This time, the potential candidates know exactly what they are up against, but they just didn’t address it. Mr. Pence fretted over “radical gender ideology” and pupils penalized for improper pronouns. Mr. Scott, preaching his trademark optimism and unity, nonetheless warned that “the radical left, they are selling the drug of victimhood and the narcotic of despair.”
In private, Mr. Ramaswamy suggested that true voters of faith could see through Mr. Trump’s assumed trappings of religiosity, and he castigated Mr. DeSantis for refusing to sit down with news outlets he deems ideologically hostile and to speak on college campuses. In public, he was far more oblique, declining to name names when he said that if a conservative could not bring himself to visit a college campus, he probably should not be sitting across a negotiating table with Xi Jinping, China’s top leader.
Mr. Trump could give the audience what it was looking for, hailing the overturning of Roe v. Wade — “nobody thought it was going to happen” — and the most anti-abortion presidency ever, while promising to “obliterate the deep state,” hunt down “the radical zealots and Marxists who have infiltrated the federal Department of Education.” He concluded, “The left-wing gender lunacy being pushed on our children is an act of child abuse, and it will stop immediately.”
It went over well. Paul Thurmond, a 65-year-old from Des Moines, chatted amiably and shook hands with Mr. Pence as the former vice president made his way from table to table. But Mr. Thurmond, though he said he was open-minded, was clearly partial to Mr. Trump.
“Right now, I think Pence is too nice a guy,” he said. “He won’t be able to contend with the evil that the Democrats will rain down on him.”