Iowa is swamped with Republicans too scared to run against Donald Trump

Donald Trump
Donald Trump Photo: Shutterstock

Under normal circumstances, the presidential campaign would be well underway in Iowa. Candidates would be jockeying for attention in hopes of scoring big in the first showing less than a year away.

This year, it sure looks like everything is normal, with one exception. Almost no one is a declared candidate. Sure, there are plenty of Republicans wandering around Iowa’s 99 counties, trying to ingratiate themselves with the populace on what are variously described as “listening tours” or “guest appearances” that would never otherwise happen outside of a campaign cycle.

But outside of former UN ambassador Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur and anti-woke crusader, no one has declared a candidacy to challenge Donald Trump.

Instead, we have a bunch of Republicans who have all appearances of presidential candidates without bothering to declare themselves as such. Former Vice President Mike Pence was wandering around Cedar Rapids trying to round up votes by attacking trans students. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), on the stereotypical “listening tour,” promised a “new American sunrise,” which in many ways sounded a lot like Trump’s American carnage speech, complete with promises to end liberals “persecuting Christians.” Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison (R) has also been making the rounds with state party members. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spent a fair amount of time in Iowa last year plugging his book and scoping out the landscape.

There is another declared candidate, of course. Trump announced last November that he was running again. But he hasn’t been to Iowa, much to the combined annoyance and relief of Republicans in the state, who are both irritated at the lack of his attention and glad that he isn’t sucking up all the attention.

Yet even without being in Iowa, Trump still is dominating it – and the entire campaign. It’s clear that everyone is still holding back out of fear of Trump’s wrath. Haley somehow got a pass from Trump, but no one else seems to believe that they would be so lucky. Even with Trump’s diminishing poll numbers, other would-be candidates seem to be tiptoeing around a decision out of fear about what might the former president might do to them if they do announce.

The other unknown factor is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), the potential challenger who clearly angers Trump the most. So far, DeSantis has steered clear of Iowa, preferring instead to poke Trump by having events in Trump’s strongholds – Palm Beach and Staten Island.

The fact remains that a crowded field remains Trump’s best chance. Trump will always have a core of supporters who will stand by him no matter what. He can emerge victorious if the other candidates split the votes among themselves.

At some point, though, candidates have got to declare themselves. Pence can’t keep pretending he just happened to be in the neighborhood of a school suing the federal government to overturn policy to protect trans students, and Scott can listen to Christians complaining about persecution closer to home in South Carolina. The low-energy Republican primary has to give way to the real thing.

Unfortunately, that’s likely to be a display of feral viciousness as candidates trip over themselves to prove they can be even worse than Trump.

Meantime, there’s no winning with Trump, unless Trump wins. As a reminder, Trump finished second in the caucuses in 2016, but he leveled charges of fraud against the winner, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). If you think the GOP is a mess now, wait until there’s an intraparty battle over election fraud after the party itself lined up behind that narrative in 2020.

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