Iowa may be the most important state on Donald J. Trump’s early 2024 political calendar, but he hasn’t made many friends there lately.
He lashed out at Iowa’s popular Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, and then his campaign informed one of the state’s politically influential evangelical leaders, Bob Vander Plaats, that the former president would skip a meeting of presidential candidates this week in Des Moines.
The back-to-back moves on Monday, which the campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called a “snub by Iowa conservatives” in an email Tuesday, show just how much of a front-runner for the GOP Trump is. nomination, he acts as if he is immune to traditional political trappings while also under impeachment and his rivals seeking to capitalize on some voter fatigue with their antics.
“With Trump’s persona, I feel like he thinks he owns Iowa,” said Steve Boender, a board member for Family Leader, the conservative Christian group organizing Friday’s event that Trump will not attend. “And I’m not sure he does.”
“I think the negativity from Trump is hurting things a little bit,” added Boender, who remains out of line for 2024.
It’s no surprise that Trump is skipping the Family Leader meeting. He has generally avoided these “cattle-calling” events, which feature all the candidates, as advisers believe such scenarios lower him to the level of his trailing opponents. Furthermore, Vander Plaats has made no secret of his desire to put Trump behind him, including traveling to Tallahassee to have lunch with DeSantis at the governor’s mansion.
“I think there is no question, most likely, I will not support him,” Vander Plaats said of Trump. “So he thinks if he shows up and I don’t back him up, it’s going to make him look weak.”
But as a result, he said, Trump was missing out on speaking to an estimated audience of 2,000, and “a lot of those people still love him very much.”
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported on the various ways that Ms. Reynolds has made herself comfortable with Mr. DeSantis, much to the growing frustration of Mr. Trump, who has appointed his predecessor as ambassador. He wants credit for her rise and career; he won re-election in a landslide last year. He broke out in public on Monday.
“Opened the governorship for Kim Reynolds, and when she fell behind, I SUPPORTED her, did big rallies, and she won,” Trump wrote on Truth Social, referring to his 2018 election race. “Now, she wants to stay ‘NEUTRAL.’ . I don’t invite her to events!”
Ms. Reynolds’ office declined to comment. Mr. DeSantis was quick to come to her defense on Twitter, saying that she is “a strong leader who knows how to ignore the squeaks and do it.”
Trump’s comment sparked a backlash from Iowans who support Reynolds, including Cody Hoefert, who served as co-chairman of the Iowa Republican Party from 2014 to 2021.
“It was a continuation of a series of unforced errors by the former president,” Hoefert said, also citing Trump’s comments against the six-week abortion ban.
Ms. Reynolds called the Iowa Legislature into a special session this week to pass a six-week ban after the state’s high court blocked an earlier effort. Trump has said such a strict ban, when many women don’t even know they are pregnant, is “too harsh.”
Hoefert said his break with Trump, during whose presidency he remained a loyal party official, was not due to other loyalties.
“This was not, ‘I’m going to attack Trump because I’m supporting candidate X,’” he said. “It’s because I’m tired of the former president making everything about himself and attacking his friends and potential supporters of his and other Republicans who are doing great conservative things in what seems like personal vendetta.”
Republicans who oppose Trump leading the party again predicted that the attacks would play poorly with voters.
“She has shown her penchant for self-destructive behavior, and it’s one of those things that I think voters notice,” said David Kochel, a veteran Iowa Republican operative who has advised Ms. Reynolds. “Kim Reynolds is very popular in Iowa. She has not attacked Trump. She won’t, she’s told everyone that she’s going to his events, and the fact that he has such an ego means everyone has to back him up. That’s not going to happen in these early states.”
Brett Barker, chairman of the Story County Republican Party in Iowa, saw it as an unnecessary battle. “I don’t think it’s helpful to pick fights with incumbent governors who are very popular in their home states,” he said, before adding: “I don’t know how damaging it will be in the bigger picture.”
A person close to Trump who was not authorized to speak publicly acknowledged that his attack on Reynolds was not part of a written plan, but questioned whether it would actually erode his position, despite predictions of political fallout. His team believes he has enough support among Iowans to counter the views of elected officials.
Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman, cited a “scheduling conflict” as the reason he missed the Family Leadership Summit, noting that Trump would return to Iowa next week.
“The president will be in Florida this weekend headlining the nation’s leading conference of young voters with the Turning Point Action conference, while DeSantis is nowhere to be found,” Cheung said of an event expected to draw a more pro crowd. -Trump.
The Family Leader event, which is expected to feature Mr. DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, Vivek Ramaswamy, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, is the second main event conservative meeting in two months that Mr. Trump is bypassing.
Vander Plaats said that “half the battle” in Iowa was showing up, and that Trump had so far fallen short on that front.
“Iowa is tailor-made for him to be beaten here,” he said. “And conversely, if he wins here, I’m not sure there’s any way to prevent him from being the nominee.”