Donald Trump accuses key evangelical leader of “scamming”

Former President Donald Trump called evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats a “scammer” on Saturday after he announced his endorsement of Ron DeSantis, noting payments the leader had received from the Florida governor’s 2024 presidential campaign and its associates.

Vander Plaats is an influential evangelical leader among Republican voters in Iowa, the first state to hold a race in the GOP primary cycle and a key target for aspiring candidates. On Tuesday, Vander Plaats became the latest notable Iowa public figure to endorse DeSantis for president over Trump, though the impact of the decision has been debated.

While DeSantis has long been Trump’s closest rival in the 2024 race for the GOP nomination, the former president has regularly secured 50 percent support in national polls, while DeSantis has lingered in the low double-digits.

In August, Reuters reported on the lengths DeSantis and his associates went in attempting to secure Vander Plaats’s endorsement, finding that the campaign, a political action committee (PAC) affiliated with it, and a nonprofit backing the governor’s candidacy had collectively donated $95,000 to the Family Leader Foundation, a nonprofit organization Vander Plaats operates. For the money, DeSantis secured “three pages of advertisements in a booklet distributed at the July [presidential candidate] forum attended by 2,000 Christian conservatives,” Reuters noted.

Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats is seen. Donald Trump on Saturday decried Vander Plaats as a “scammer” after he endorsed Ron DeSantis for president in 2024.
Jim Vondruska/Getty Images

Following the announcement of Vander Plaats’ endorsement of DeSantis, Trump took to his social media platform, Truth Social, on Saturday to decry the evangelical leader as a “scammer” backing “a candidate who is going nowhere.”

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“Bob Vander Plaats, the former High School Accountant from Iowa, will do anything to win, something which he hasn’t done in many years,” Trump wrote in the post. “He’s more known for scamming Candidates than he is for Victory, but now he’s going around using Disinformation from the Champions of that Art, the Democrats. I don’t believe anything Bob Vander Plaats says. Anyone who would take $95,000, and then endorse a Candidate who is going nowhere, is not what Elections are all about!”

During a recent Fox News interview, Vander Plaats confirmed the donations, but said his endorsement “has never been and never will be for sale.” He added that he supported DeSantis because he thought he would win the election and had the requisite experience for the role.

In an X post on Tuesday, DeSantis thanked Vander Plaats for his endorsement.

“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.

Newsweek reached out to the Family Leader Foundation and the DeSantis campaign via email for comment.

Speaking with The Des Moines Register after endorsing DeSantis, Vander Plaats acknowledged that such support can only go so far in terms of influencing voters, but nonetheless expressed optimism. DeSantis has also received the endorsement of the state’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds.

“Endorsements only go so far,” he said. “I hope I can influence others, but there’s no guarantee on that. But I do believe, with Gov. Reynolds, with my endorsement, and with some of the others that I’ve talked about—all the legislators and county chairs that he has—I think he’s tailor-made to win Iowa.”