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Trump feuds with Iowa leaders, rivals eye upset

Washington Examiner

Former President Donald Trump has ramped up his attacks on prominent leaders in Iowa as his 2024 rivals are seeking a breakthrough with voters just two months out from the state’s caucuses.

Trump’s top 2024 rivals, Gov. Ron Desantis, R-fla., and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, have both set their sights on winning the early caucus state, despite the strong hold the former president has held over the Republican primary field. Desantis has pulled in two high-profile Iowa endorsements recently, and Haley rides a wave of momentum that has boosted her in the state.

Both Iowa and New Hampshire, as the first two states to hold nominating contests, are seen as critical for both Desantis and Haley’s hopes to beat Trump for the 2024 nomination.

Bob Vander Plaats, who is an evangelical leader in Iowa, was the most recent to give Desantis his seal of approval, prompting immediate attacks from the Trump campaign. Announcing his endorsement on Fox News, he claimed his support was Desantis’s to lose due to his 2022 election successes in Florida.

“They go to church with us. They’re in our homes. They come to our offices — the leadership summit,” he said, recalling Desantis’s significant presence in Iowa.

The governor closed the deal for Vander Plaats at his organization, the Family Leader’s Thanksgiving Family Forum, last week, however.

“He was very clear about we need a president who can serve two terms, not one term,” he said. “I just think he’s got the spine to do it. And I think he’s got the experience to win for us.”

The Desantis campaign noted Vander Plaats endorsed the eventual Iowa Caucus winner in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Republican presidential primaries.

Trump’s team hit back at the endorsement right away, claiming Desantis purchased Vander Plaats’s support. “Over 150 faith leaders in Iowa are organizing their congregations for President Trump and not a single one demanded nearly $100k like Bob Vander Plaat$ did from Ron Desanctus,” Trump’s campaign wrote in a press release.

According to the campaign, leaders of a movement are able to garner such support for free.

The release was referring to various entities, including Desantis’s campaign, a super PAC aligned with the governor, and another nonprofit, which together reportedly paid $95,000 to Vander Plaats’s foundation over the course of several months. But the evangelical leader has dismissed any speculation about his support being bought. “My endorsement has never been and never will be for sale,” he said over the summer. “My only interest is in bold, courageous, principled leadership for this country.”

Trump’s team additionally cited polling from Fabrizio, Lee & Associates of likely Iowa caucusgoers, which suggested Vander Plaats’s endorsement wouldn’t affect the race in any meaningful way. According to a memo from the polling firm, “While the Desantis camp will try and spin that a Vander Plaats’ endorsement will revive their sputtering and shrinking campaign, cold hard data tells a much different story. These GOP Caucus Attenders have mixed feelings about Vander Plaats, if they have any opinion at all, and no few if any are moving to vote for Desantis because of his endorsement.”

“Kim Reynolds’ endorsement won’t save Ron Desanctus, and neither will Vander Plaat$’ endorsement,” the press release added, referencing the Iowa governor’s recent endorsement of his opponent as well.

Earlier the same day, a video of Trump was published on his social media wherein he denigrated Gov. Kim Reynolds, R-iowa, who his feud with has been documented for months. “Kim Reynolds of Iowa has gone from a popular governor to the most unpopular governor in the entire United States of America. Not an easy feat,” the former president claimed.

He was likely referring to recent polling, which showed Reynolds boasting the highest disapproval rating of any governor in the country. According to Morning Consult, she has a 47% disapproval rating. This is a marked increase from 39% earlier in the year. The pollster noted her increase is likely attributable to a controversial abortion law which she led the charge on, coupled with Trump’s public attacks on her.

While Reynolds isn’t overwhelmingly approved of by the sample of U.S. voters, she still sports high favorability with Iowa Republicans.

In an August survey, 81% of likely Republican caucusgoers had a favorable view of the governor. Half of respondents reported viewing her “very” favorably. Only 18% had an unfavorable view of Reynolds. Trump claimed the recent endorsement of Desantis from her “has given him exactly zero bounce.”

“I wonder what position

Kim was promised in order to back someone who is so far down in the polls,” the former president added.

Both Reynolds and Vander Plaats have largely brushed off Trump’s attacks over their support for Desantis.

“This is what happens when @realdonaldtrump can’t win on the merits. He makes stuff up and calls people names. #Lookhigher #Thinkbigger #Expectmore #Choosewell2024,” Vander Plaats wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The two leaders also shared a similar sentiment in their endorsements, claiming Trump can’t win in 2024.

Vander Plaats seemed relatively unperturbed by DeSantis’s stance behind Trump in polls, pointing out several caucus winners that defied expectations. “Huckabee ‘ 08 was suppose[d] to get crushed by Romney. Santorum ‘ 12 as well. Cruz ‘ 16 was to get crushed by Trump. On #Caucus night, they all won,” he posted. “In Iowa, media and polls don’t pick our winner. Iowans do!”

But Desantis isn’t the only candidate who thinks they have a chance to claim Iowa. Haley is expanding her coalition in the state, looking to leverage her rising poll numbers as proof of her campaign’s strength. And with Republicans naming their biggest priority in a candidate as being able to beat President Joe Biden, some are taking notice of Haley’s traction, alongside her good polling advantages over Biden in headto-head matchups.

The former ambassador also received a surprise endorsement during a campaign event from one voter — Marlys Popma. Popma is a former Republican operative, a former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party, and former president of Iowa Right to Life. In her capacity as an operative, she worked on former Sen. John Mccain’s 2008 presidential campaign and Sen. Ted Cruz’s, R-texas, 2016 bid. She is considered incredibly influential in the Iowa caucus season and was included on a list of the state’s 50 “most wanted” Republicans who will play a role in caucus outcomes.

“I was an undecided voter when I walked in here today, and I am no longer an undecided voter,” Popma said after standing during Haley’s event, according to the Des Moines Register. “And I just want to tell Nikki that I wholeheartedly support you.”

Haley has also seemed to be more palatable among the “Never Trump” segment of the Republican Party’s voters. “Nikki Haley is certainly locking up a lot of the Never Trumpers,” Republican operative Matthew Bartlett said to Politico.

This was backed up by recent polling from Trump’s super PAC, which indicated those who supported Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., frequently chose Haley as their second choice. Desantis voters, however, were more likely to choose Trump as their second choice and vice versa, pointing to an overlap in their targeted voters.

In recent weeks, Haley has rolled out more than 70 endorsements in Iowa from current and former elected officials, business owners, and various community leaders.





The Gazette, Colorado Springs