DES MOINES — Iowa Republicans, who for months were pulled 17 different ways by a plethora of presidential candidates sparring in a grueling nominating campaign, slowly are returning to base camp to back Donald Trump.
“We think that we’re moving forward as a united front. We have more people joining all the time,” said Ed Brookover, a senior adviser on Trump’s national team specializing in delegate selection. He attended Saturday’s Iowa GOP state convention at the state fairgrounds. “There’s a healing process for everybody.”
Brookover acknowledged there are Republicans with misgivings about the presumptive and unconventional presidential nominee, but he said Trump tried to allay some of those concerns last week by releasing a list of nominees he would consider to fill U.S. Supreme Court openings. Trump also landed the backing of the National Rifle Association with his vow to protect Second Amendment rights.
Trump also has staked out positions calling for smaller government and individual responsibility that are “the basic tenets our party has been founded on,” Brookover noted.
“In the primary process, we focus on our disagreements. Now we’re getting to the place where we focus on our agreements,” he added. “I think that as (Trump) continues to push out his policy proposals, there will be more and more folks who say, “Oh yeah, I get it now. I understand why my fellow Republicans have been for him and I’ll join the team.’ ”
Most of the 1,555 delegates at Saturday’s GOP event had been supporters of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, including Iowa Congressman Steve King of Kiron. King, ironically, helped Trump get his start in Iowa but backed his chief rival en route to a Feb. 1 win in Iowa’s leadoff caucuses.
When Cruz recently suspended his 2016 bid, King said he probably considered Trump a two scale of one to 10. “Now I’m probably a four or five today. The pace of this recovery is faster than I thought, so I think one could have an expectation that we’ll get there by Cleveland. But a lot of this is going to depend on Trump.”
Cleveland is the site of the 2016 Republican National Convention, once thought to be a place where an open free-for-all over the party’s presidential nomination would play out. But Cleveland now is viewed as a potential launching pad if Trump, established party leaders and influential conservatives can forge a unified front.
“I am working with the Trump campaign to put together as many pieces of our values and belief system as we can,” King said Saturday, “and if we can get people around Donald Trump that reflect our values, that we can work with, I want to get to a place where in Cleveland I can stand up and say: ‘I’m confident that he will work with you and he’ll work with Congress and that we can put our government back on the rails again.’ ”
King estimated that 5 million to 8 million constitutional conservatives “stayed home” on Election Day in November 2012 because GOP nominee Mitt Romney did not do enough to attract that vital voting bloc. He said that number could grow this November with a Trump-Hillary Clinton matchup, King noted. “So he absolutely needs to reach out,” he said. “We can’t do that for him, but we can work with him and send him that message.”
Trump’s unconventional campaign style has caused consternation among GOP traditionalists who worry his inflammatory and sometimes contradictory statements are alienating women and ethnic voters. But his style also is attracting new followers fed up with political dysfunction in Washington, D.C.
Tana Goertz, a senior Trump adviser in Iowa, said she senses Republicans are getting on board the Trump train because they don’t want to hand the keys to the White House to likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“It’s going well. It’s going fantastic,” said Goertz, who was stationed at an often-visited Trump table at Saturday’s state convention. “We’ve had numerous people who’ve already come on board, reach out to us, offering their support, their help, their guidance. We’ve got five pages filled with volunteers that want to get aboard.”
State GOP chairman Jeff Kaufmann said he senses the party faithful are beginning to rally around the Trump, and he expects Trump will be back in Iowa this fall as the GOP presidential candidate.
“I have no doubt whatsoever that Donald Trump has a favorable opinion of Iowa. I have no doubt whatsoever that he is going to aggressively campaign here and I have no doubt that the vast majority of these people that are filling these seats behind me are going to be voting for Donald Trump and Chuck Grassley and Rod Blum, and the list goes on and on and on,” Kaufmann said.
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Brookover said it’s premature to talk about Trump’s general-election campaign strategy, but he said Iowa probably will be “in play” as a swing state which could bring Trump back to a state he visited extensively before last February’s precinct caucuses.