Former President Donald Trump has been ruffling feathers in Iowa, but several operatives in the key early primary state are unsure whether it will hinder his strong lead, they told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
While Trump continues to dominate polling in Iowa, he has made few visits, canceled a campaign event in Des Moines, skipped two major events attended by many other candidates and attacked Gov. Kim Reynolds for not endorsing him.
Republican strategists and operatives in Iowa argue that while some of Trump’s behavior was a mistake, he still maintains strong support in the state.
“I think he’s making a pretty serious mistake, particularly going after Governor Reynolds,” David Kochel, an Iowa Republican consultant, told the DCNF. “Every choice he makes like that kind of does add to the perception that maybe he doesn’t care as much about the caucuses. He’s not taking them seriously. He thinks he’s entitled to a victory without having to earn it the old fashioned way. I don’t think he’s running a great Iowa campaign at this point.”
Kochel acknowledged Trump’s steady lead in the Iowa polls, but said the former president shouldn’t take it for granted, arguing that Iowa “breaks late” and a majority of voters aren’t yet committed to any one candidate. Jimmy Centers, an Iowa political operative, echoed Kochel’s sentiment, but said Trump “maintains robust support” and doesn’t need to spend as much time in the early state to garner name recognition like other candidates do.
“He is not deploying a ground game like some of the other candidates — that said, he can still advise a campaign event 72 hours in advance and pack the place, and have a crowd that other candidates could only dream of having,” said Centers.
Trump slammed Reynolds Monday for remaining neutral in the primaries, arguing he handed her the governorship when he appointed then-Gov. Terry Branstad as the U.S. Ambassador to China and emphasized his endorsement for her two gubernatorial bids.
“The governor is simply doing what she had told everyone six months ago she would do, which was help put the welcome mat out, graciously appear at an event or two with everyone, if invited, to introduce them and make sure that they knew that their engagement in our state’s caucuses mattered,” David Oman, former co-chair of the Iowa GOP, told the DCNF. “I think President Trump’s reaction was an overreaction, and it probably did not help him here.”
Centers argued that Trump’s attacks on Reynolds were “ill-advised,” and if he continues to go after her, it could be “problematic” to his chances in the Iowa caucuses.
The former president’s criticism also triggered several prominent Iowa Republicans and numerous presidential candidates to flock to Reynolds’ defense, including Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader, which held the event Friday Trump skipped, and Cody Hoefert, former co-chair of the Iowa GOP. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy are among the Republican contenders who commended Reynolds on Twitter after Trump’s remarks.
Kochel argued that Trump’s downfalls in Iowa could allow for another candidate to emerge, noting DeSantis as the current “strongest” alternative who has been “really working for it” in the state. Just days after Trump criticized Reynolds, state Sen. Jeff Reichman flipped his endorsement from the former president to DeSantis, adding to the Florida governor’s list of 37 state lawmaker endorsements.
“Commentators and pundits, since he rode down that escalator in 2015 to announce his candidacy for president, have looked like fools just about every few weeks or months, predicting that his latest spat or comment will be the end of him, and it’s never happened. And so I think it would be premature to suggest that,” Centers said.
Trump is currently leading the governor in Iowa by 23 points, according to a July 7 American Greatness poll. In 2016, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz beat then-candidate Trump in the Iowa caucus by 3.3 points.
“President Trump has made frequent trips to Iowa to meet with voters and hold events. In fact, he’ll be in Iowa again this Tuesday. That’s why President Trump is leading in polls both statewide and nationally,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung told the DCNF.
As of July 1, DeSantis had visited more states than Trump, 19 to 13, respectfully, including in Iowa. Trump only held 4 events in the key early primary state, compared to DeSantis’ 10, Haley’s 17, Scott’s 17 and Ramaswamy’s 40.
“President Trump continues to be his own worst enemy in Iowa. The past few weeks and months of his campaign have been marked by missteps, snubs, bizarre attacks, and even weirder event cancellations,” DeSantis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo told the DCNF in a statement. “These mistakes all bubbled to the surface yesterday, as Trump earned swift backlash from Iowa conservatives for skipping the FAMiLY Leadership Summit and his attacks on Governor Kim Reynolds.”
“My read is that their Trump campaign will be better run and better organized than last time. They’ve had eight years to learn lessons from the first caucus cycle and through two general election campaigns,” said Oman. “As I’ve watched them begin to work seems to me that they’re a little better, they’re assembling a campaign the way you should, and identifying people who who can carry the message for him.”
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