The Memo: Trump threatens to overshadow Democrats in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa — President TrumpDonald John TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE is casting a huge shadow over the Democratic caucuses in Iowa.

He may not be able to fully eclipse one of the biggest moments on the opposition party’s calendar, but he is at least consuming much of the oxygen around it.

The breadth of Trump’s efforts is startling, even by the standards of a president who is notoriously loath to cede the spotlight.

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A Trump interview, conducted by Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityFox News prime-time lineup delivers highest ratings in 24-year history O'Reilly weighs in on Warren-Bloomberg exchange on nondisclosure agreements The Hill's review of John Solomon's columns on Ukraine MORE of Fox News, aired in the hours before the Super Bowl on Sunday. 

The president, whose instinct for making news often outstrips his veracity, claimed without evidence that former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE wanted to be able to stand on a box to make himself look taller at forthcoming Democratic debates.

Trump also held a large rally in Des Moines on Thursday night, just four days before the caucuses.

The president drew 7,000 people to a Drake University sports arena, where he spoke for almost 90 minutes. It was more than double the size of the crowd that went to see Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (I-Vt.) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Saturday night — an event the Sanders campaign claimed was the largest held by any Democrat in the Hawkeye State during this cycle.

The Trump campaign is also deploying high-profile surrogates across Iowa on Monday.

Controversially, the effort includes several Cabinet members such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosFree college won't revive the liberal arts Klobuchar rolls out seven-figure ad buy in Nevada Five things to watch in Trump's budget proposal MORE, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonDemocrats: It's Trump's world, and we're just living in it Melania Trump receives university's 'Woman of Distinction' award amid pushback from students California Gov. Gavin Newsom on the homeless: 'We own this issue' MORE, Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis Ross2020 census to run ads on 'Premio lo Nuestro' Can the US slap tariffs on auto imports? Not anymore On The Money: Slowing economy complicates 2020 message for Trump | Tech confronts growing impact of coronavirus | Manufacturing rises after five-month contraction MORE, and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

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Key congressional Trump supporters including Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTwitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates Trump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Booker, Merkley propose federal facial recognition moratorium MORE (R-Ohio) and Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsHouse Freedom Caucus chairman endorses Collins's Georgia Senate bid Lawmakers grill Census Bureau officials after report on cybersecurity issues Conservative lawmakers warn Pelosi about 'rate-setting' surprise billing fix MORE (R-N.C.) will also be present, as will two of Trump’s adult children, Don Jr. and Eric, and his campaign manager, Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE.

The ostensible purpose is to ensure a strong showing in the Republican caucuses. But no one really takes this pretext at face value, given that Trump faces no serious opposition in those contests. The effort seems much more designed to avoid letting Democrats command public attention without rebuttal.

Beyond the efforts that Trump and his campaign are proactively making, he is affecting the caucuses in other ways too.

The timing of his trial in the Senate has had a big impact on the campaigning schedules of four candidates.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (D-Mass.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE (D-Minn.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand Bennet Biden proposes 0B housing plan Nevada caucuses open with a few hiccups Overnight Energy: EPA moves to limit financial pressure on 'forever chemical' manufacturers | California sues Trump over water order| Buttigieg expands on climate plan MORE (D-Colo.) have all had their efforts curtailed by the need to be present in the Senate.

All four are trying to make up for lost time — though admittedly this seems to have had little adverse effect on Sanders, who is the late favorite to win the caucuses.

Other candidates are grappling with the competing claims on their time and attention, however.

Warren, for example, was too late to make an event she had been scheduled to attend with Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyProgressive Democrat confronts Rep. Cuellar at parade, calls for him to debate her: report There's no such thing as a free bus Don't let 'welfare for all' advocates derail administration's food stamp program reforms MORE (D-Mass.) in downtown Des Moines on Friday evening. The Massachusetts senator did eventually arrive, direct from Washington, and briefly addressed waiting supporters in a packed bar across the street from the original venue.

The impeachment proceedings could resonate in other ways, too. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE has repeatedly claimed that he will be able to work with Republicans if elected. At a Friday event at a Quality Inn in the eastern Iowa town of Fort Madison, Biden complained about rivals who condemned him as “naive” for this view.

But the Biden case of comity and cooperation could be harder to make after Republican senators marched in lockstep with Trump over impeachment, not just in terms of their likely vote at the end of the process but in their refusal to countenance calling witnesses.

Then there is the biggest question of all facing Democrats at the caucuses: Who is best to beat Trump?

Left-leaning supporters of Sanders and Warren and the more centrist backers of Biden, Klobuchar and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE are united in their loathing of the president and their desire to beat him.

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Eighty-one-year-old Jeraine Hofer, a Biden supporter, described Trump as “one of the worst presidents of my lifetime.” Beating him was imperative, Hofer added, because “we have a chance of losing our democracy right here.”

The question, of course, is how best to win.

Warren, speaking in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, cast Trump as a symptom of larger ills in American society — and presented herself as the candidate to take on those deeper issues.

“A country that elects a man like Donald Trump has serious problems,” Warren told the crowd.

Biden supporters, by contrast, typically depict Trump as a one-man historical aberration and their preferred candidate as the person to restore normalcy.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE (D), who is backing Biden, told The Hill on Friday, “People say, ‘Well, he needs more energy.’ No, actually he needs to provide a contrast to President Trump. President Trump has plenty of energy but people are saying, ‘Too much, too much.’ We want someone who is a statesman, who is calming.”

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But one thing is for sure. For now, Trump is not going anywhere. And he is already framing the election on his terms, in Iowa and across the nation.

“This election is a choice between American freedom and democratic socialism,” he told his crowd in Des Moines on Thursday.

Voters need to stick with him, he told them, rather than migrating to “the radical socialist Democrats just down the street.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.