Trump Plans Competing Events in Iowa to Steal Spotlight From Rivals

Donald Trump will seek to starve his rivals for the Republican nomination of the exposure they need to chip away at his frontrunner status, according to people familiar with the planning.

(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump will seek to starve his rivals for the Republican nomination of the exposure they need to chip away at his frontrunner status, according to people familiar with the planning.

The former president plans to skip appearances with other GOP candidates and instead hold separate events flanked by his allies, according to the people, who requested anonymity to discuss the strategy. The approach is designed to allow Trump to draw attention away from lower-polling contenders and solidify his lead.

Even so, he still may take part in the Republican National Committee’s first presidential debate Aug. 23 in Milwaukee.

Trump aims to arrive at the Iowa State Fair this week with a large contingent of VIP surrogates, putting his own imprint on the gathering of Republican candidates, according to the people. His team has been courting high-profile supporters to join him in a show of force, they said, a move that threatens to deprive opponents of the spotlight at a popular event.

Some actions are targeted at chief rival Ron DeSantis, who is trying to reset his campaign with new messaging and an emphasis on outreach in early voting states. DeSantis trails Trump by 38 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.

Trump ignored an interview request from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who is speaking to other candidates at the fair. His team is instead planning a rival event, according to the people familiar with his plans, which could coincide with when DeSantis makes an appearance at the fair.

Trump’s campaign and Reynolds’s office did not comment on the upcoming plans.

Trump publicly criticized Reynolds last month for staying neutral in the GOP race and skipped an event she and 2024 rivals attended due to a “scheduling conflict,” according to his campaign.

“President Trump made quite the splash when he attended the Iowa State Fair in 2015,  and I would expect President Trump to do something fun and unique with regard to some of the people he is bringing to the state fair in 2023,” said senior campaign adviser Jason Miller. “He’s running a path to the nomination that involves communicating directly with voters and avoiding filters and media traps as other candidates have done in the past.”

Earlier: DeSantis Makes Play for Evangelical Voters to Chip Away at Trump

One surrogate set to join Trump at the fair is US Representative Byron Donalds of Florida, according to a congressional aide familiar with the plans. Donalds, a Black Republican, has sparred with DeSantis over Florida educational standards that say enslaved people obtained valuable skills from slavery.

A strong showing, or even a win, in Iowa is crucial for DeSantis, who has started spending at least two days a week in the state as he attempts to court the evangelical and conservative voters that would be a crucial  part of his base. 

Trump’s lead in polls has only grown as his legal troubles have mounted. He faces a fourth indictment as soon as this week in Georgia, a development that could again deprive other campaigns of oxygen while they’re at the fair.

Debate Drama 

Trump has threatened to skip the Aug. 23 debate, and allies have presented him multiple counter-programming options, according to an adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity. Donalds plans to be at the debate as a surrogate, an aide added. 

Appearing on stage with Trump would be a critical moment for DeSantis, whose donors see the debate as a chance to reintroduce him to voters. DeSantis faces skepticism within his own campaign that he can reverse his slide. 

Trump, though, has largely overshadowed DeSantis’s reset. Last month, the former president revealed he had received a target letter in the special counsel’s probe days before DeSantis sat with CNN for his first mainstream TV interview since entering the race.

Read more: DeSantis Camp Hit by Gloom as Aides Worry Race Is Slipping Away

Trump discussed the debate last week with executives from host Fox News and told them he had not made a decision about whether to participate, according to people familiar with the matter. The campaign sent a poll last week asking supporters if he should attend.

Trump has said appearing would benefit his adversaries.

“Am I going to stand up there by guys with 0, 1, 2, 3%, maybe 4, and have them ask me hostile questions,” he said at a rally last month. Supporters in attendance responded with a loud “no.” 

“I am sure he has an interest in being able to prove he can draw more people than the debate,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, who said he has not spoken to him about microprogramming the event.

Gingrich added, “It is pretty hard for me to see why it is to his advantage to go.”

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