Donald Trump’s name is not on the ballot Tuesday. But the midterm elections could provide clues as to how smooth or rocky his future in the Republican Party will be.
The ex-president is slated to hold a campaign rally Thursday evening in Sioux City, Iowa, that will feature a slate of prominent Republicans, including Gov. Kim Reynolds and Sen. Chuck Grassley.
But the origins of the trip and the explanation for it underscore how Republicans are recalibrating their view of the benefits Trump brings to the party.
State Republicans say they approached Trump about coming a month ago, and that the visit was put into motion after a Des Moines Register poll showed Grassley with a narrow lead over Democrat Mike Franken. The state’s GOP chair, Jeff Kaufmann, told POLITICO there is perpetual concern that western parts of the state, which include Sioux City, get neglected for the east. He added that the attorney general’s race is a potential pick up for Republicans, making it all the more imperative that Trump come and boost turnout.
But while Kaufmann said Trump was invited, a spokesperson for Grassley said the senator himself had not asked the former president to come. And the person disputed the idea that the Des Moines Register poll necessitated his visit.
“President Trump has been doing rallies for endorsed candidates all across the country for months. You’d have to ask President Trump on his reasoning for coming to Iowa,” said the Grassley spokesperson.
The Iowa stop is the latest in a difficult-to-define campaign close for Trump. He is spending the final week of the midterm season speaking at rallies in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. But he’s also holding rallies in states like ruby red Florida, and he recently visited south Texas, a region of the state the GOP has targeted and where his appearance can help drive out support.
“President Trump’s rallies stretch well-beyond the borders of a specific state — they garner national coverage and voters across the nation tune in. This final push is critical to propelling every Trump-endorsed candidate to victory on Tuesday,” said Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich.
Some Republicans are eager for his support. Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, personally invited Trump to do a rally in Florida, during which he will be stopping in Miami-Dade County, an area expected to have a strong Republican showing. But he is notably not planning for additional rallies in states like Nevada, Arizona, or Georgia — at least for now.
“You have campaigns that are going well on their own and heading into the right direction and the idea is don’t do anything to upset that dynamic,” said David Kochel, a veteran Iowa-based GOP strategist, who cited Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s hands off approach to Trump in the close of his campaign.
Trump remains the most powerful figure in the Republican Party, and will emerge the same after the midterms. But Tuesday’s elections could impact his standing.
The ex-president made his first endorsement of this political cycle back in 2021. Since then, he has picked his favorites in races — sometimes sparking intense rivalries among candidates to win his affection and causing the GOP heartburn when he passed over a preferred candidate in favor of someone more “MAGA.” Should those candidates emerge victorious, the ex-president will take a customary victory lap. Should they fall short, blame could be pointed in his direction.
“People are going to vote as a repudiation of Joe Biden and I think that Republican candidates up and down the ballot are going to do exceptionally well whether or not President Trump was for them — it doesn’t matter,” said Dave Bossie, president of Citizens United. “The American people are focused on Joe Biden. That’s what this election is about.”
For many Republicans, Trump’s final stretch of campaigning has been ideal. With visits to safe red states like Iowa and Florida, the thinking goes, he’s able to rally his base but not scare away independents or the suburban women Republicans need to win over in battleground states. During the midterms, he has also done tele-rallies, paid for T.V. ads, and has lent his support with fundraisers and rallies.
There has also been relief that Trump did not decide to announce a 2024 presidential run before the midterms. While half of his advisers wanted him to announce before Nov. 8 as a way to clear the field and hopefully take credit for any Republican wins, top party leaders warned that announcing before the midterms would only make him the prime scapegoat for any losses.
Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, major friction points remain between Trump and other factions in the Republican Party. He is almost assuredly going to face competition for the party’s presidential nominee, including from people who worked in his administration.
Already, the confines of that race are coming into focus. This month, potential 2024 contenders including former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will attend the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas with one exception — Trump.
Kaufmann, the state Republican party leader in Iowa, said he suspected Trump would not be able to clear the field. “With that caveat I have talked to almost all these national figures as they come through and I can honestly tell you, none has said they will be out if Trump gets in,” he said. “They have held their cards very close.”
Trump also continues to war with some current Republican leaders. On the John Fredericks show Thursday morning, he called for ousting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell if he capitulates on debt ceiling fights with the Biden administration and he attacked the Kentucky Republican for not giving more money to help candidates who have lagged in the polls.
“If he gave that money to Don, Blake Masters and others you mentioned they would win. This guy does not deserve to continue to be leader and hopefully someone will challenge him,” Trump said on the program. “If I run and I win he will not be leader. That’s the only thing I can guarantee you, he will not be leader.”
Trump’s Make America Great Again, Inc. super PAC has faced its own criticism from Republicans for being spendthrift this cycle. Overall, it has spent more than $16 million on ads to boost Trump-endorsed candidates in battleground races, cutting ads for Kari Lake and Blake Masters in Arizona, Adam Laxalt in Nevada, Herschel Walker in Georgia, J.D. Vance in Ohio, Tudor Dixon in Michigan, and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. The ads, notably, did not focus on Trump or Trump’s support but instead featured Republican talking points on Biden, crime, inflation, border security and culture wars.
Trump’s final midterm swing, advisers say, provides a chance to expand on those same points. And in Iowa, his presence along with other presidential hopefuls is welcomed to help turnout midterm voters, even if the overture is 2024.
“What I see about Trump’s visit, he’s going to have a great rally and a lot of people who really love him and what did as president and see the difference between his administration and Biden’s,” said Bob Vander Plaats, a top conservative leader in the state. “But there are still those who attend the rally who say he shouldn’t run in 2024 like thank you, but let’s move on with someone new to win in 2024. I hear that a lot from deep believing Trump supporters.”
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