Trump returns to Iowa to boost 2022 Republicans, but trip lays 2024 marker

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The 2022 midterm elections will be front and center as former President Trump holds a rally in Iowa on Saturday – his first in the competitive central plains state since last year’s election.

But in a state whose caucuses for half a century have kicked off the presidential nominating process, there will also be plenty of 2024 intrigue.

“IOWA is absolutely critical to our efforts to take back the House and Senate in 2022, and then the White House in 2024,” the former president said in an email to supporters earlier this week.

Workers at the site of former President Trump’s Iowa rally put the finishing touches on the venue at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on the eve of the event, on Oct. 8, 2021 in Des Moines, Iowa
(Fox News)

Republicans need a net gain of one seat to retake control in the 100-member Senate and a net gain of five seats in the 435-member House to win back the majority in next year’s midterm election.

The path to a GOP House majority may run through the Hawkeye State, where three of the state’s four representatives are Republicans. Two of them – Reps. Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks – won their seats by razor thin margins last November and will likely face challenging reelections. And the GOP is targeting the state’s only Democrat in the House, Rep. Cindy Axne, who narrowly won reelection last year. 

Throw in high profile reelections for Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and longtime GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, and Iowa will spend plenty of time in the campaign spotlight in the year leading up to the 2022 midterms.

“I think it’s a sign that President Trump is going to be heavily involved in 2022,” Iowa GOP Jeff Kaufmann told Fox News. “This is about the president understanding that Iowa could be the pathway to a majority in the federal House…I really think you’re going to hear him say a lot about 2022.”

Kaufmann, as well as Reynolds, Grassley and the rest of the Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation will speak at the rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines ahead of the president’s evening address. And some of those GOP politicians may land Trump endorsements at the rally.

Eric Branstad, one of Trump’s top two political advisers in the state, emphasized that midterms are at the top of his agenda. Branstad, who steered the former president’s campaign efforts in the Hawkeye State in the 2016 and 2020 elections and who is the son of former longtime Gov. Terry Branstad, told Fox News that he and the rest of the former president’s team in Iowa “are focused on electing Republicans up and down the ticket. That’s where our focus is.”

But this is Iowa. 

Asked if there are 2024 implications to Trump’s visit to support 2022 Republicans, Kauffman answered “are the two linked – of course they are. We’re in Iowa.” 

Trump arrives in the Hawkeye State days after scoring his best favorable ratings ever in the Des Moines Register poll, which is considered the gold standard in this neck of the woods.

Fifty-three percent of Iowans had a favorable view of the former president and 45% hold an unfavorable view, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom survey released on Monday. And among Republicans only, he was at a sky high 91% favorability.

“Donald Trump is going to get an incredible reception in Iowa. He’s very popular with the base,” longtime Iowa based GOP consultant David Kochel said. “He’ll off to big lead in Iowa if he decides to run.”

Trump repeatedly teases making another presidential run to try and return to the White House. “I can’t reveal it yet. But I absolutely know my answer,” he said in a Fox News interview in July, when asked if he’d run again. “And we’re going to do very well. And people are going to be very happy.”

And he told Fox News in an interview last month that “I don’t think we’re going to have a choice.” 

Trump remains very popular and influential with Republican voters as he continues to play a kingmaker’s role in GOP primary politics, and he would be the clear frontrunner for his party’s presidential nomination if he decides to run. But his repeated flirtations have prevented other potential 2024 contenders from making visits to Iowa as well as New Hampshire, which for a century has held the first presidential primary, and South Carolina and Nevada, the other two early voting states.

Kochel, a veteran of a number of GOP presidential campaigns over the past couple of decades, highlighted that “there’s plenty of willingness by Iowa Republicans to go out and see other potential 2024 candidates. I don’t think anyone is staying away because I don’t think anyone really knows what the future holds and whether or not Trump ultimately makes a decision to run.” 

But he added that if Trump does follow through on his flirtations and runs, “it’s going to be an uphill battle for anyone else.”

The Grandstand at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, on Oct. 8, 2021
(Fox News)

Bob Vander Plaats, who for a dozen years has served as president and CEO of The Family Leader, a top social conservative organization, told Fox News that “without question” there was a 2024 component to Trump’s rally in Des Moines.

And he said that the stop in Iowa may be a signal to other potential 2024 GOP White House hopefuls and to Republican voters.

Vander Plaats said Trump’s “seen a lot of potential 2024 candidates who have been crisscrossing the state already and so it may be a message to them that ‘I haven’t made up my mind yet’ and it may be a message to his base that ‘I’m still here.’”

And the former president’s hires a couple of months ago of Branstad and fellow Iowa native Alex Latcham, Trump’s Iowa political director during the 2016 general election campaign and a deputy political director in the Trump White House, may be the laying down of a marker.

“If he has the intention to run, there’s no two better people to hire than those two,” Kochel said. “If you’re going to do it, or even if you’re going to send the signal that you may run, that’s the move that you make.”

And Vander Plaats said the hiring of Branstad and Latcham is “definitely a message” that if Trump wants to get organized in Iowa, he can do it quickly.

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