How to beat Trump in Iowa – and survive the state fair

This week, almost every Republican running for president is headed to the Iowa State Fair, famous for its fried Twinkies and statues of farm animals made out of butter and — every four years — extremely embarrassing photos of candidates eating unwieldy treats.

The Iowa State Fair also kicks off a new more intense period of the Republican primary season as nationally televised debates begin this month and we hit the five month countdown until the Iowa Caucuses.

Iowa’s importance in presidential nomination contests ebbs and flows and this year the state looms as more important than ever.

The conventional wisdom among Republicans is that if Donald Trump’s opponents can’t slow him down in Iowa, then the race may be over.

Over the next few days, Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, Vivek Ramaswamy, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley and some even lesser-known candidates will be crawling the fairgrounds outside Des Moines, and making their case for the presidency at two big events hosted by two Iowa political institutions: A literal soapbox sponsored by the Des Moines Register and a conversation series hosted by the state’s Republican Governor, Kim Reynolds.

In between they will be flipping burgers, dodging reporters, and wooing voters one-on-one in a place where retail politics still matters.

Not everyone is fully on board with the program.

Chris Christie isn’t coming to town — he’s given up on the state — and while Donald Trump is scheduled to arrive on Saturday, he’s skipping both the Soapbox and the interview with the governor, with whom he has a frosty relationship.

He has his own gimmick planned instead: He’s bringing nine members of Congress from Florida who have endorsed him over their own governor, Ron DeSantis.

So with Trump dissing the state’s popular governor, Christie dissing the state altogether, and everyone dissing DeSantis, this week is like the kickoff to a very messy months-long family reunion for Republicans.

And there’s one guy whose job it is to keep the peace, make sure caucus day goes off without a hitch, unify all the warring factions when the contest is over, and make sure that everyone comes back again in four years.

He’s the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, Jeff Kaufmann. Kaufmann is also a history professor and, on this episode of Playbook Deep Dive, he joins host and Playbook co-author Ryan Lizza to teach a master class on everything you need to know about the Iowa Republican caucuses and what it will take to win them in 2024.

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