By Byron York
In February 1984, President Ronald Reagan, assured of his party’s nomination for reelection, nevertheless decided to fly to Iowa to hold two rallies, one in Waterloo and the other here in Des Moines, on the day Democrats held their presidential caucuses.
Reagan’s move frustrated Democratic leaders. The state party chairman called the visit a “stunt” and “not worthy of a president.” Another Democrat, speaking anonymously to the New York Times, said, “Let’s face it: Reagan’s media event will clobber our media event.”
Fast forward more than three decades. Last summer, Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, had a conversation with President Trump. “I reminded him that Ronald Reagan was in a very similar situation that he was — an incumbent president who came to the Iowa caucuses and made a huge splash,” Kaufmann told me. “It drove the Democrats nuts.”
Kaufmann doesn’t take sole credit for the idea; others may have suggested it, too. But the bottom line is that last Thursday, as the Democratic caucus campaign reached its peak, Air Force One flew into Iowa for a presidential rally at Drake University’s Knapp Center in Des Moines. More than 7,000 people filled the center to capacity, with perhaps another 1,000 outside watching on a giant screen.
The president used the opportunity to mock his Democratic challengers, from Joe Biden to Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren to Pete Buttigieg. “We’re beating them all,” he said. Like Reagan so many years before, he was messing with his opponents at a critical time.
But Trump was doing more than that. His visit was part of a carefully planned campaign during the Iowa caucuses that focuses not on the caucuses but on the general election. Trump’s campaign team knows well that Barack Obama won Iowa twice, in 2008 and 2012.
Trump took it away from Democrats in 2016, and he will need to do it again in 2020.’So, in addition to the visit, Trump is sending an A-list of his most prominent and reliable surrogates to spread across the state to speak at Monday’s night’s Republican caucuses.
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