The Memo: Trump threatens to overshadow Democrats in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa — President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district 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 HannityQAnon supporter in Georgia heads into tight GOP runoff Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans 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 BloombergEverytown on the NRA lawsuit: 'Come November, we're going to make sure they're out of power, too' Hillicon Valley: Trump raises idea of delaying election, faces swift bipartisan pushback | Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google release earnings reports | Senators ask Justice Department to investigate TikTok, Zoom Meme group joins with Lincoln Project in new campaign against Trump 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 wins Connecticut in final presidential primary of year Vermont Rep. Peter Welch easily wins primary Three pros and three cons to Biden picking Harris 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 DeVosStudents at school system Pence called 'forefront' of reopening now in quarantine The Hill's Coronavirus Report: GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani says DC policymakers need to do more to support ventures and 'solo-preneurs'; Federal unemployment benefits expire as coronavirus deal-making deadlocks Democrats look to go on offense in debate over reopening schools MORE, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonTrump administration ends Obama fair housing rule Castro urges Dems to seize moment on social reform Overnight Health Care: Fauci says 'bizarre' efforts to discredit him only hurt the White House | Alabama to require face masks | House panel probes 'problematic' government contracts MORE, Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossBipartisan senators ask congressional leadership to extend census deadline NOAA hurricane forecast predicts record number of storms in 2020 33K laptops meant for Alabama distance learning are stuck in customs, could be held until October MORE, and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.


Key congressional Trump supporters including Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanWorld's most trafficked mammal gives Trump new way to hit China on COVID-19 The 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence Tucker Carlson calls Fauci a 'fraud' after tense hearing MORE (R-Ohio) and Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsOn The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high McConnell: Time to restart coronavirus talks Lawmakers of color urge Democratic leadership to protect underserved communities in coronavirus talks 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 WarrenKamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along On The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high Hillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick MORE (D-Mass.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharCalifornia Dems back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package MORE (D-Minn.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetKamala Harris makes history — as a Westerner Expanding our health force can save lives and create jobs simultaneously How Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 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 PressleyIt's past time to be rid of the legacy of Jesse Helms Minneapolis Star Tribune endorses Ilhan Omar's primary challenger Tlaib wins Michigan Democratic primary 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 BidenNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states Biden touts Trump saying Harris would be 'fine choice' for VP pick Kamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along 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 ButtigiegCalifornia Dems back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup Obamas, Clintons to headline Biden's nominating convention CNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' 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 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.”


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.