WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump sent a Dante-esque message to elected Republicans when he challenged Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds criticized: There is a special place in hell for those who remain neutral in times of crisis.
According to political insiders, that’s not hell; it’s Iowa.
“I understand that President Trump wants loyalty, and I respect that,” said Cris Christenson, a former treasurer of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition who has donated money to both Trump and Reynolds in previous elections. “But I think it’s up to the Iowa voters to decide.”
The neutrality of many Republican elected officials in Iowa — and across the country — has angered Trump at a time when he is the clear front-runner for a third consecutive GOP presidential nod. That’s because it’s one of the few clear counterpoints to the story that he’s on track to clinch the nomination.
Trump has a wide lead in national polls over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, his main challenger, often catching more than half of GOP voters in polls. Polls in Iowa have been sparse, but Trump has even led in surveys conducted by DeSantis allies.
Still, Trump hung a lantern on his own problem by attacking Reynolds, the popular second-term governor, for not returning his political support for her and showing up at DeSantis events.
The widening gap could further open an avenue of opportunity for DeSantis in a state where his performance in the Jan. 15 caucus is critical to his viability.
“I opened the position of governor for Kim Reynolds, and when she fell behind, I SUPPORTED her, I did big rallies, and she won,” Trump wrote on the Truth Social media platform Monday, two days after The New York Times reported that he had become frustrated with what he saw as Reynolds’ embrace of DeSantis. “Now she wants to stay ‘NEUTRAL’.” I don’t even invite her to events!”
Last month, Trump said more explicitly that Reynolds — the state’s first female governor, who won 95 of Iowa’s 99 counties last year — owes her position to him.
“I hate to say it, without me, you know, she wouldn’t win, you know that, right?” he said at a rally in the state.
Will Rogers, a former Republican Party chairman in Polk County, home to the state capital of Des Moines, said the endorsements DeSantis has collected from state lawmakers show that Trump has not been able to do as much possible from the market. institutional support in Iowa as he would have liked.
“I think he’s struggling with that,” said Rogers, who has not endorsed a candidate and has praised Reynolds and the state’s representatives in Congress for staying out of the nomination battle so far.
“Government Reynolds and the rest of our delegation not approving candidates in the presidential process is good policy that really makes sense, not just for Iowa, not just for them, not just for the candidates, but for the country,” he said. Rogers.
Reynolds has appeared at events with a broad spectrum of candidates, including Trump, but she recently expanded her hospitality by joining DeSantis’ wife, Casey DeSantis, for the launch of a group called Mamas for DeSantis. During his book tour this year, DeSantis compared Reynolds’ success on the political and legislative battlefields in Iowa to his own success in Florida – with her on stage.
At the same time, Trump is hitting the annual summit of The Family Leader, an influential social-conservative organization in the state, according to a tweet sent Tuesday by Bob Vander Place, the group’s president and CEO. DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and other prominent hopefuls will be in attendance.
DeSantis and other candidates rushed to defend Reynolds on Monday.
While Reynolds’ openness to DeSantis Trump may not befit Trump, half a dozen prominent Iowa Republicans said the neutrality of top officials helps protect Iowa’s place as the first game in the nation by giving candidates confidence that they are playing themselves on a level playing field. present to voters. .
“I’m a great county president and I want everyone to come to my county, and [that] allows voters to shake hands and ask questions,” said Brett Barker, the mayor of Nevada City and the chairman of the Story County GOP, who does not endorse any candidate. “That’s what makes the caucus process great. I applaud Gov. Reynolds for remaining neutral.”
Barker portrayed Trump’s broadside as a distraction that won’t tarnish Reynolds’ standing with fellow Iowa Republicans.
“I think there’s fatigue about some of the side issues that aren’t the big issues we should be focusing on,” Barker said. “What is the benefit of attacking a strong governor, and who benefits? I think people are just perplexed.”
Most Iowa GOP insiders say Trump’s outburst is unlikely to affect the caucus.
Steve Scheffler, an RNC committee member from Iowa and the chairman of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, said the Metabolism would likely blow over without much impact on the caucus or Reynolds’ position. Neutrality makes sense for Iowa leaders at this stage of the primary, said Scheffler, who is not aligned with any candidate.
“I think,” he said of Trump’s post, “we would all rather have these conversations internally.”
Alan Ostergren, an attorney involved in Republican politics in the state, said Trump may have harmed himself by going after a governor who has an excellent reputation among conservatives.
“I think this issue could potentially have lasting consequences,” said Ostergren, who said he has not endorsed a candidate. “There are polls that show Trump in the lead
, but we haven’t had any really quality polls yet with large sample sizes.”
And he added, “I don’t think Donald Trump’s support is nearly as strong as people say.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com