Vice President Mike Pence is trying to solidify the Republican base in Iowa, where some conservatives complain President Donald Trump has much to prove and party leaders say he’s being undermined from within.
Headlining Sen. Joni Ernst’s annual summer fundraiser, Pence will promote steady job numbers under Trump, who campaigned last year on promises of economic growth.
But it’s Pence’s boss who has more work to do to satisfy Iowa’s disproportionately influential Christian right, despite carrying Iowa by 9 percentage points in the 2016 election after Democrat Barack Obama won there in 2008 and 2012.
“I’m still waiting to see a conservative agenda put forward,” said Iowa Republican Kay Quirk, a retired nurse from the socially conservative northwest region of the state. “I haven’t given up hope by any means. But I’m still waiting.”
Chiefly, Quirk and other Iowa conservatives are bothered that Trump has not delivered on the promise to repeal the 2010 health care law. But that’s not all. Mike Demastus, a pastor from Des Moines, pointed to Trump’s announcement Thursday that he would keep, at least for now, the U.S. Embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv. Trump promised during the campaign last year to move the embassy to Jerusalem, the place most closely associated with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
“When it comes to moral issues, he hasn’t moved the needle one notch,” Demastus said.
It’s not as if there is a revolt brewing within the Iowa GOP.
Republicans control both houses of the Iowa Legislature, the governor’s office, both U.S. Senate seats and three of four House seats. Trump also chose Iowa’s longtime Republican governor, Terry Branstad, to be his ambassador to China.
And the vast majority of Iowa Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing. Surveys this year have shown Trump’s job approval among Republicans around 85 percent, about the same as it is nationally.
But there’s more potential meaning to that slice of Republicans who don’t give Trump the nod in Iowa than in other states.
Trump finished second to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa’s leadoff presidential caucuses last year, and many of Cruz’s supporters say they would back him again if he runs. A number of them, including Quirk, have scheduled a Cruz campaign reunion for this summer, and are planning to travel to Texas to volunteer for his 2018 Senate campaign.
Emerging national Republican figures also have been accepting invitations to meet Iowa party activists.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton headlined a county GOP dinner in conservative western Iowa last month, though he firmly dismissed he was making plans to run in 2020.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a frequent and vocal critic of Trump, plans to headline a central Iowa county Republican dinner in July.
Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kauffman repeatedly accused Sasse by name of stoking dissatisfaction with Trump among Republicans for his own benefit.
“I hear more complaints about Ben Sasse” than about Trump, Kauffman said. “Here’s a guy trying to catch a wave. I think he’s riding a ripple, and looking pretty silly doing it.”
And Pence would seem to be the right validator for Trump in Iowa. Ninety percent of Iowa Republicans approved of the job Pence was doing in a February Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, 6 percentage points ahead of Trump.
Trump’s campaign dispatched Pence to the state less than a week before the November election. The former Indiana governor, popular among social conservatives, told Iowa Republicans during the visit to rural Prole, “It’s time to come home.”