Donald Trump isn’t sucking up to Iowa, and it’s working.
The billionaire has eschewed the traditional, door-to-door retail politics that have always been considered mandatory in the early states.
Instead, Trump has preferred to hold massive rallies in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, where he brags about his poll numbers and rails against President Obama, Hillary Clinton, his GOP opponents, and, of course, the media. From there, Trump jets off to another early primary state event and kicks off the next show.
And now, despite that unusual approach, political consultants are beginning to think he could win this whole thing — especially if Trump can turn those big, beautiful polls into actual voters.
But can a Trump speech really be a substitute for asking Iowans for their votes one-by-one?
“I think it can,” political consultant Jordan Lieberman of Audience Partners told The Daily Caller on Monday. “Now one thing I should point out is that he is starting to hire campaign coordinators. I am aware of a couple in other states. I am in North Carolina today, and I just met with someone who is involved in his campaign.”
“There are people who are signing on quietly to the [Trump] campaign and to be honest the people that are signing on are mainstream Republican establishment operatives,” Lieberman said.
Trump’s private wealth has given him a logistical leg up over his opponents: when he’s ready to move, his private 757 is waiting. He jets from one rally in Iowa to another in New Hampshire in a matter of hours.
And he’s also benefitted from non-stop media coverage — bolstered in part by his unending appetite for giving cable news interviews.
Resonate’s Gary Sherwood says Trump supporters are more persuaded by all that TV and radio coverage than anything else.
“Trump has been bucking traditional Iowa and New Hampshire retail politicking, instead focusing on mass events and big speeches that translate well to broadcast sound bites,” said Sherwood.
“It’s because that’s where his supporters are at: Trump supporters are 90% more likely to be influenced by talk radio and 60% more likely to be influenced by cable TV coverage,” Sherwood explained. “His GOTV strategy may be to stick with what’s worked for him, and hope that it energizes his fans all the way to the polls.”
Another way Trump has bucked traditional campaigning is by insulting the electorate. “How stupid are the people of Iowa,” he once wondered aloud.
Trump turned traditional political strategy on its head Tuesday night, when his campaign announced he would not participate in the Fox News Des Moines debate on Thursday.
“FOX News is making tens of millions of dollars on debates, and setting ratings records (the highest in history), where as in previous years they were low-rated afterthoughts,” the Trump campaign said in a statement on the billionaire’s boycott.
A new Quinnipiac poll shows that Iowa is down to a two-man race between Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, who garnered 31 and 29 percent support from the poll, respectively.
Quinnipiac notes, “Among Iowa Republican Caucus-goers, 24 percent say they ‘would definitely not support’ Trump, with 24 percent who would not support former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Only 12 percent say ‘no way’ to Cruz.” :
Cruz leads Trump:
50 – 34 percent among self-professed Tea Party members;
39 – 27 percent among white, born-again Evangelical Christians;
49 – 29 percent among voters describing themselves as “very conservative.”
Trump leads Cruz:
29 – 21 percent among self-identified “somewhat conservative” voters;
37 – 6 percent among voters claiming to be “moderate” or “liberal.”
Just over a week ago, according to the Associated Press, Trump told supporters in Des Moines, “I have a feeling we’re going to actually do better than the polls are saying because there’s a movement,” blowing off the suggestion that voters may not materialize from his rallies.
“I don’t know, maybe they won’t,” he added. “But it seems crazy because some of those people were waiting on line for seven hours in the cold.”
Jon Seaton, a consultant at Meridian HQ, ran two caucuses in Iowa for John McCain in 2008. Seaton says many consultants have been bewildered by Trump’s strategy, but despite the billionaire’s preference for big rallies over intimate meet-ups, he’s managed to do the impossible — attract irregular voters.
“It’s not exactly how I would structure a caucus turnout operation, but we’re talking about less traditional caucus goers. They don’t need to be registered voters. They can show up to register on caucus night and do it then. You may see some of that from Trump supporters as well,” said Seaton.
He added, “It’s certainly not the traditional way of doing it. The thing is I would call it a little bit risky. But he has tapped into something so far. I wouldn’t want to rule them out at all.”
However, Cygnal’s Brent Buchanan argues that Trump’s campaign strategy would work better in a traditional primary state than in a caucus environment.
“A personality-based approach to politics tends to work better in primary states versus caucus states. Trump is basing his strategy on momentum and the fact that he is leading the pack,” Buchanan told TheDC.
“If Iowa does not turn out well, the strategy unravels,” Buchanan added. “Republicans want to nominate a winner, and that really matters more than the current polls or personality.”
