The Memo: Trump threatens to overshadow Democrats in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa — President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement 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.


A Trump interview, conducted by Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityMeadows says Trump World looking to 'move forward in a real way' Psaki says Biden admin 'needs' Fox News in order to fight vaccine misinformation Ronny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign 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 BloombergWHO leader issues warning on 'harmful' e-cigarettes Six months in, two challenges could define Biden's presidency Why Democrats' .5 trillion reconciliation bill is a losing game 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 SandersBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Angst grips America's most liberal city Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire 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 DeVosBetsy DeVosBiden Education Department hires vocal proponent of canceling student debt Erik Prince involved in push for experimental COVID-19 vaccine: report Biden administration reverses Trump-era policy that hampered probes of student loan companies MORE, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBen CarsonSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Government indoctrination, whether 'critical' or 'patriotic,' is wrong Noem takes pledge to restore 'patriotic education' in schools MORE, Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossChina sanctions Wilbur Ross, others after US warns of doing business in Hong Kong DOJ won't prosecute Wilbur Ross after watchdog found he gave false testimony Commerce Department unit gathered intel on employees, census critics: report MORE, and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.


Key congressional Trump supporters including Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanJordan acknowledges talking to Trump on Jan. 6 AP Fact Check rates GOP claim Pelosi blocked National Guard on Jan. 6 'false' Officers' powerful Capitol riot testimony underscores Pelosi's partisan blunder MORE (R-Ohio) and Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsMeadows says Trump World looking to 'move forward in a real way' Trump takes two punches from GOP Watchdog urges Justice to probe Trump, Meadows for attempting to 'weaponize' DOJ 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 ParscaleBrad ParscaleAides tried to get Trump to stop attacking McCain in hopes of clinching Arizona: report MORE.

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 WarrenCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election Pelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election MORE (D-Mass.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation | Amazon fined 6M by EU regulators Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol MORE (D-Minn.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetLawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals How Sen. Graham can help fix the labor shortage with commonsense immigration reform For true American prosperity, make the child tax credit permanent 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 PressleyProgressives camp outside Capitol to protest evictions Pelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans On The Money: Schumer, Warren call on Biden to extend student loan pause | IMF estimates 6 percent global growth this year 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 BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session 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 ButtigiegPete ButtigiegSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Chasten Buttigieg: DC 'almost unaffordable' JD Vance takes aim at culture wars, childless politicians MORE are united in their loathing of the president and their desire to beat him.


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 VilsackTom 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.”


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.