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Updated Jan 8, 2024, 6:10am EST
politics

Donald Trump isn’t winning Iowa the usual way

REUTERS/Cheney Orr
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The News

Add this to the list of political norms and precedents that Donald Trump has shattered: Campaigning in Iowa.

Trump’s opponents have been blanketing the state for months: Ron DeSantis completed the “Full Grassley” — hitting up all 99 counties in the state — on Dec. 2. Vivek Ramaswamy recently doubled that effort. Nikki Haley has held over 60 events in the state, and in recent weeks has blanketed Iowa with ads.

Trump, meanwhile, has been less present even as his polling lead has ballooned: Last year he made 18 visits to Iowa, according to ABC News. While his campaign has held a number of other events without Trump aimed at getting Iowans to commit to caucus, the contrast between Trump and his opponents’ appearances has been stark.

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That is, until now. With roughly one week to go until the Iowa caucus, Trump, who is leading by wide margins in the Hawkeye State, is ramping up his in-person appearances compared to past months, speaking at rallies over the weekend and preparing for more events as Jan. 15 approaches.

This coming week, Trump will host two rallies each on Saturday and Sunday, a Fox News town hall mid-week to counterprogram the Haley-DeSantis debate, and his campaign has also added a caucus night watch party on Jan. 15 (his attendance is not yet confirmed).

That’s fewer events than what one might expect this close to caucus — and certainly less than his multi-state tour back ahead of the 2016 caucus. But it’s a step up from previous months, and his team is organizing some of their top surrogates like Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Dr. Ben Carson for “Iowa Faith” and “Commit to Caucus” events throughout the week as well.

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“He’s taking nothing for granted,” one Republican close to the campaign said. “You always run like you’re 10 points behind, no matter what the polls say. Until the last vote’s cast, you are going at 100%.”

Trump’s team is also going to “the right spots” in Iowa leading up to Jan. 15, the person argued: His campaign is hosting events in places like Boone and Marion, while Trump himself will be speaking in Atlantic, Cherokee, and other smaller cities. The effort is aimed at making sure that voters, who appear to largely back Trump by all available metrics, actually turn out to vote on caucus day.

Advisers have said in the past that one of the main challenges to hosting a schedule as full as Trump’s opponents is the practical reality that he is a former president: It’s more costly for Trump’s team to get him places, and Trump’s signature large rallies add to that cost. But they’ve also noted that he’s a former president who has done the groundwork in past elections: Voters know him well, and know what he did during his first term in office.

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“They’re introducing themselves for the first time. He’s introducing himself for the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth time,” the person close to the campaign said.

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Shelby’s view

Trump may have paid a price for snubbing Iowa — in 2016. He lost the caucus to Sen. Ted Cruz’s, R-Texas more traditional campaign and, by his own account, took a hit with voters after skipping a debate in the state to protest Fox News’ moderators.

But things have changed since then. This time, he’s sitting at over 50% in RealClearPolitics’ polling average even after skipping the debate, showing up less in person, feuding with pro-DeSantis Gov. Kim Reynolds, and ignoring demands from anti-abortion activists otherwise known for their clout in the state.

One reason: Even when Trump isn’t in Iowa, he’s there — the whole field seems to be constantly forced to react to him. Nowhere was this more evident than with his various indictments, which galvanized the base from afar and forced his rivals largely to defend him as well. In December, DeSantis complained that the indictments had “distorted” the primary and “sucked out all the oxygen.”

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Room for Disagreement

Trump’s opponents, particularly DeSantis, have argued Trump’s lack of personal attention to the state will catch up to him eventually. The Florida governor told the Fox News Rundown podcast in an interview published Jan. 5 that candidates who “spend all the money on TV but aren’t actually down on the ground visiting folks… tend to underperform, and the candidates that have that organization tend to overperform.” DeSantis has set a high bar for himself in the state, repeatedly saying during past interviews that he planned to win Iowa.

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Notable

The Trump campaign has “revamped” its strategy heading into Iowa: Trump is urging voters to turn out on Jan. 15 during his speeches, and his campaign is playing videos during events to explain the caucus process, ABC News reported.

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