Organizers encourage a ‘family discussion’ despite recent contentious exchanges among candidates and a dispute with the Republican National Committee.
Described as a “unique event on the political calendar,” the forum puts candidates at a table that is set up to look like a Thanksgiving dinner, Drew Zahn, spokesman for the forum’s organizer, the Family Leader Foundation, told The Epoch Times.
By foregoing the traditional debate-stage podiums, the event attempts to set the tone for a pleasant “family discussion” among candidates, Mr. Zahn said.
However, during the last GOP-sponsored debate in Miami earlier this month, exchanges between two candidates—Ohio entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley—grew contentious.
They shared center stage at the debate with the current second-place contender for the Republican presidential nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
All three are expected onstage at the Thanksgiving forum; a sold-out crowd of 800 people will attend, Mr. Zahn said.
Although the Family Leader invited five candidates to participate, one of them, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), has since dropped out of the race.
Also the current frontrunner for the GOP nomination, former President Donald Trump is expected to sit it out, as he did when he first ran for office in 2015.
President Trump, who has also skipped all three of the Republican debates so far this year, instead has set a “commit to caucus” event for Nov. 18 in Fort Dodge, a 90-minute drive north of Des Moines.
No forum was held in 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, and then-incumbent President Trump faced no significant Republican opponent.
President Trump, Mr. DeSantis, Ms. Haley, and Mr. Ramaswamy have been working hard to court voters in Iowa.
All four were expected to make additional campaign stops in Iowa around the forum, underscoring the state’s status with its first-in-nation caucuses.
On Jan. 15, groups of Iowans will gather to debate which Republican candidate they support to represent their party in the 2024 presidential election.
Iowa and other early-primary states are coveted prizes for candidates because wins there can add momentum to their campaigns.
After the primary elections, Republicans will decide at their summer convention whom to put on the 2024 ballot against the Democrats’ nominee. Presumably, that will be the incumbent President Joe Biden.
The Thanksgiving forum is moving forward as planned, despite a dust-up with the Republican National Committee (RNC).
The committee had sent letters to invited candidates, threatening to punish them if they participated in the forum, Mr. Zahn said.
The RNC had threatened to bar Family Forum participants from appearing in the next GOP debate, set for Dec. 6 in Alabama, because it was considered an “unsanctioned debate,” Mr. Zahn said.
However, the Family Leader and candidates exchanged messages with the RNC and resolved the issue, he said.
The controversy followed a similar one involving Mr. Ramaswamy and fellow candidate Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, over their plans to participate in an unapproved discussion on Fox News.
The event comes amid Mr. Ramaswamy’s criticisms of the RNC.
Alleging a lack of wise leadership and a track record of political failures, a few days ago he started an online petition, FireRonna.com, calling for the ouster of RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
Mr. Zahn said it’s unclear whether the RNC controversy will surface during the forum.
Candidates will each be allotted 28 minutes to answer questions or address topics, he said; it’s up to them how much or how little time they devote to each one.
Family Leader President and CEO Bob Vander Plaats will serve as moderator, a role that pollster Frank Luntz fulfilled during the previous Thanksgiving forums in 2011 and 2015.
“Truly this is a one-of-a-kind event,” Mr. Vander Plaats said in a news release.
“The Thanksgiving Family Forum gives us a chance to see what’s in the candidates’ hearts, not just what’s in their plans.
“And coming shortly before the holiday season, it may be the last, best chance to really understand what makes these leaders tick before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.”
Mr. Vander Plaats says America is now at a “pivotal moment.”
“It’s vital that we look beyond politics to leadership that will move our country forward,” he said.
“This year’s forum provides a unique opportunity to learn and discern, as Americans prepare to choose well in the upcoming 2024 election and beyond.”
The Family Leader Foundation’s #ChooseWell2024 initiative is putting on the forum, along with its partners: Family Policy Alliance, First Liberty Institute, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, and The Heritage Foundation.