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How Donald Trump brought unpredictability to Iowa

February 1, 2016 at 6:35 PM EDT
From on the ground in Iowa, Judy Woodruff talks to Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and NPR’s Tamara Keith about that state’s broad support for Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz’s ground game and strategy with religious voters, Hillary Clinton’s messaging about her track record and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ record-breaking number of campaign donations.

GWEN IFILL:  Now to Politics Monday.  And what a big Monday it is.

And back to Judy in Iowa.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Earlier today, I spoke with someone who knows Iowa politics as well as anybody.  He is Republican Chuck Grassley, who has served as this state’s senior U.S. senator for the last 35 years.

I asked him what he makes of Donald Trump’s appeal in his home state.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), Iowa:  It’s a wakeup call to everybody in the Republican — who could be our nominee, and you have kind of got to not worry so much about his political philosophy, right or left.  You have got to see him as a messenger and the frustration that the American people have, and whoever is our candidate has to respond to that frustration.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  You’re completely comfortable if Ted Cruz were to pull off a win here?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY:  I think the best way to answer your question is that I don’t want a third term of an Obama presidency.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  With that lead-in, I’m joined here in Iowa by Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

Here we are.  We’re on the ground.  The day has come.

But, Amy, it is really interesting to see how a senior Republican in the state of Iowa, Chuck Grassley, is reacting to this extraordinary field of candidates for president this year.

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:  That is exactly right.  There are a couple of things going on.  First, Chuck Grassley is up for reelection this year.  He doesn’t have competition yet.

But so many Republicans who dismissed the idea early on~ of the Tea Party or who said that these aren’t people who turn out and vote, they were swamped in previous elections.  So he’s learned his lesson, to say you can’t dismiss what is potentially another bubbling movement.

And I hear that a lot too from folks maybe who don’t want to see Donald Trump win, but they say we can’t alienate his supporters.  Even if we quietly cheer for somebody else, we have got to make sure to keep those people engaged.  They need the turnout in November for whoever the Republican candidate is.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Trump has just raised the unpredictability factor enormously, hasn’t he, Tamara?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR:  Yes, I am pretty sure that we have predicted many things that have been wrong over the last six months.

Trump just never ceases to surprise.  One thing that is really interesting in the numbers that we have seen in recent polling is that his support is very broad-based.


TAMARA KEITH:  It isn’t just people who are looking for an outsider.  He gets some evangelicals, some of them.  He gets establishment Republicans.  He get conservative Republicans.  He probably some independents and Democrats, too.  He is just — it’s unpredictable.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The Ted Cruz presence here, though, Amy, is another interesting piece of this, because he started out — you know, we all know he’s the Republican who the other Republicans don’t necessarily like that much.

AMY WALTER:  Correct.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But he has really worked this state.  And he’s going into this — these caucuses with what appears to be a really strong organization.

AMY WALTER:  He’s running the playbook that has worked traditionally for Republicans, which is hit every single county, and, as he said, come here, work the ground very hard.  He has ground troops here.

He even has a dormitory to host all of his volunteers, so they can stay here and basically work around the clock.  And he thought by sewing up the evangelical lane, the Christian conservative, social conservative lane, which makes up anywhere from 55 percent to 60 percent of the vote, that would get him the victory.

The problem, as Tamara pointed out and as you have too, is that that evangelical vote is much more diffused, that they’re supporting, many of them, Donald Trump, who in no way, shape or form fits the traditional evangelical model.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But for Ted Cruz, Tamara, it’s — he has to know that Donald Trump is still the big story coming out of this state.

TAMARA KEITH:  Absolutely.

One way or another, the headlines are going to be about Donald Trump.  Either Donald Trump wins or Donald Trump loses.  But the other thing is that Ted Cruz really, with this ground operation, he raised the expectations for himself here in Iowa, especially because a previous poll showed him up pretty significantly.

