Iowa Ground Game: The Inside Story of How Conservatives Have Crushed the Establishment in 2016

Ted Cruz in Iowa AP Nati Harnik
AP/Nati Harnik

PELLA, IOWA – With 2o days to go until the first Republican caucus, Sen. Ted Cruz is taking a commanding lead in the Iowa ground game.

But Cruz’s main opponent, Donald Trump, has a lot of support in Iowa. He needs to step up his ground game in order to turn out new voters on caucus day. The guy leading the field in new voter registration on colleges is Rand Paul, and his campaign expects to “win, place or show.”

The GOP establishment, meanwhile, is running scared. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are organizing sparsely attended campaign stops and running constant TV commercials, which just annoy people in between rounds of election coverage on the news.

Politicians are saying one thing behind closed doors and another thing on cable news. Political consultants are busy trying to screw over their own candidates to score petty political points. And clueless mainstream reporters are covering the damn thing like they’re “Richie Rich” having to show up to public school for the first time.

Turn off your television. Tune out the noise. The story of the 2016 Iowa caucus is an epic. Here’s what’s really going on:

Ted Cruz’s operation on the ground is breathtaking

People in Washington pretty much think that Ted Cruz started running for president the day he was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2012. They’re pretty much right. But here’s something else to consider: It worked.

Cruz’s national political director, Mark Campbell, told Breitbart News about the massive volunteer operation they’ve set up in the Hawkeye State.

Campbell said that their voter outreach program is “built on the neighbor to neighbor idea. We want neighbors, family members and co-workers forming friendships and reaching out to people in their own lives.”

“There’s 1,500 precincts in Iowa and we’ve already recruited over 1,000 precinct chairs, an over 240-person leadership team, and 2,300 coalition members,” Campbell said. “We just cracked 100 state leaders and pastors. We’re past 5,000 volunteers. The other thing that we’ve done, is we got 700 volunteers to come in from around the country. Between them and our Iowa volunteer team, we’re able to make thousands of calls.”

While Jeb Bush tries to get by with ten paid staffers, Cruz has an entire building full of volunteers. Literally. The campaign rented 24 apartments in Des Moines to house all of his out-of-state workers. The setup is called “Camp Cruz.” And unlike in most dormitories, there are no “Safe Spaces.”

“It’s very very clear there’s no other campaign making these kinds of investments and time for the ground game,” Campbell said.

Cruz kicked off the New Year in Iowa with a 36-county bus tour. If he passes any of the other candidates’ buses on Interstate 80 – maybe a Bush vehicle on the side of the road with a flat? – Cruz will have the biggest smile on his face.

Donald Trump needs to make a big last-minute push to register new voters

It’s hard to throw a rock in Iowa without hitting somebody who thinks Donald Trump is the greatest thing to happen to American culture since college football cheerleaders. He’s sticking it to the politically correct coastal wingnuts. He’s funding his own campaign, and he can’t be bought out. He’s trying to bring jobs back to a post-outsourcing Midwest with urban cities that look like a mashup of The Deer Hunter and Mad Max: Fury Road. And he’s making the media look like idiots. In other words, he’s the Man.

But if you follow up and ask people if they plan on voting for Trump in the February 1 caucus, a lot of them look at you sideways. Either they’re not registered as Republicans, or they’re not sure yet about who to vote for, or they’ll say they’re just enjoying the ride and watching for who Trump will attack next.

Here’s the deal: Trump is not going to win evangelical Christians, and he’s not going to beat Cruz among people who are already registered as Republicans. In order to win, he needs to bring independents to the polls on caucus day, especially the blue-collar Reagan Democrats and disaffected independents who have such a strong visceral reaction to his crusade against the political class.

Even though you technically have to be registered as a Republican to vote in the caucus, you can change your party registration at your caucus site on the day of the contest. So, there’s a chance he can do it. But he and his Iowa state director, Chuck Laudner, need to start focusing on voter registration NOW.

Consider these numbers from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office:

Only 2,603 new Republicans have registered in the state of Iowa in the last four months to vote in a caucus that saw 121,501 people vote in 2012. So in other words, as of right now, new voters will make up a little bit more than two percent of the caucus. And the Cruz camp is already claiming credit for all of them.

“The only increase in registration is coming from our neighbor to neighbor program,” Cruz political director Campbell told Breitbart News.

