Updated Aug 13, 2023, 11:04pm EDT
politicsNorth America

Team Trump isn’t done drowning out his rivals in Iowa

REUTERS/Scott Morgan

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The News

Donald Trump is sending a parade of MAGA celebrities to keep himself the main focus at the Iowa State Fair this week.

The efforts began on day one: Ahead of the former president’s trip, Kari Lake spent a few days on the ground stumping for Trump. Texas Rep. Wesley Hunt hit the ground running on Sunday, and a Trump campaign staffer told Semafor they also plan to bring in former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, Sen. Eric Schmitt of Missouri, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene throughout next week.

The Trump campaign told Semafor it has more than 30 campaign staff working at the fair from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The crew has handed out branded swag, including 60,000 beer koozies, and yard signs, while distributing pamphlets hammering DeSantis’ record on issues dear to Iowans. They’ve also been pushing pledge cards to potential caucus goers, while the campaign has used geotagging to target fairgoers with smartphone ads.

On Saturday, Trump’s campaign also left a parting gift that would ensure he remained top of mind for potential voters: Over $20,000 for food and drinks at two popular on-site restaurants. At one of the locations, wristbands for free drinks were still being used well into the night, and a screen advertised a “MAGA Meal Deal.”

The Trump team’s aggression has occasionally grated on the fair’s administrators and Governor Kim Reynolds’ “Iowa nice” motto. On Thursday, pro-Trump canvassers collecting signatures at the fair were temporarily booted from the grounds, prompting complaints from Trump’s campaign to Reynolds’ aides.

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Shelby and David's View

There are two ways to look at Trump’s state fair strategy.

On the one hand, his campaign recognizes that he’s leading in the polls, and feels entitled to skip most of the formal political events that other campaigns have had to slog through — even the 30-minute “FairSide Chats” organized by Gov. Reynolds.

On the other, the ground game at the event showed how Trump isn’t taking Iowa — where his polling lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is somewhat smaller than it is nationally — for granted. His two-hour appearance (which included stops at the popular Pork Tent, the Animal Learning Center, and the Steer n’ Stein) was clearly designed to suck away attention from opponents. It largely succeeded thanks to a heavy dose of trolling aimed at his top rival.

Trump arrived at the event with an entourage of Florida lawmakers well-known to conservative media. As DeSantis flipped burgers, Trump’s private plane strategically flew overhead, distracting fairgoers who turned to take photos and videos of the moment. A Trump aide also confirmed that the campaign was responsible for a smaller plane that flew above the fair throughout the day with a banner reading “Be Likable, Ron!”

By the time DeSantis wrapped up, a crowd of pro-Trump attendees had gathered, and chants of “we love Trump” broke out around him as he exited the building. And at the Steer n’ Stein, Trump let his endorsers do most of the talking, praising his record and dunking on his opponents.


“The other candidates came here — they had, like, six people!” Trump boasted.

The drop-in show, which brought out thousands of curious onlookers and supporters, fueled more Trump-focused questions to his rivals, reminding campaigns just how centered the Republican race is around the frontrunner.

“The media loves to talk about Trump,” Nikki Haley told reporters as she moved through the fair. “That is what they are talking about. Americans are not talking about Trump.”

Meanwhile, new developments in the Hunter Biden investigation prompted Trump’s opponents to echo his long-held argument that the legal system is rigged against him

“If you’re connected to the DC ruling class, you can get away with a lot,” DeSantis told voters at a stop in Panora, on his way to the fair. “If you’re somebody that the DC ruling class doesn’t like, man, they’ll nail you for jaywalking.”

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Room for Disagreement

Despite all the fanfare, we are seeing some evidence of what rival campaigns have been arguing for months: That there is significant interest in a Trump alternative.

Kevin O’Keefe, who’d driven five hours from South Dakota to hear Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speak, said that he’d voted for Trump in 2020, but had doubts about how he’d behave in a second term. And Chad Ferris, who came to hear Vivek Ramaswamy speak, said that he loved Trump but worried about how many enemies he’d made — and how they’d treat him in a return to power.

“I feel like, if he gets elected, we’ll go nowhere, because they’ll keep trying to pin him down,” said Ferris, 51. “Our country’s got to move forward, and we need someone in there who can do that.”