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Battle-Tested Trump Brings a New & Improved Ground Game to Iowa with an Unwavering Focus

Battle-Tested Trump Brings a New and Improved Ground Game to Iowa

January 12, 2024: URBANDALE, Iowa — With four days and a few hours to go before the starting gun of the presidential nominating season, Donald Trump Jr. rallied the troops in suburban Des Moines on behalf of his frontrunner father. 

Motivation was a hard commodity to come by on a cold and gray January day, with the remnants of the first heavy snowstorm of the season mucking up the streets with dirty slush. But the troops — warriors for former President Donald Trump — are hearty stock, like Hawkeye Cauci veterans around the state. After all, some of these folks have been showing up to this curious exhibition of representative democracy for more than 50 years, and they take their role as first-in-the-nation ambassadors of the presidential nomination chase very seriously. 

We’ll see just how serious Iowa’s Republican voters are come Monday, caucus day, when the high is expected to drop below zero. By 7 p.m. Iowa time, when this internationally watched political pageant gets underway, temperatures could plummet to as low as minus-15 degrees with a wind chill of Ouch! 

But if the 2024 presidential campaign and the past eight years have taught us anything, it’s that there are people in this deeply divided republic who would crawl through broken glass, barbed wire, and solid ice to vote for the former president. 

Still, Trump, rolling into the caucuses with a 50-point lead over his nearest challengers nationally and up by at least 35 points in Iowa, isn’t taking anything for granted. 

“That’s why this Monday is so critical. We’ve got to send a message,” Don Jr. told the gathering of some 80 Trump supporters and reporters gathered at Urbandale’s Machine Shed restaurant. The event was organized by the Des Moines Bull Moose Conservative Club.

“I understand it’s going to be minus-4, but if I can get my Florida butt back up here … everyone can get back up here,” the president’s eldest child said. 

The Trump campaign, unlike eight years ago, is taking nothing for granted. Forget the polls, turnout is the thing, campaign officials say. 

“We’ve got to treat Monday as if we’re 10 points back,” Trump Jr. admonished. He said the left, establishment Republicans, and the Trump-hating corporate media are counting on caucus-goer apathy to diminish expected big numbers for the former president. A smaller margin of victory, perhaps driven by Trump supporters believing the win is in the bag, is a narrative Trump’s opponents would pounce on heading into next week’s New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, the thinking goes.  

In short, Trump is beatable. 

His opponents point to Iowa 2016, when Trump took the political world by storm, but finished tied for second with Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won the caucuses in a much more crowded field of candidates. 

‘Night and Day’

But much has changed in eight years. Trump may be the same Trump in many ways, but he’s a much different candidate coming in. The Iowa surprise for Cruz ultimately meant little. Trump went on to claim the GOP nomination, win the presidency, and become the subject of the left’s unrelenting loathing. He’s battle-tested, with arguably more political scars than any presidential candidate in the republic’s history. 

Moreover, the Trump ground game in Iowa is significantly improved, more nimble, and much better organized than it was during his first presidential run. It’s so good, in fact, Trump can’t even seem to believe it. 

“I was with the president all last week and he asked me that exact question [about whether the ground game has improved since 2016], and I told him it’s the difference between night and day,” said Iowa state Sen. Brad Zaun, a Des Moines-area Republican who was the first state elected official to endorse Trump in 2016 and again this year. 

Zaun may be a bit biased, but the Trump ally was a frequent witness to the campaign’s Iowa operations in 2016, as he has been this campaign cycle. The senator said there’s a professionalism and an organizational focus this go-round that wasn’t there eight years ago. 

The campaign’s suburban Des Moines headquarters has been hopping for months, with an army of volunteers working extended shifts seven days a week. There’s a greater emphasis on data, and an almost manic drive to connect with grassroots conservatives in every corner of the kick-off caucus state. 

“It’s vastly improved,” said John Humeston, a caucus captain for the Trump campaign in Ankeny. “They’ve got a great staff that started early.” 

Trump caucus captains are charged with turning out the voters. They’re given a list of Iowans that have shown support, or even a passing interest, in the former president. Humeston said his list is six pages long. He and his fellow volunteers place plenty of calls in the evenings.