And Iowa in some way is really about expectations.  And so, if Ted Cruz comes out of this and it’s — and the headline is Donald Trump wins, Ted Cruz doesn’t live up to expectations, or Marco Rubio exceeds expectations, there is an expectations game here.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  What about the Democrats?  Let’s talk about Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders.

Amy, it seems to me that she has honed in on her message in the last few weeks in a way that we didn’t see early in this campaign.

AMY WALTER:  Yes, and you have seen it, too, with her messaging on the campaign trail and somewhat, too, in her advertising, really focusing in on, I have been consistently there for you, I’m a progressive that can get things done, as opposed to a progressive who has big grand ideas that are unlikely to get passed, and so trying to keep drilling into that as much as she can, while not abandoning the fact that she sees herself as liberal as her opponent.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Tamara, you and I were at a Hillary Clinton event last night.


JUDY WOODRUFF:  And it seems to me that Bernie Sanders has had a clear — has left a clear impression on — not only on her campaign and the way she’s running it, but on that message.  I mean, she’s moved to the left, not as far left.  She’s distinguishing herself from him, but it’s had a huge effect on what she’s saying.

TAMARA KEITH:  Absolutely.

She is definitely and, from early on, really emphasized the progressive part of her message, and that has continued.  One thing that I think is really interesting, that I have been watching her give her stump speech, well, for months, but, in particular, in the last 10 days or so, her stump speech really hasn’t changed.

She has locked in the message, that contrast with Sanders.  There is no frantic changing of message as the caucuses approach.  There is a certain confidence in the way she’s moving forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  In these final days.

TAMARA KEITH:  In these final days.  She’s just locked in.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Where do you — what do you see, Amy, in the Sanders camp?  Because, for him, at one point, he wasn’t give a chance in this state.


JUDY WOODRUFF:  Now he’s very close.

AMY WALTER:  Now he’s very close.

And what he’s doing right now, you can see Bernie Sanders and his campaign trying to temper expectations:  We don’t necessarily have to win here to keep going here.

He has raised a tremendous amount of money.  What is it, $20 million, just in this month.

TAMARA KEITH:  Twenty million dollars, yes.

AMY WALTER:  So, he has the money to keep going.

They’re advertising already in the states that come next, South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, and that, if Hillary Clinton wants to play the long game, we’re more than happy to do that, too.  We’re not going away just because we might not get what we want in Iowa.  And we will hold it close.

The other thing we always forget, whoever wins this only gets a handful of delegates.  This is a teeny, tiny fraction.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Right.  We keep forgetting to talk about that.

AMY WALTER:  We always forget about that.  And the delegate game is one that is going to take a long time to flesh out.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  You know, Tamara, when I heard him say yesterday that he has now received 3.2 million different contributions from Americans, more than any campaign in history, I mean, that really says something, doesn’t it?

TAMARA KEITH:  And the average donation is $27.

These people are passionate and they are not tapped out.  They haven’t reached — they’re not even close to the maximum that they can give.  And they can just send out fund-raising e-mail after fund-raising e-mail and — or texts — and people will just send more money in.

So, he — his campaign really believes that they have the money to push this forward and continue into many, many, many states past Super Tuesday.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Just a few seconds left.

What are you going to remember this campaign for?



JUDY WOODRUFF:  Amy, I know what you’re going to say.



AMY WALTER:  … very different.

We always talk about, it’s all about the turnout, but never has it been more important.  Tonight is the night we’re going to find out if the Trump phenomenon is real, if he can turn those new people out.  And we have just a few more hours before we get that answer.  Can’t wait.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Can we wait?



TAMARA KEITH:  Well, in terms of things I will remember, I guess it is the — chasing Hillary Clinton, trying to figure out where she was going to be on that very first day in Iowa.  And, you know, the Scooby van that she drove across country shows up at a little coffee shop in Le Claire, and, you know, we’re off to the races.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  We will get that picture and look at it.


AMY WALTER:  Feels like a long time ago.


JUDY WOODRUFF:  Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you both.  We will see a lot of you tonight.

TAMARA KEITH:  Absolutely.