Trump ups competition with DeSantis in planning trip to Iowa

DeSantis is slated to headline Iowa Rep. Randy Feenstra’s annual summer fundraiser in northwest Iowa on May 13, A Trump campaign official says the former president now plans to be in Iowa on the same day

Former President Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump at the National Rifle Association Convention in Indianapolis, on April 14, 2023.Michael Conroy (AP)

The competition between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis is intensifying as the former president is scheduling a return trip to Iowa on the same day that the Florida governor was already going to be in the state that will kick off the Republican contest for the White House.

A Trump campaign official said Saturday that the former president plans to be in Iowa on May 13 to headline an organizing rally at a sprawling park in downtown Des Moines. That’s when DeSantis was already slated to headline Iowa Rep. Randy Feenstra’s annual summer fundraiser in northwest Iowa and speak at a party fundraiser later that evening in Cedar Rapids.

The Trump campaign official, who requested anonymity to discuss the trip before it was announced, said the Des Moines organizing rally has been in the planning stage for weeks and is aimed at identifying caucus supporters and volunteers.

The move is a sign of the escalating competition between the two men who, at least for now, are leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump and his allies have become increasingly emboldened in their efforts to attack and marginalize DeSantis, who is expected to announce his White House bid sometime after the Florida Legislature wraps up its work in the coming week.

But Trump’s trip is also notable for its emphasis on the type of ground-level organizing that is vital in Iowa politics and was often missing during his 2016 campaign, when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz overtook him and won the state’s GOP caucuses.

Trump has been almost singularly focused on swinging at DeSantis, whom he has attacked for policy positions on entitlement reform, his loyalty to conservative causes, even his character. While DeSantis has largely ignored Trump’s jabs, a pro-DeSantis super political action committee, Never Back Down, began to respond in paid ads this month.

The stakes for both men are particularly high in Iowa, where the caucuses in February offer opportunities for them to cement their status atop the GOP. A poor performance, however, would give an opening for other Republicans to mount an upstart campaign.

Trump’s 2016 Iowa campaign was a seat-of-the-pants operation disparately managed by campaign newcomers who, including the candidate, had little idea what the caucuses are. The roughly 1,700 precinct-level Republican political meetings, vestiges of prairie civic life, include a presidential preference question but require in-person participation on a typically frigid winter evening.

Eight years ago, Trump’s Iowa team had left contact information for roughly 10,000 Iowans interested in supporting him unprocessed before the caucuses, where Trump had led in lead-up polls, but fell short against Cruz’s more organized campaign.

Armed with not just refined 2016 caucus data but information collected during two national campaigns, Trump’s advisers says they are building a data and digital engagement strategy they say would put him in position to win the caucuses. It’s an expectation Iowa GOP strategists say is an absolute must for the former president, who carried Iowa comfortably in the 2016 and 2020 general elections.

Meantime Never Back Down, run by DeSantis’ 2022 Florida re-election campaign senior strategist, Phil Cox, has named Iowa Republican operatives to its roster as it seeks to tap into interested GOP activists as the Iowa 2024 campaign gets underway. Among them are Ryan Koopmans, the former chief of staff to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The group has been airing TV advertisements in Iowa and other early-voting states, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, for weeks, and plans to launch a new one Monday.

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