The starting gun has been fired and the race for the White House is in full swing. But in Iowa, where the first Republican caucuses in the nation are only a year away, the landscape is icy and snowy and eerily silent.
There’s no big mystery why: the Donald Trump effect.
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“These people have to be watching Trump’s poll numbers and that’s why there’s a delay,” said Art Cullen, editor of Iowa’s Storm Lake Times. “Trump and [Florida governor Ron] DeSantis doing this sparring around the ring. Others are watching to see if someone gives them a beat and an opening.”
At the same stage in 2019, at least a dozen Democratic contenders for the presidency have either come to Iowa or announced plans to visit soon. “We were getting one every other week,” Cullen recalled, noting that the first major candidate forum was held in March.
But among potential Republican hopefuls for 2024 only former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson has visited so far this year and Tim Scott, a senator for South Carolina, and Kari Lake, a former candidate for governor of Arizona , seen as Trump’s running mate, has made an appearance later this month.
Trump, the only declared candidate so far, hasn’t been to Iowa yet but his campaign is finally moving up a gear. Last weekend the former US president addressed Republicans at small-scale events in two other early voting states, New Hampshire and South Carolina, promising to complete “the unfinished business of making America great again”. . He is issuing policy statements, building infrastructure and revealing endorsements that say: catch me if you can.
It is surprisingly orthodox from the most unorthodox of candidates. The 76-year-old has been impeached twice, blamed for thousands of deaths in the coronavirus pandemic and instigated a violent coup on January 6, 2021. He is facing multiple criminal investigations and yet, with remarkable impatience, he to style himself as a duty in every case except. name and betting on voters’ short memories.
He is also casting aspersions on potential competitors, asking them to make the first move. Although there are signs that some are preparing to arrest him, no one has launched a full-frontal attack on Trump or Trumpism, apparently wary of earning his ire and alienating his base. .
Bill Whalen, a former media consultant to California politicians including former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, said: “I don’t think anybody wants to run and be a warmonger, to be seen as the heel that he is.” his purpose is to attack Donald Trump. It’s not a ticket to success and it’s grinding because Trump will be back on fire. What’s the old saying about wrestling with the pig in the mud: you get dirty and the pig enjoys it more than you do.”
It emerged this week that Nikki Haley, 51, who was governor of South Carolina before serving as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, was planning to announce her candidacy in Charleston on February 15. In 2021 Haley told the Associated Press that she “wouldn’t run if President Trump ran”, but has since changed her mind, telling Fox News that she could be part of the “new generational change”.
In South Carolina last Saturday, Trump told WIS-TV that Haley had called him several days earlier to ask for his opinion. “She said she wouldn’t run against me because I was the greatest president, but people change their minds, and they change what’s in their hearts,” he said. “So I said, if your heart wants to do it, you have to go do it.”
Trump comes down with a hammer, an anvil and goodbye from the sky
Trump seems more threatened by – and less polite to – DeSantis, who won re-election in a landslide in Florida and is being beaten in some polls. Trump, who has helped raise DeSantis in the past, called him “Ron DeSanctimonious” and said DeSantis’ challenge for the 2024 nomination would be a “tremendous act of disloyalty.”
But even DeSantis — who isn’t expected to announce until the Florida legislature adjourns in the spring — has pulled his punches so far. He responded to Trump’s attack with only a coded rebuke, drawing a contrast between his own success and Trump’s failure at the ballot box in 2020: “Not only did we win the re-election, we won with the highest percentage of the vote any Republican had. candidate for governor in the history of the state of Florida.”
Other potential candidates such as Trump’s former vice president Mike Pence and his former secretary of state Mike Pompeo were similarly critical of their former boss, taking the odd swipe and praising his administration and their roles in it. Taking on Trump directly carries enormous political risks, as rivals like Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio discovered through name-calling, insults and humiliation in 2016.
John Zogby, an author and pollster, said: “There is a sense that alienating Donald Trump is a very thankless task. Trump comes down with a hammer, an anvil and goodbye from the sky. While much of the magic is clearly gone from Trump, he can equally do great damage. He still has his own forum and still has his own loyal followers and can absorb all the negative oxygen. Whether Trump wins or loses, he hinders.”
However, Trump’s company may soon be on the campaign trail, especially since primaries often draw long-shot candidates who would welcome the consolation prize of a book deal, a radio show, a TV pundit gig or a slot as the running mate of winner.
State governors who could look to build their brand nationally include Greg Abbott of Texas, Brian Kemp of Georgia, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia.
It remains to be seen whether Trump’s immediate critics like Liz Cheney, a former congresswoman from Wyoming, and Larry Hogan, the former governor of Maryland, will throw their hats into the ring. Few observers expect such a candidate to win a primary that is more likely to give voters different flavors of “Make America great again” (Maga), while culture hero DeSantis aims for a younger, more dynamic version of creating a brand for himself is the original Trump.
Democratic strategist Drexel Heard said: “It will be very interesting to see how Maga Nikki Haley does in the primary. I think Nikki Haley is smart but she’s going to have to go full Maga tilt to get through this primary because she’s up against someone like Ron DeSantis, who is already coming out of the gate with red meat.”
With a fiercely loyal base, Trump stands to benefit from a divided field, just as he did in 2016. In South Carolina he has already bagged the endorsements of Governor Henry McMaster and Senator Lindsey Graham, stealing a march on Haley and Scott within the state. . But as Trump tries to normalize himself with a traditional campaign so far, there are also important differences from seven years ago.
Whalen, a former California congressman who is now a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, said: “First, there are legal issues. Now, some are more serious than others but if you’re running for president and you take the fifth amendment 400 times, it’s not a good look for your candidate.
“Secondly, he has a record to deal with that he didn’t have. Donald Trump was hypothetical in 2015 and 2016, tabula rasa when he took office. He has now been in office for four years, which he must explain. It’s not a hypothetical, it’s someone who has held the job before, so voters have to do the math: do they want him in office again?
“Third, there was no figure like Ron DeSantis in 2016. No one was quite in the same position as DeSantis in terms of being able to do three things at the same time: make money, point on a record very successful in his situation and play. the game Trump plays. That makes DeSantis an option that wasn’t there for Republicans in 2016. In 2024, there’s someone who could fight fire with fire.”
DeSantis is an option that didn’t exist for Republicans in 2016. In 2024, there’s someone … who could fight fire with fire
Other commentators agree that despite the slow start in Iowa, the Republican primary looks to be far more competitive than anyone imagined a year ago. The party was willing to forget any of Trump’s lies and misbehavior, but the party couldn’t forget the terrible performance of the hand-picked candidates in last November’s midterm elections. The self-proclaimed winner is a serial loser: his fundraising numbers to date have been disappointing.
Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said: “I’m not very afraid of Trump. It seems to me that there is a very broad agreement in Republican circles that Trump is weak and beatable. In addition, he may be even weaker with the upcoming indictments. For me what is happening right now is just confirmation that Trump’s grip on the Republican party is loosening.
“I would say it’s pretty open. Trump is a favorite but has some very serious long-term viability issues in the area that clearly no longer intimidates him. Republicans are tired of losing.”