Jul 10, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Iowa fires starting gun in race to stop Trump

Illustration of Donald Trump in the center of a stopwatch pointing at the numbers

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Iowa's first-in-the-nation GOP caucus date has officially been set for Jan. 15, kicking off a frantic countdown to what many Republicans see as their best chance to stop former President Trump from romping to re-nomination.

Why it matters: A Trump loss or close result in Iowa would scramble expectations and upend the entire primary. A landslide victory could clear the way for a 2020 rematch with President Biden, tying the fate of every Republican on the ballot to the twice-indicted former president.

Driving the news: Every GOP presidential candidate, with the exception of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is expected to travel to Iowa at some point in the next three weeks, according to the Des Moines Register.

  • On July 14, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson will host onstage interviews with six candidates at the Family Leadership Summit, organized by evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats.
  • On July 28, Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are both expected to attend the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln Dinner — likely putting the two Republican front-runners in the same room for the first time in this campaign.

State of play: A lack of quality Iowa polling has allowed rival candidates to declare the race wide open, even as Trump extends his dominant lead in national surveys.

Between the lines: No Iowa politician is more influential at the moment than Gov. Kim Reynolds, who won 95 of the state's 99 counties last year and has a near-90% approval rating among Republicans.

  • Reynolds has declined to formally endorse a candidate, but her repeated appearances with DeSantis over the last several months have caught the attention — and anger — of the Trump campaign, the New York Times reports.
  • Trump lashed out at Reynolds on Truth Social today, claiming credit for her 2018 election — a comment that irked Reynolds when he made it at an Iowa rally last month — and attacking her for remaining "neutral."

DeSantis, meanwhile, has forged a close relationship with Reynolds — even suggesting that the Iowa governor could serve in his Cabinet if he's elected.

  • As the Times points out, DeSantis has called Florida "the Iowa of the Southeast." Reynolds says Iowa is "the Florida of the North."
  • This week, the Iowa legislature will convene a rare special session to pass a six-week abortion ban — the same restrictions Reynolds has praised DeSantis for enacting in Florida.

Reality check: Trump's petty feud with a popular governor is unlikely to shake his grassroots support in Iowa. But it's one of several wild cards — along with Trump's tepid support for abortion restrictions in a state dominated by evangelicals — that make Iowa the most unpredictable early contest.

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