Trump slow-rolls to the Iowa caucuses, boasting confidence for the final week

DES MOINES, Iowa — Last week, roughly 200 people gathered in Ankeny, Iowa, to hear Trump speak about the importance of turning out to caucus in just 10 days.

But it was Eric Trump, not his father, who was the one doing the campaigning. He did, however, get Donald Trump on the phone for the crowd.

“Should we call Donald Trump and see if he picks up the phone?” he said. “Hold on — one second — he’s at dinner at Mar-a-Lago right now.”

The moment was emblematic of how the former president is approaching the crucial first contest, sending surrogates to do much of the campaigning for him.

Trump, with a lead of about 30% in recent Iowa polling, is slow-rolling his way to the pivotal caucus night on Jan. 15.

As his chief Republican rivals swarm the Hawkeye State in the closing week before next Monday’s Iowa caucuses, Trump, the defiant front-runner, is choosing not to campaign with the usual fervor of a major presidential candidate — instead, opting to spend the majority of his time over the last month holding down at his Mar-a-Lago club and leaning on campaign surrogates to do his final bidding in the state.

A Trump campaign official disputed the fairness of comparing the number of events between Trump and the other GOP candidates.

“It’s like comparing a Corvette to a rickshaw. President Trump is connecting with far more voters than any other campaign by any objective measure because his events are more widely attended and people travel from far distances,” the campaign official said.

This week, Trump will take part in a Wednesday-night town hall hosted by Fox News but will not campaign otherwise until this weekend, the final two days before next Monday’s caucuses. He is also skipping a Republican debate, which Haley and DeSantis will attend. On Tuesday and Thursday, he will voluntarily attend two of his court proceedings — one in D.C. and the other in New York — instead of campaigning.

“It’s the necessary response to crooked Joe Biden and his using lawfare and his legal henchman to try to steal an election. So we are going to fight fire with fire,” Trump campaign senior communications adviser Jason Miller said.

Scattered across the state campaigning in his place are political allies, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and comedian Roseanne Barr. Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake is also scheduled to campaign in the state this week.

Craig Williams, the GOP chairman for Carroll County, said that he has not seen Trump’s lighter campaign schedule as making a difference among voters in his community.

“He can do things and get away with things other candidates can’t,” Williams said. “I don’t know if [Trump] coming to Carroll County — though we’d love him here — that it would change anything. You’d have to be hiding under a rock to not have an opinion [of him].”

By comparison, in the final week before the 2016 caucuses, Trump held nine rallies in Iowa and took part in the Republican debate in the state. He sprinkled in rallies in New Hampshire and South Carolina during that stretch as well.

In total, Trump is set to attend campaign events on just five days in the monthlong lead-up to the first-in-the-nation caucuses, compared to DeSantis’ 15 days, Haley’s 12 days and Vivek Ramaswamy’s 23 days.

Trump has boasted often about his own polling in the state.

“I think it’s going to really be a tremendous victory in Iowa because I’m seeing polls that are phenomenal,” Trump said at a rally Saturday in Sioux Center.

His campaign advisers have repeatedly said that his GOP rivals should drop out of the race and allow the former president to focus his resources on beating President Joe Biden in November.

Trump’s campaign has said that a successful night would be a win exceeding 12%, which would eclipse the greatest margin of victory ever in an Iowa Republican caucus, when Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas won in 1988.

“It doesn’t matter if we’re ahead by more than 30 points over [Ron DeSantis] and Nikki Haley, we’re going to run as if we were tied,” Miller told NBC News in December.

Since launching his campaign, Trump has taken part in 34 campaign events in Iowa — a stark contrast to DeSantis’ more than 160 events.

MAGA Inc., the super PAC aiding Trump’s bid, stopped spending on Iowa television advertising one month ago — its last ad in the state focused on Biden, not Trump’s GOP foes. And for these final two weeks before the caucuses, the actual campaign reserved less than $1 million toward television ads.

The final Iowa ad buy by Trump and his allies pales in comparison to the last-ditch spending spree from Haley’s allied forces, which are set to put more than four times the amount of money into Iowa TV ads for the homestretch.

Although Trump’s attendance in the state has been low compared to his GOP opponents, Trump’s campaign is quick to note the former president consistently draw larger crowds than DeSantis or Haley.

“One rally my father will see more people than DeSantis will over his entire time,” Eric Trump said at the campaign stop that he headlined. “You know, in fact we have exponentially more people in here than he’s getting at any of his rallies, and I’m not actually on the ballot.”

Some voters have noticed Trump’s physical absence from the trail in Iowa but suggested they trust his decision-making.

“I wish he was here every day. I wish I could go see him and talk to him every day,” said Karen Blackford, a resident of Des Moines who will caucus for Trump. “I think he’s doing what he thinks is right, what he needs to do,” she said.

Ankeny resident Wallace Shea added: “I don’t think he should waste his time, and I don’t think he should have wasted his time coming for the debate that’s happening.”