How strong is Trump’s ground game in Iowa, whose caucus is less than a week away?
Trump made headlines late Sunday night when The Washington Post reported that he has now engaged in retail politicking for the first time in the Hawkeye State, and the campaign announced just four days ago an Iowa caucus location finder on their website.
“History shows that this is unprecedented in the sense that these are not conservatives who are coming out for Trump. These are just angry people. And it’s very challenging to measure or predict using vote history,” said Lieberman, noting that the other campaigns are running a race that “should’ve been won in 2008 and 2012.”
The AP reports Iowa county GOP chairmen see little effort put into Trump’s ground organization compared to the other primary campaigns.
“Normally, I at least know the country chairs and I see some organization,” said Crawford County Republican Party Chair Gwen Ecklund, who told the AP Trump staffers haven’t exerted much effort.
“Quite frankly, I haven’t seen quite as much of his organization at a county level as the other candidates,” Warren County GOP Chair Rick Halvorsen agreed.
However, Iowa resident Debra Core, who plans to caucus for Trump, told The Washington Post, “I think he’s already gotten his message across.” She added, “I don’t think he has to meet and greet.”
Some of Trump’s biggest rally supporters, reports the AP, say they haven’t heard much, if anything, from the campaign. Others, though, say they support Trump so much, they will not need a door knock or phone call to goad them to caucus for him.
“I don’t need an extra push,” Shane Bohlmann, a real estate investor in Cedar Rapids said when asked by The Washington Times about what would motivate him to his caucus site.
According to The Times, Bohlmann and other Trump supporters were never contacted by the campaign about how and where to caucus.
Trump’s main campaign office in Des Moines, one Friday night, closed shop by 7 p.m. The scene, the AP notes, contrasted clearly from the nearby Ted Cruz campaign headquarters, where a phone bank of 30 volunteers continued to place calls to potential caucus supporters.
The Republican caucus differs from a regular GOP primary, because instead of simply casting a ballot for a preferred candidate in one of Iowa’s 1,681 precincts, caucus goers must go to one of almost 900 caucus sites.
At the site, voters will gather together and hear remarks from different campaign precinct captains to try and sway caucus goers toward their candidate — a process, Seaton says, that can take no more than an hour.
“People show up. If they are not registered to vote they have to register as Republicans. It’s not open but you don’t have to be registered when you come but you have to register when you get there. There’s a temporary chair that I believe is appointed by the party, but then the first order of business is to elect a permanent chair who presides over the meeting.”
Following the speeches, voters cast their ballots on paper. The state party, who gives the results to the media, tabulates the votes.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump’s closest competitor in Iowa, recently finished up his 99-county tour of the Hawkeye State after months of meet and greets at local restaurants and churches. Cruz’s traditional approach to meeting Iowans is also called “the Full Grassley”—a county-by-county campaign strategy, named after Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who met with his constituents in small yet packed locations.
“You go to some of these appearances and you’ll hear people be like, ‘This is the only presidential candidate that’s ever showed up here in all of the years,'” Cruz supporter Starr told The Texas Tribune two weeks ago. “I think those people will actually go out and vote for him.”
Cruz tells Iowa voters the “Iowa way” of campaigning is building voter support county by county and not from a TV studio in New York or Washington, D.C.
When asked by an Iowa voter his on thoughts on Trump’s fly in and fly out campaign strategy, The Texas Tribune reported, Cruz responded, “I believe the only way to compete and win in the state of Iowa is to come and spend the time asking the voters for their support, looking them in the eye, having the humility to submit yourself to the men and women of this state and to ask and answer the hard questions.”
“And if a candidate is not doing that, that ought to be an indication,” Cruz said.
Trump’s strong poll numbers in New Hampshire indicate support from Republican voters, but the campaign appears to be gambling again on large event rallies, rather than intimate settings.
According to the Concord Monitor, the campaign has 14 paid staffers in the state and “thousands of volunteers.” The Trump campaign in the Granite State, reports The Monitor, appears to be motivated by lots of passion, but seems less organized than other campaigns.
CBS News reported hundreds of Trump supporters waited in line to watch Trump at a Manchester rally last week despite the blizzard. Most attendees, though, were not from New Hampshire, but from the other surrounding New England states.
“My sense is that he is unbreakable thus far, and nobody from the ‘establishment’ is willing to step up — and that might be due in part to weaker party apparatus. That might be due to a lot of things. I’m having a hard time seeing a path where he evaporates,” said Lieberman.
The Trump campaign did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment.