Former Republican President Donald Trump’s launch of a third run at the White House on Wednesday drew a muted reaction from Iowa Republicans, including those he supported in last week’s election.
The former president received a warm welcome earlier this month in Sioux City, where he was holding a rally and campaigning for Iowa Republicans. Trump shared a stage with US Senator Chuck Grassley and Governor Kim Reynolds, whose campaigns he supported, among other things.
When asked if Grassley would return the favor and support Trump’s re-run, a Grassley spokesman said the senator, who easily defeated Democrat Mike Franken and won re-election for an eighth term, encouraged “all candidates, come to Iowa to come and address the voters directly.”
Grassley’s office did not respond when he asked in a follow-up email whether the Republican incumbent supported Trump’s candidacy.
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“Looking ahead to the next election, Iowa will continue to host the nation’s first Republican-side caucuses, and we encourage all candidates to come to Iowa and reach out directly to voters,” a Grassley spokesman said in a statement: ” Senator Grassley remains focused on getting our economy back on track and working hard for the people of Iowa.”
Republican US Rep. Ashley Hinson of Iowa, who won re-election and who also supported Trump, reiterated Grassley’s statement.
“Iowans certainly do not want President Biden to remain in office for another term,” Hinson said in a statement. “This is what I’m going to say to every Republican presidential candidate in 2024: ‘See you in Iowa!'”
Reynolds’ office and campaign did not respond to messages seeking comment on Trump’s offer as of Wednesday night.
Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, whom Trump appointed US ambassador to China in 2017 and was a strong supporter of Trump’s campaigns in 2016 and 2020, said Wednesday he had not yet decided which candidate to support Republican presidential primaries would support Trump’s entry into the race thereafter.
“I won’t make a decision that soon. I never have,” Branstad told reporters at a meeting of a conservative group in suburban Des Moines, according to Radio Iowa audio.
Branstad said that if Trump were to run, he should focus on what he would do in another term, rather than what happened in his political past — including the 2020 election.
“Never walk on what you’ve done. People have already made up their minds whether they like or dislike what you did. But they want to know what you will do if you are re-elected,” he said.
An October Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll suggests that 52% of Iowans say their feelings toward Trump are very or mostly unfavorable — up from 45% in the fall of 2021. However, Trump’s favor in Iowa still surpasses Biden’s , and he remains popular with a broad constituency of GOP voters.
Trump received favorable ratings from 83% of Republicans in the October poll, up from 91% in September 2021.
A polling memo from the conservative Club for Growth — which focuses on limited government, tax cuts and conservative politics — suggests likely GOP contender and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis outshines Trump in Iowa by 11 and in New Hampshire by 15 leading points.
David Kochel, an Iowa-based Republican strategist who has worked on both Mitt Romney’s and Jeb Bush’s presidential campaigns, says while Trump received a warm welcome in Iowa — a state he won by 8 percentage points in 2020 will — Republican voters are anxious to hear from other potential candidates.
Other potential GOP hopes for 2024 include former Vice President Mike Pence, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley – all of whom have been frequent visitors to Iowa.
Trump faces a growing chorus from those within his party who blame him for a disappointing midterm record for Republicans for refusing to accept defeat in 2020 and slotting into key races Republicans lost by winning candidates backing his persistent and unfounded allegations of widespread election fraud.
“There’s evidence that if you look to the past – the 2020 election – and run with the message ‘stop the steal’, you’ll do much worse than candidates who look to the future and aren’t tied by the most prominent Trump’s topic of conversation, namely the election, has been manipulated,” said Kochel. “There will be people who don’t want to talk about the 2020 election, who want to look to the future. To the extent that Trump remains bogged down in the past and DeSantis talks about the future, I think that message will be quite compelling.”
But while there was no red wave nationwide, Iowa Republicans mostly paced the table. Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Christian conservative group The Family Leader, credits Gov. Kim Reynolds — not Trump.
“Iowans rewarded great leadership, just like in Florida,” he said.
Vander Plaats, who supported Republican US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in the 2016 election cycle, tweeted last week ahead of Trump’s expected announcement that it was time for the Republican Party to “turn the page” and that “America must move on” from Trump .
Vander Plaats told The Gazette on Wednesday that Trump has provided “uncharacteristically disciplined remarks” and clarity about what’s at stake in 2024, but fears the former president could steer the party in the wrong direction.
“The key question is whether America is willing to give him another chance to be President and will there be other choices within the Republican Party?” he asked. “It could be a robust field and I think Iowans will have an important role in recognizing who we think has the best chance of winning in 2024.”
Whether that’s Trump remains to be seen, Vander Plaats said. However, should Trump win the Iowa caucuses, Vander Plaats believes Trump will “lead the table all the way to the nomination” — but that a Trump win in the state is not a foregone conclusion.
Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said he sees Trump as a “front man” in Iowa. “Nonetheless, I also think Iowans will listen to anyone who has decided to put their name in the hat,” Kaufmann said, adding that he and the Iowa GOP remain “neutral” in the Iowa Caucuses will.
“I think we’re going to have very different opinions about Trump,” he said. “I think it’s going to be difficult … to actually tell if people are listening to others in the race because they’re looking for an alternative or because they’re fulfilling their responsibility to be in a first-in-the-nation state.”
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Wilburn in a statement called Trump a “defeated former president who has botched a pandemic response, continues to attack our democracy and routinely makes bigoted statements” and “is unable to speak for any.” to run for office in our country.”
The Democratic National Committee said Tuesday it will soon begin hiring media relations staffers in Iowa and other Republican states that are nominating early, as well as in Florida.
“Republicans lost because of their extreme MAGA agenda, and we are already laying the groundwork to continue holding them accountable for that agenda over the next two years,” DNC spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said in a statement. The DNC has never sent media staff to states so early, the committee said.
Erin Murphy of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.