The answer is almost none. Unlike almost any successful candidate in Iowa, Trump talks to voters, not with them. He flies into the state, delivers his patented rants, shakes a few hands, and heads back to his gold-plated, Trump-branded plane.
My broader point: Trump has made a mockery of the traditions that make Iowa a singular stop in the presidential campaign process. More than even New Hampshire, which follows Iowa on the election calendar, Iowa forces candidates to endure a grueling, humbling, months-long courtship of discerning, demanding voters. They’re really put to the test.
Not this guy.
Trump has spent so little quality time in Iowa that it was breaking news this week when the celebrity billionaire (you may want to sit down for this) actually … spent … a … night … in … a … hotel. A Holiday Inn, no less!
So miserly with his time, Trump made just three Iowa appearances in October and two in November for a total of 30 appearances in the last four months, according to The Des Moines Register. In the same period, his chief rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, made 100 appearances.
Trump needed very little television or radio advertising in Iowa to climb atop the polls. Compared to past Iowa front-runners, he hardly courted local reporters or leading Republicans. Even when it came to one of the oldest institutions in politics—a debate between candidates—Trump thumbed his nose at the only GOP clash in Iowa, better to salt his feud with Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly.
“How much of this is unique to Trump as opposed to signaling a new way of doing business?” Strawn said, repeating my question. “I don’t think we know.”
The current GOP chairman, Jeff Kaufmann, told me he thinks Trump is an aberration: No future candidate will disrupt the Iowa way with Trump’s particular blend of celebrity, moxie, and wealth.
While crediting Trump for holding several well-attended events in Iowa, including some in which voters addressed the candidate, Kaufmann allowed that “one thing that was missing with him is the uncomfortable follow-up.”
Trump escaped the traditional Iowa vetting. Others won’t, Kaufmann said. “I think you have a perfect storm of a huge brand and angry people.”
Tim Albrecht, a leading GOP strategist in Iowa, also called Trump an aberration. “I think there’s so much unease, angst, uncertainty, and such distrust—with all of our institutions, not just politics—that people are turning to somebody who’s making all these institutions mad. That’s Trump, a man with a brand benefitting from the people’s anger.”
True enough, I replied. But why does Iowa’s political elite assume that Trump will be the last candidate who finds a way around their traditions—the 99-county tour; the multimillion-dollar advertising buys (and the cut that goes to Iowa consultants); the courtships that come with fat contracts and promises of jobs in Washington; and, yes, Iowa debates?