in [office], I was under siege. ... If I wasn't tough, I wouldn't be here right now," he said, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Asked by an audience member what he would do to fix the economy, Trump said that price pressures continue to bedevil the U.S. economy.
"Inflation is a killer of countries ... it’s a cancer to a country," Trump said, while pledging to bolster domestic oil production to help lower energy prices and ease inflation.
"Our economy right now is a total mess," he added.
At the event, Trump said he's not bothered by the fact that the Republican field of candidates for the presidency is growing.
Still, he said he couldn't figure out why some of the candidates were entering the race or continuing when they have little or no chance of winning.
Polls show some of the other candidates pulling only 1 percent of the vote, Trump said.
Trump said that "the one who's second" in the polls, referring to DeSantis, stated that it would take two terms—eight years—to clean up the mess our nation now faces.
"If he needs eight years, don't vote for him," Trump said, adding that he would only need six months to get the economy "hopping."
Trump also decried the investigations against him, including one focused on classified documents that the FBI raided his Mar-a-Lago home to retrieve.
That investigation—and others—are "about election interference," Trump said, adding that "it’s a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time."
"It’s a hoax."