Trump is aware of the problem on a national level. His campaign already blasted the Virginia Republican Party for not allowing non-registered Republicans to vote in the state’s primary.

Marco Rubio Is Having A Tough Audition

Marco Rubio paced into the breakfast room at the Royal Amsterdam Hotel in Pella before eight o’clock AM on a Wednesday morning in late December, a cell phone attached to his ear. He scanned the breakfast bar but decided against it, instead striding into a back room with a few close campaign staffers, a Secret Service agent, and eventually his ally Rep. Trey Gowdy, who would soon join him on a three-stop campaign tour.

Away from earshot of the reporters eating breakfast – except for this reporter, picking up a laptop and other items in the back room – Rubio and Gowdy spoke freely about Donald Trump, needling the Republican frontrunner on his recent claim that not many Christian evangelicals come from Cuba.

“That’s par for the course for this guy,” Rubio said.

The topic soon turned to the “top story” of the day, a Wall Street Journal report that the National Security Agency spies on Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Rubio defended the practice.

“We spy on everyone,” Rubio told Gowdy. “That’s the nature of intelligence.”

“It’s more complicated than the [WSJ] story makes it seem.”

Such was the mood in the Rubio camp the day after Winter Storm Goliath tore through the state, leaving cars and trucks littered along the side of the highways. Everything seemed Complicated. Tense. Rehearsed.

“This is the first time I’ve been to Iowa,” Gowdy said, back at the breakfast bar the morning of a Breitbart News frontpage story by Julia Hahn that reported some of his radical past comments on immigration. “Everyone is so nice.”

Rubio was caffeinated in the hotel. But when he showed up to his first campaign stop at the Pella Golf and Country Club, he walked in carrying a plastic coffee cup in his hand. When his remarks were over, he turned to the waitstaff and asked sheepishly, “Is there any more coffee?” The mostly older white middle-aged crowd laughed.

Rubio on the stump goes through a strict ten-point stump speech. One of those points involves hitting Ted Cruz on the war.

At the Maytag Innovation Center in Newton, smack dab in the middle of the historic German Amana Colonies, Rubio drew gasps for tearing into Cruz more forcefully than usual, even without citing his rival by name. Rubio referenced Cruz’s statement that he would carpet-bomb ISIS until the sands of the Middle East glow in the dark.

“Talk is cheap. National security is not,” Rubio said.

“You can’t kill terrorists or carpet bomb them if you don’t have planes and you don’t have bombs,” Rubio continued. “Why are there Republicans supporting these defense cuts?”

Cruz never actually supported defense cuts, but rather voted for a Rand Paul budget plan in 2013 that would have upped military spending while reducing the “size and scope” of the military in certain areas. Rubio is hanging to that vote to pillory Cruz.

In Iowa, Rubio is relying on the efforts of his state chairman, State Sen. Jack Whitver, who is popular in the area around the Amana Colonies.

“I don’t know,” Rubio state chairman Jack Whitver told Breitbart News, annoyed, when asked if he could stop Cruz. “We’re going to do what we can do.”

The Gowdy endorsement has been a boon for Rubio.

“I only found out about it this morning,” said a local man who lives just blocks from the golf club where Rubio held his morning event. “I came to hear about Benghazi.”

The man supported Gowdy’s Benghazi Commission into Hillary Clinton’s conduct during the 2012 terrorist attack, even though it didn’t really accomplish much. So he decided to give Gowdy’s friend Marco a chance.

When Rubio finished, it was Gowdy who was swarmed in the club’s bar area by starstruck middle-aged guys. “You’re one of my heroes,” one of the men told Gowdy.

But only a slim minority of the crowd members actually committed to vote for Rubio. Out of about one hundred attendees, this reporter counted thirteen who signed caucus cards pledging their support for the candidate. The campaign guessed a little higher, with a staffer saying, “No, there’s probably twenty there.”

To the three staffers handing out the blank caucus cards after the speech, undecided voters offered a litany of excuses: “Not yet.” “No, thank you.” “Never.” “I’m from Wisconsin.”

A woman exiting Rubio’s third speech of the day in Boone told Breitbart News that she’s not committed yet.

“I enjoyed it very much,” she said. “I’m getting down there [to supporting Rubio]. I’d like to hear more from Ted Cruz. But this was helpful.”

Another woman passed by, telling a friend, “I liked the youthfulness though.”

