Trump Beefs Up Iowa Campaign as DeSantis Goes All In

Donald Trump is intensifying efforts to win the Iowa Republican caucuses, trying to avoid a less-than-muscular victory in a critical early state that could breathe life into his opponents’ moribund campaigns.

(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump is intensifying efforts to win the Iowa Republican caucuses, trying to avoid a less-than-muscular victory in a critical early state that could breathe life into his opponents’ moribund campaigns.

Polls show Trump with a wide lead in the first-in-the-nation contest which takes place 100 days from Saturday. Trump nonetheless wants to leave nothing to chance, given he faces what will be a fiercely contested challenge there from his chief rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and still bears scar tissue from his 2016 second-place finish in the state.

There are discussions within Trump’s campaign about one of his top advisers, Chris LaCivita, relocating temporarily to Iowa, according to people familiar with the matter who asked to remain anonymous to discuss internal deliberations.

“Of course I will be in Iowa,” LaCivita said when asked about the plans. “How much time is no one’s damn business.”

Trump’s director for early voting states, Alex Latcham, is also shifting more of his focus to Iowa in lieu of other contests, people familiar with the matter said. And the campaign placed another aide over its state director, Marshall Moreau, who now reports to Alex Meyer.

Trump’s super political action committee, MAGA Inc., has $2.4 million in ad time reserved in Iowa for the rest of October, according to ad data. And the former president himself has two stops in Iowa on Saturday, a “commit to caucus” event in Waterloo and a speech in Cedar Rapids. His son, Don Jr., is also expected to speak at an Iowa fundraiser this month, people familiar said. 

Taken together, the decisions show the outsized importance of Iowa for Trump’s campaign. An Iowa victory would all but cement his status as the inevitable GOP nominee. A loss would damage his invincible reputation and provide an opening for DeSantis and others in the field. 

No Republican in the modern era has won the caucuses by more than 12 points. 

Caucusing is more complicated than casting a traditional primary ballot and Trump’s advisers are aware a portion of their supporters have not participated in a caucus before. There’s a widespread effort to teach supporters about the process and ensure they’re registered to vote, aides said. 

Trump is also aware DeSantis’ support for a six-week abortion ban could help his rival make in-roads among Iowa Republican voters, who tend to be more socially conservative than those in other early states, according to people familiar with his thinking. The former president has been reluctant to voice support for a six-week ban, which plays worse in other states, and instead focus on his appointment of conservative justices to the Supreme Court. 

The DeSantis team has been going all in on Iowa, where polls show a narrower race than nationally. Trump holds a 33-percentage point lead there over DeSantis, his nearest competitor, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls. National surveys have him up by nearly 45 points. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has vaulted to second in New Hampshire and South Carolina and third place in Iowa.

The fight in Iowa between the Trump and DeSantis camps has been fierce and often personal.  

“I’m going to make sure we beat Jeff Roe’s ass,” LaCivita said, referring to the strategist for Never Back Down, a super PAC backing DeSantis.

“That’s what fear sounds like,” Roe responded. “Imagine being his therapist after losing.”

In a statement after the Bloomberg report was published, DeSantis’s deputy campaign manager David Polyansky said, “Donald Trump is very late to the game and is now scrambling his jet to Iowa because he knows just how disastrous it is going to be to lose to Ron DeSantis in January. But anyone who understands Iowa knows that a caucus victory has to be earned — it can’t be bought.” 

The fourth quarter before the caucuses is known as a volatile time. Past races saw Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz jump from low-digit autumn polls to victory in the state.

“In Iowa, people expect you to make your case,” said Marc Short, an aide to former Vice President Mike Pence, another 2024 contender. “It’s ‘Make your case, I’m going to decide late.’”

DeSantis’s campaign is moving about a dozen staff members to Iowa, from Tallahassee, Florida. DeSantis, after three weeks without an Iowa visit, will do 19 stops in three days, and will have visited 74 of its 99 counties by the end of this weekend, aides said. 

Never Back Down has $3.7 million in advertising time reserved in Iowa for the rest of October, according to data from ad-tracking firm AdImpact. Never Back Down, though, has shifted strategy following the second debate, canceling over-the-air Iowa ads in favor of national or streaming platforms.

Trump’s allies have sought to counter DeSantis by pushing for limits on activities by super political action committees, including Never Back Down, which plays an outsized role in his bid. 

Republican officials in some Trump strongholds, including Muscatine and Van Buren counties, have worked to ban Never Back Down employees from GOP parade floats, posting PAC-funded yard signs in county offices, or interacting at official party functions.

“The stakes are higher in Iowa,” said Jason Miller, one of Trump’s strategists. “Tiny D has said his campaign lives or dies by what happens in Iowa,” he added, using a mocking reference to DeSantis.

(Updates with DeSantis campaign reaction, in the 15th paragraph.)

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