At the headquarters, it’s a little like the Frank Capra Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”: Instead of angels getting their wings, Trump volunteers ring a call bell every time an Iowa voter commits to caucusing for the frontrunner. 

“Caucus captains have to find 10 new ones to bring to the caucus,” Humeston said. “It gives everyone more of a goal.” 

There’s a lot more money involved, too. 

Big Money, Bigger Stakes

In 2023, Republican presidential candidates and outside groups spent nearly $105 million on ads in Iowa, NBC News reported. It’s a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the $10.2 billion in total political advertisement expenditures that AdImpact projects for the 2023-24 election cycle.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and the super PACs backing her presidential quest lead the money chase, spending a combined $30 million according to the NBC News report. Haley, who served as Trump’s United Nation’s ambassador, has helped turn Iowa’s airwaves into a blanket of campaign ads. 

The campaign for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has spent $2.3 million on ads in Iowa, while pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down has kicked in at least $17.6 million, according to the AdImpact figures. Trump’s campaign has spent north of $4 million, while super PAC MAGA Inc. has dropped $11.4 million in its Iowa ad campaign. 

The former president has spent comparatively less time in the Hawkeye State than most of his rivals, focusing on periodic large-scale rallies and foregoing the small retail politics events at the core of the long caucus campaign season. A New York Post article recently quipped that “Trump is outsourcing his Iowa campaign to surrogates.” Prominent supporters including Arizona Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake, former HUD Secretary Ben Carson, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and cancel culture target Roseanne Barr have been barnstorming Iowa on behalf of their candidate in recent days.  

DeSantis, meanwhile, has made campaign stops in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, fulfilling his promise to do the “Full Grassley.” Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s senior U.S. senator, has for decades made it his annual mission to pay a call on Iowans in every county. 

Haley, too, has made scores of campaign stops in Iowa, and fellow GOP presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy last month celebrated the “double Grassley.” The Ohio entrepreneur, who has essentially made Iowa a second home since entering the race nearly a year ago, has held at least two campaign events in each of the 99 counties. Ramaswamy is running a distant fourth in Iowa, at south of 7 percent in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls. 

DeSantis has bet heavily on Iowa, devoting a significant share of his campaign’s staff and volunteers to his Hawkeye State operations. Despite the investment and time, DeSantis is polling at 15.5 percent to Trump’s 53 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics average of Iowa Republicans. The popular Florida governor is running third in Iowa, just behind Haley, who is polling at 17.8 percent. After being seen as the strongest Republican challenger to Trump, DeSantis shook up his campaign in August as he lost traction in the polls.  

‘Double Forms of Justice’

As the New York Post notes, Trump’s supporters get why he’s not been as present on the campaign trail as his rivals. The former president has had his share of distractions this campaign season, with a host of legal problems tying up much of his time. He’s been busy fending off a long list of charges across four indictments that threaten to send him to prison for the rest of his life — charges brought by Democrat President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice and his leftist prosecutor allies in a naked political quest to dispose of Biden’s No. 1 political opponent. 

It’s the attack on Trump and the rule of law that has so many of his Iowa supporters ready to brave a brutally cold winter’s evening in Iowa to caucus for their candidate. Beyond their concerns about the economy, inflation, and the debacle at the Southwest border, Trump backers at the Machine Shed Thursday afternoon said they’re tired of what they see as a two-tiered system of justice under Biden. 

“The politics of this current administration, the double forms of justice that are just so obvious, it just doesn’t seem like America,” said Suzanne Spooner of nearby Granger when asked about her greatest concerns this election year. “I think our country is a mess. I think President Trump did a good job of getting us in a better space than we’ve ever been in before, and I support getting things back on track again.” 

Members of the Trump army, particularly the caucus captains, say they’re ready to help bring home a big victory Monday night for the former president in his latest pursuit of the White House. Trump’s son reminded them that there’s not a moment to lose. 

“We have an opportunity to do something, but we have to do it now,” Trump Jr. said.

“Let’s get out there on Monday. Let’s make sure everyone shows up. Let’s decide this thing early. Let’s finish this thing strong.” 


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