What If? Trump Could Redefine How To Win Iowa The Republican front-runner is shirking retail politics for big rallies. And he is banking on those crowds showing up on caucus night.
NPR logo

What If? Trump Could Redefine How To Win Iowa

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/463191224/463224236" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
What If? Trump Could Redefine How To Win Iowa

What If? Trump Could Redefine How To Win Iowa

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/463191224/463224236" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MARY BELTMAN: OK. I'm going to go ahead and call the meeting to order. And feel free to go out there and check to see if they've added to the buffet and stuff.

ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: On Monday night, the Osceola County Republican Committee, led by Chair Mary Beltman, met at the Pizza Ranch in Sibley, the county seat. Western Iowa is the more socially conservative, more Republican part of this first in the nation caucus state. Republicans here and all across Iowa are preparing to caucus on February 1, and they're wondering if this year is really going to be different because of Donald Trump.

KOLBY DEWITT: We'll make it as quick and painless as possible.

SIEGEL: That's Kolby DeWitt from the state Republican Party. After the usual buffet supper of pizza and fried chicken, DeWitt was giving instructions for the upcoming caucuses.

DEWITT: So I went around and passed around precinct caucus manuals. So feel free to refer to that. Now, this book is yours to keep.

SIEGEL: Unlike a primary, the Iowa caucuses are run by the parties, not the state. Your local caucus site is not your local polling place, and caucusing entails a greater commitment than voting in a primary.

DEWITT: We have a lot of people that are going to be caucusing for the first time, whether they've been a Democrat in the past, an independent or never even registered to vote, just make sure to let the people know that it's not like a primary or a general. You show up at 7 o'clock, you're going to be prepared to be there for a couple hours and there's a lot of other things than just the presidential vote.

SIEGEL: Four years ago, 120,000 Iowa Republicans caucused. How many first-time caucus-goers are expected this year?

DEWITT: Some are saying 15 percent higher, some are saying 30 percent higher, but we're estimating somewhere between 20 percent and 25 percent higher turnout than in 2012.

SIEGEL: The question is what's going to draw so many people to the Republican caucuses? Traditionally, the way candidates win over Iowans is one small group at a time. This was the scene the other day at the Midwest Deli in another Western Iowa county seat, Holstein.

CARLY FIORINA: You know, I know that you Iowans, I have come to learn, take your caucus responsibilities very seriously.

SIEGEL: Some 50 adults and a small class of kindergarteners were packed into the deli to hear Carly Fiorina urge them to take their country back.

FIORINA: So maybe some of you have already made up your mind to support me or someone else, or maybe most of you are still thinking about who you're going to finally caucus for, but I will tell you this - in your heart of hearts, every single one of you cannot wait to see me debate Hillary Clinton.

SIEGEL: Carly Fiorina, who polls in single digits in Iowa, says she can beat Clinton. And without naming them in this comment, she says that Iowa frontrunners Ted Cruz and Donald Trump cannot.

FIORINA: We're not going to beat her with someone who divides this party. We're not going to beat her with somebody who routinely insults women and everyone else.

SIEGEL: After speaking for about a half an hour, she took questions for another half hour, including one from one of the kindergartners.

PAULA: My name is Paula. Can I be president, too?


FIORINA: She wants to be president. Absolutely, you can. Absolutely, you can.

SIEGEL: This is retail, face-to-face politics. Holstein, Iowa is home to fewer than 2,000 people.

MARK LEONARD: Just simply, you know, this is a great little town. We all know each other.

SIEGEL: Mark Leonard, who works in the cattle business and banking, is active in Republican politics.

LEONARD: We probably know the party registration of everybody here. A little town like this, nobody uses turn signals because everybody knows where you're going anyway.

SIEGEL: I asked about the arithmetic of this kind of campaigning - a half a day to reach 50 people and not too many days left.

LEONARD: Do remember too, though, the population that will caucus is a relatively small group of people, and those people do go to these events.

SIEGEL: And Gretchen Cooney, who's a bereavement counselor, says people like her, who show up at events like Fiorina's, tell their friends.

GRETCHEN COONEY: As we get word out of who she is and what she stands for, she may see 50 people here, but if each of us talk to so many - I mean, it's just - it just grows and grows.

SIEGEL: Ever since Democrat Jimmy Carter put the Iowa caucuses on the map 40 years ago by playing this kind of political small ball and winning, this has been the Iowa way. It's the way Ted Cruz is campaigning.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I did modify the precinct page...

SIEGEL: In socially conservative Sioux City, the Woodbury County GOP Committee was meeting Wednesday night to plan for their caucuses. Committee members don't endorse candidates, but some, like Suzan Stewart, say they like the Cruz approach.

SUZAN STEWART: Cruz just completed, like, a 16-city tour of Northwest Iowa. He's the only one that's done anything like that this time.

SIEGEL: He found 16 cities in northwest Iowa?

STEWART: Well, cities are relative.


STEWART: We think something with 10,000 is a pretty good-sized town.

SIEGEL: So why are Iowa Republicans expecting 20 percent to 25 percent higher turnout on February 1 than they had last time? Well, the polite explanation favored by establishment Republicans here is that it's because there's so much excitement, so many good candidates and so much anger at Washington. The less polite explanation...


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the next president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.


SIEGEL: This was Trump's rally this week in eastern Iowa, in Cedar Falls. It was in a college gym that was filled to capacity, and the police told me capacity is a thousand. The message here, even before Trump got to the stage, was, don't just rally - caucus. First, from Tana Goertz, his Iowa co-chair who met Trump when he fired her on the TV show, "The Apprentice."

TANA GOERTZ: If you can fill your car with a carload of people, we would be grateful. For those of you that have minivans, we're going to love you even more if you pack your minivan full with people that are going to go caucus for Donald Trump.

SIEGEL: Then this exhortation from Iowa State Senator Brad Zaun.

BRAD ZAUN: But what's most important is these rallies. And everybody that's out there, it's useless if you don't go to the Iowa caucuses and caucus for Mr. Trump.

SIEGEL: And then Donald Trump himself.

DONALD TRUMP: I just met some fantastic-looking people.

SIEGEL: There are so many students here, including high school seniors, and so many untraditional Republican supporters, skeptics doubt they'll show up promptly before 7 p.m. on February 1.

TRUMP: Lot of people are going to come out. You know, the theory is that they'll wait for five hours in a line - hello, darling, look at you. They'll wait for five hours in a line in the cold weather, but they won't caucus, OK? I think they're going to caucus, but let's see what happens.

SIEGEL: Unlike Carly Fiorina in the Midwest Deli, Trump takes no questions. His policy statements are often one-liners.

TRUMP: That Iran deal is the dumbest deal I think I've ever seen. I don't think I've ever seen anything like...


SIEGEL: People get tickets to Trump events online so the campaign gathers contact information that way. And the Trump campaign has picked up some experience Iowa campaign hands to work on getting out the vote. If this mass movement approach works - inspire the crowd, get them to caucus like it's a tailgate party - then a big turnout on February 1 would spell a very strong Trump showing. Traditional Republicans here may prize the process of caucus campaigning. Trump, who devotes a serious chunk of his speech to citing poll results that he says show he's well ahead everywhere else, Trump is all about winning.

TRUMP: But if we win Iowa, I think we run the table. I really do.

SIEGEL: In Sioux City, Iowa, this is Robert Siegel.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.