Rand Paul Is Lurking On Campus

Kentucky senator Rand Paul is making a strong play on the ground. He’s using some chess-like moves to appeal to young and old alike.

“Seventeen to twenty-seven thousand votes is win, place or show” Paul’s top Iowa adviser Steve Grubbs told Breitbart News, coming off a rally attended by 150 Iowans. Grubbs is the former chairman of the Iowa Republican Party. He previously led Bob Dole and Steve Forbes to great success in the Iowa caucus. Now he’s working at the top of Rand PAC.

“We have 1,019 precinct campaigns in every corner of the state,” Grubbs said. “He’s peaking at just the right time. Four years ago, Rick Santorum was in last place 23 days out. He rose to win it. There’s been a lot of movement here in the last three weeks. If you want to be in the right place at the right time, you need to have the ground game ready to go.”

“For the first time since 2000, the caucus will occur while college is in session,” Grubbs said. “We have campus organizations at more than twenty University of Iowa colleges and universities.

“They’ll register at the caucus,” Grubbs said of his younger libertarian-minded voters. “It’s better to register the day of the caucus. If you register January 10 at your local county auditor, then they’ll pull the punch list on caucus day and your name won’t be there. Because they’re just using the most recent list they have from the state of Iowa, and that’s a government! How often do they refresh? Then if your name isn’t there, there’s a challenged ballot.”

People in Iowa can register with the Republican Party at the caucus on caucus day. Grubbs and other campaigns will have to watch closely to make sure that process moves efficiently.

Meanwhile, he’s hitting the airwaves with a pro-life radio ad running statewide. Paul, a Presbyterian, is right at home with evangelical voters.

“As a medical doctor he brings a lot of credibility to the issue,” Grubbs said. “And Rand is pro-life.”

Will Rand get his due on caucus night? If his thousand-plus precinct captains turn out more than ten thousand voters, and another ten thousand students show up to register anew?

“The liberal media wants to keep Rand down but his supporters are aware of how corrupt the media is and stopped listening to their biased reporting long ago,” said Texas-based Rand-affiliated operative Faith Braverman, who is setting her sights on Iowa now. Braverman was the one who slipped in some enthusiastic Rand supporters to provide a cheering section for Paul at the last CNN debate in Las Vegas. Their cheering went viral.

Cruz Is Bowing To The King

Rep. Steve King is to northwest Iowa what Berry Gordy was to Motown. In other words, he’s the King. And he’s endorsing Cruz.

The gregarious Republican congressman spoke to Breitbart News over the phone from his spot at the Rose Bowl, where he watched his Hawkeyes lose tragically 45-16 to Stanford.

“Sometime around the end of October, the first part of November, Cruz’s groundwork was really coming together,” King said. “Four or five days before that was when Rubio started to criticize Cruz on his immigration policy,” thus marking Cruz as the frontrunner.

“A high concentration of caucus conservatives are in northwest Iowa. Those were people hanging on the fence. But [the end of October] is when it flipped,” King said, noting his endorsement and the endorsements of some well-respected local pastors. “When those endorsements came in, he went from under 10 percent to over 30 percent.”

“He is a very popular member of Congress and we are THRILLED to have his support,” Campbell said of King.

The Ethanol Mafia is conspiring against Cruz in favor of Chris Christie

Iowa’s ethanol lobby is conspiring against Cruz, trying to swing the vote to the governor’s pal Chris Christie.

The group America’s Renewable Future, headed by Iowa Republican governor Terry Branstad’s son Eric, is hammering Cruz with negative ads. But people close to the situation say that the ethanol folks do not have the same pull that they once did in this state. The ethanol establishment is coalescing around Terry Branstad’s friend Chris Christie, who has no chance of winning the Iowa caucus anyway.

Rep. King told Breitbart News:

Well, I happen to be the subject of those attacks too you may have noticed. They dug in and took a position without regard to any other factors. I support the RFS and I do so strongly, but they didn’t ask me for advice. Now their ads attack me and I’m on their side! They accuse Cruz of wanting to hurt farmers so that he can line his own pockets with appreciative value in oil stock. Cruz happens to own some of that. That’s penny-ante stuff compared to running for president of the United States. If you call someone a hypocrite and a liar you better back it up and you better not live in a glass house.

“That group of establishment people are real good Republican donors,” King said. “They’re pretty close to Terry Branstad. They formed a circle and decided they were going to support Chris Christie. I didn’t see that coming. It was a circle of Republican donors” acting on the “personal friendship between Branstad and Chris Christie.”

