President Donald Trump is preparing a massive show of GOP unity in Iowa ahead of the states presidential caucus and as a pivotal vote in the Senate impeachment trial exposes rifts among Republicans who will decide his fate.
Days before Iowans choose a Democratic candidate in the nations first presidential caucus, Trump will take the stage at Drake University in Des Moines for his fourth rally of the year. The campaign will then send an unusually long list of GOP heavyweights to Iowa, including Cabinet officials, congressional leaders and members of Trumps family.
The presidents campaign and Republican observers described the parade of political events as a flexing of muscles – a warning to Democrats that Trumps operation is far better organized and funded than it was in 2016. But the display will also serve as a potent reminder of Trumps grip on the party as Senate Republicans wrestle with whether to end his impeachment trial or extend it further by hearing from witnesses.
David Kochel, a veteran Republican political operative in Iowa, described the presidents itinerary in the state as "classic Trump."
"It’s a very smart move and it has little to do with his own nomination, which is not in doubt," said Kochel, a senior adviser to Jeb Bushs campaign in 2016. "It’s to fire up our base, and step into the middle of their primary dance and take some of the oxygen."
The caucuses take place Monday, and the presidents travel will coincide with a last-minute push by several of the Democratic candidates seeking to replace him.
Bolton: John Bolton stirs GOP fury but friends say hes prepared for a knife fight
Iowa power: Do winners of the Iowa caucus typically become president?
Trumps rally will come hours after an official White House event in Michigan to highlight his new trade deal with Mexico and Canada, a rare bipartisan win for the president that will have implications for Iowa farmers and manufacturers. Then, as the nation shifts its attention to the Democratic caucus race, Trump will send about 80 surrogates to the state.
The roster includes at least eight members of the Cabinet, such as Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., are also expected to stump for the president. Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Lara Trump are among the presidents family members heading to Iowa.
Incumbent presidents, who usually do not face serious challenges for the nomination, rarely devote so much attention to campaigning so early in the process.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh described the effort as a "good workout for our ground game" and said that the caucuses are "an opportunity to flex the organizational muscles of President Trump’s" operation.
Democrats in the state framed the events as a sign of "panicking."
"No amount of kicking, screaming, or tweeting can spin that legacy of failure, or voters’ desperation for something new," said Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price.
Trumps visit to Iowa initially appeared to offer an opportunity to take a victory lap and a hard pivot to the election. Senate Republican leaders signaled the impeachment trial could wind down as early as Friday, potentially yielding the long-expected acquittal on charges that Trump abused his power by withholding military aid to Ukraine.
A New York Times report a forthcoming memoir by former Trump national security adviser John Bolton raised new uncertainty about the trial timeline. The Times said the book will allege the president demanded Ukraine officials open an investigation into Biden in exchange for U.S. foreign aid – an issue at the center of the impeachment debate.
A handful of centrist Senate Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, have said they are willing to hear from witnesses, including Bolton. Friday will be the pivotal day when the GOP-led Senate will decide whether to extend the trial in order to hear from witnesses, or to move forward with a vote on possible acquittal.
Trump, who came in second in the Iowa caucuses in 2016, carried the state in the general election by more than 9 percentage points. Polls suggest the contest could be closer this year, depending on who wins the Democratic nomination. The president was about 2 points ahead of Biden in a New York Times/Siena College poll of likely caucusgoers released this month.
That same poll had Trump beating Sen. Bernie Sanders by 6 points and Sen. Elizabeth Warren by 5.
Trump last traveled to Iowa in June to tout his efforts to promote gasoline with higher blends of ethanol – a popular position with many Iowa farmers. He held a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, a month before the 2018 midterm elections.
Republican operatives said the presidents visit to Iowa was a signal he intends to remain on the offensive and isnt taking even the states he won handily for granted. They also predicted the effort may draw attention away from what is expected to be a huge turnout among Democrats. If the turnout is larger than usual, it could be read as a show of strength by Democrats with implications beyond Iowa.
"Deploying this many surrogates on caucus night – and the caliber of the surrogates covering the amount of ground statewide – will yield tremendous dividends as Iowa Republicans begin focusing on the general election," said Jimmy Centers, a Republican consultant who worked for former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.
Centers rejected the idea that Trumps show of force in the state had anything to do with the impeachment trial, noting that voters have generally not named impeachment as a top election issue in polls. "The trial occurring around the Iowa caucuses," he said, "is nothing more than a coincidence."
Trump barely mentioned the trial during a rally in New Jersey on Tuesday. He slammed Democrats for “demented hoaxes, crazy witch hunts and deranged partisan crusades,” but that language is similar to what he has embraced at his rallies for years. Trump told a crowd of cheering supporters that Democrats had been working for years to overturn the results of the 2016 election. And he vowed they would not succeed.
"We will make sure they face another crushing defeat in the next election," Trump said. "We are going to have a victory that is even greater than 2016."