Trump’s support tested in Iowa, some Republicans sour after he slams the popular governor

Must read

Former President Trump, up by double digits over every GOP opponent in the critical early-voting state of Iowa, took a swing at the state’s popular Republican governor — and it may have backfired.

Some influential Republicans in the state tell the Washington Times that Mr. Trump’s social media attack on Gov. Kim Reynolds has caused them to rethink their support of the former president and they believe many others will follow. 

“She’s more popular here than he is by far,”  said Cody Hoefert, the former co-chair of the Iowa Republican Party. “And when he goes after her, that doesn’t bode well for him.”

Mr. Hoefert, who worked to get Mr. Trump elected in Iowa in 2016 and 2020, said he’s no longer planning to vote for Mr. Trump and is looking at other candidates, including former Vice President Mike Pence. 

“I’m done,” he said. 

Mr. Hoefert was pushed to abandon Mr. Trump when he lashed out at Ms. Reynolds earlier this week over her refusal to endorse him.

Ms. Reynolds, like the state’s two Republican U.S. senators, Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, has pledged neutrality amid a field of more than a dozen GOP candidates. She’s appeared at events for many of the GOP candidates and joined Mr. Trump at a rally in March.

Republicans face off in the Hawkeye State on January 15 in what is poised to be the nation’s critical first contest of the 2024 primary. 

Trump rejected Ms. Reynolds’ neutrality pledge. On social media, he took credit for putting Ms. Reynolds in the governor’s mansion in 2017 and sent an angry signal he was unhappy about her appearances at several events for his top GOP opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

“I opened up the Governor position for Kim Reynolds, & when she fell behind, I ENDORSED her, did big Rallies, & she won. Now, she wants to remain ‘NEUTRAL.’ I don’t invite her to events! DeSanctus down 45 points!” he said on his Truth Social media site.

Mr. Trump’s missive was hurled at the state’s first female governor, who is wildly popular in Iowa. 

Mr. Trump may have helped Ms. Reynolds narrowly secure her first full term in 2018 but she won re-election last year by nearly 20 points and her agenda has earned fierce loyalty from the state’s conservative base.

Mr. Trump’s attack was leveled days before Ms. Reynolds is expected to sign into law a ban on abortion in the state after six weeks of pregnancy, a top priority among the many evangelical voters who typically dominate the Iowa caucus.

In April, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. DeSantis for signing a similar six-week ban, calling it “too harsh” and questioning whether Mr. DeSantis “knew what he was doing.”

Mr. Hoefert said Mr. Trump’s criticism of the six-week ban has rattled pro-life conservatives who had enthusiastically backed Mr. Trump for nominating the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade, the ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

“We always used to say we would support the president because of all the pro-life stuff that he did in terms of the Supreme Court,” Mr Hoefert said. “And now he’s really making us question that with comments like that.”

Matt Wells, a DeSantis backer and conservative activist from Iowa told The Times that while Mr. Trump has a solid lead in the polls, he could still suffer significant backlash for attacking Ms. Reynolds. Voters could think the former president takes their support for granted. 

“The inevitability argument pisses off Iowans,” Mr. Wells said.

Mr. Hoefert said he believes Mr. Trump is more vulnerable than the polling indicates.

Other conservatives in the state, who have remained quiet about their concerns about Mr. Trump, called him and thanked him for publicly declaring his opposition, he said. 

“A lot of people are apprehensive about coming out publicly and saying anything about the former president deemed to be detrimental,” Mr. Hoefert said. “And and that’s why I really question how strong his poll support actually is.”

Mr. Trump’s lead in the polls, both nationally and in early states is overwhelming. 

The latest Real Clear Politics average of recent polls shows the former president crushing Mr. DeSantis 48% to 24% in Iowa and 53% to 21% nationally. The remaining GOP candidates poll in the low single digits.

A source close to the Trump campaign scoffed at the idea Iowa voters are turning against the former president over his criticism of Ms. Reynolds and that Republicans who are criticizing him for it are part of the faction of the party that has long opposed Mr. Trump. 

“I’m sure the ones who say it could hurt him are Never Trumpers,” the source said. “He’s Donald Trump. He has an 85% to 90% job approval rating with Iowa caucusgoers. His voters think he’s the only one that can fix the destruction that Biden is causing.”

Mr. Trump’s big lead has prompted him to skip a key conservative event for GOP candidates in Iowa this week.

He’ll be the only major candidate absent from the Family Leadership Summit, where former Fox News host Tucker Carlson will host an informal debate.

The event organizer, evangelical leader Bob Van Der Plaats, has been critical of Mr. Trump over his abortion comment and his criticism of Ms. Reynolds. 

“This isn’t smart,” he said of Mr. Trump’s social media attack on the governor. “Iowa is wide open.”

Mr. Trump is also likely to skip the first two party-sanctioned GOP debates. The first debate is scheduled for August 23 in Milwaukee.

The DeSantis team sees Mr. Trump’s absence from the debate stage and his attack on Iowa’s governor as an opportunity. 

“While Ron DeSantis is putting in the work to win Iowa, Trump is doing everything he can to lose it,” a DeSantis spokesman told The Times.

Drake University political science professor Dennis J. Goldford said Mr. Trump could lose support if he continues to attack Ms. Reynolds and Mr. DeSantis or another candidate creeps closer to him in the polls. 

“Her political persona is ‘an Iowa girl, which means rural and small-town,” Mr. Goldford said. “If Trump starts to sound as if he’s attacking Iowans through attacks on her, then if a realistic alternative emerges that could be troublesome for him.”

More articles

Latest article