“But this political race is not about friendship.”

Governor Branstad’s son is attacking Cruz to give Christie a boost. (Photo: Facebook)

Iowa conservative radio host Steve Deace, an expert on the caucus, told Breitbart News that the ethanol lobby will not swing the race.

“People who are saying that are outside media, still writing headlines like it’s 2005,” Deace said. “The ethanol industry has been dead for years. They ran their lobbyist for Congress in my district last year and he finished fourth in the primary.”

“They’re racking up media commissions,” Deace said about the ads. “Those are nice commission checks.”

Pissed-off political consultants are conspiring against Cruz

National Review ran a story earlier this month claiming that supporters of social conservatives Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum were gravitating toward Rubio in the caucus in order to deny Cruz the victory. The information in the story – which picqued the interest of mainstream media reporters from outlets including NBC News – was sourced mainly to professional political operatives and GOP insiders.

But it’s all bunk.

“I literally laughed when I heard about this,” Deace said. “This is the most ridiculous self-immolating case of butthurt from political mercenaries I’ve ever heard of. I hope these butthurt fools will go through with it. It will do a very good job of showing them as the kind of establishment consultants who screw people over all the time.”

Fiorina Is Fighting

“We have 353 community campaigns. We have sixty canvassers and 12 paid Iowa staff,” Katie Hughes, communications director for Carly Fiorina’s national campaign, told Breitbart News.

Since Fiorina shot up in the polls during the first round of Republican debates, she has been focusing her attention on Iowa and New Hampshire. Hughes said that Fiorina has made more than 200 campaign stops in those two states already, which is more than any other candidate.

While Jeb Bush needs to win New Hampshire to stay alive, considering the amount of money that he’s spent there, Fiorina is not going to bow out if she doesn’t win or get into the top two in Iowa.

“It’s all about surviving and moving on,” Hughes said. “It’s about advancing.”

“We have full-time field staff and leadership teams in thirteen states. At some point all of these other people are going to start falling and Carly will be there.”

People Have Had ENOUGH Commercials From Jeb Bush

While Jeb Bush spends millions on TV advertisements hammering Trump as a “bully” – ads that mostly just annoy people – he continues to trail badly in a state that should theoretically be sympathetic to his evangelical Christian tendencies.

When people here think about Jeb Bush, they usually think about that other phenomenon that typically accompanies folks like Jeb Bush: Out-of-state mainstream media reporters.

If Trump loses, he needs to lose with grace

If Donald Trump loses in Iowa, it will NOT be the death knell of his candidacy. Considering national polls, Cruz needs an Iowa win more than Trump does. So if Trump places second, he needs to use his concession speech to show America that he’s serious about going forward.

“If you lead the race for 6 months in a row, and the first time people vote you lose,” then that is a pivotal moment in a campaign, Steve Deace said. “If Trump doesn’t win Iowa, I would be concerned about him throwing a tantrum that makes Howard Dean look like Pope John Paul II.”

“That’s the moment he needs to be the most presidential,” Deace said. “He needs to show that he is not the reality show demagogue he thinks people want to see. He’s the guy who can really close deals. That is not the moment to” be angry and condemn others.

“That will be the night to say, ‘Hey, I gave it a roll, the demographics here weren’t in my favor. I’m moving forward to the next states.’”

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Waiting in a Casey’s General Store in Colfax, Iowa, this reporter found the Iowa Hawkeyes on the covers of both the College Football Bowl Games Preview and also Sports Illustrated. The headline: “Iowa Raucous.”

The tow truck pulled up outside, and I told the driver I was a reporter, though at least a University of Iowa alum.

“Oh. I’m a state senator,” he said.

He was a Democrat. And a Breitbart News reader.

It didn’t take much to pull my rental Hyundai off the side of the highway and turn it around. The state senator directed me to the Republican diner a few miles away in Newton, and charged me what I could afford.

“National political reporter discount,” he said, laughing.

Stanford scored a touchdown almost immediately in the Rose Bowl, putting a damper on spirits in the Des Moines airport lobby bar. Before long, people started talking about the “mercy rule.”

And it’s times like that when you have to remember the words of a certain congressman by the name of Steve King.

“A lot of the people who are doing the attacking here are disregarding the fact that we all have to live together in Iowa after the nomination.”


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