WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump sent a Dante-like message to elected Republicans when he slammed Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday: There’s a special place in hell for those who remain neutral in times of crisis.
Political insiders say it’s not hell; it’s Iowa.
“I understand that President Trump wants loyalty, and I respect that,” said Cris Christenson, a former treasurer for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition who donated money to Trump and Reynolds in previous elections. . “But I think that’s up to Iowa voters to decide.
The neutrality of many elected Republicans in Iowa — and across the country — has rubbed Trump the wrong way at a time when he is the clear frontrunner for a third straight GOP presidential nod. That’s because it’s one of the few obvious counterpoints to the narrative that he’s on track to lock in the nomination.
Trump has a big lead in national polls over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, his main challenger, and he often captures more than half of GOP voters in the polls. Polls in Iowa were sparse, but Trump even topped polls led by DeSantis allies.
Yet Trump hung a lantern on his own issue by ripping Reynolds, the popular second-term governor, for not returning his political support and showing up at DeSantis events.
The growing divide could yet open a path of opportunity for DeSantis in a state where his performance in the Jan. 15 caucus is crucial to his viability.
“I opened up the governorship to Kim Reynolds, and when she fell behind, I APPROVED her, made big rallies, and she won,” Trump wrote on the Truth social media platform. Monday, two days after The New York Times reported he was growing frustrated with what he perceived to be DeSantis’ embrace by Reynolds. “Now she wants to stay ‘NEUTRAL’. I don’t even invite her to events!”
Last month, Trump said more explicitly that Reynolds — the state’s first female governor, who won 95 of Iowa’s 99 counties last year — owes him her job.
“I hate to say it, without me, you know, she wasn’t going to win, you know that, right?” he said at a rally in the state.
Will Rogers, former Republican Party chairman of Polk County, home to the state capital, Des Moines, said the endorsements DeSantis garnered from state lawmakers show Trump has not been in able to corner as much of the market on institutional support in Iowa as he would have liked.
“I think he has a hard time with it,” said Rogers, who did not endorse a candidate and who praised Reynolds and state representatives in Congress for staying out of the fight for the investiture so far.
“Governor. Reynolds along with the rest of our delegation not endorsing candidates in the presidential process is sound policy that really makes sense not just for Iowa, not just for them, not just for the candidates, but for the country,” Rogers said.
Reynolds has appeared at events with a wide range of candidates, including Trump, but recently extended her hospitality by joining DeSantis’ wife, Casey DeSantis, in launching a group called Mamas for DeSantis. During her book tour this year, DeSantis compared Reynolds’ success on the political and legislative battlegrounds in Iowa to hers in Florida — with her on stage.
At the same time, Trump is skipping the annual summit of The Family Leader, an influential social conservative organization in the state, according to a tweet sent tuesday by Bob Vander Plaats, Group President and CEO. DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and other top prospects are expected to attend.
DeSantis and other candidates rushed to defend Reynolds on Monday.
While Reynolds’ overture to DeSantis may not sit well with Trump, half a dozen prominent Iowa Republicans have said the top officials’ neutrality helps protect Iowa’s place as the top contest of the country by giving candidates the assurance that they can present themselves to voters on a level playing field. .
“I’m a great county chairman, and I want everyone to come to my county, and [that] allows voters to shake hands and ask questions,” said Nevada City Mayor and Story County GOP Chairman Brett Barker, who does not endorse any candidate. “That’s what makes the caucus process great. I commend Governor Reynolds for remaining neutral.”
Barker described Trump’s broadside as a distraction that won’t affect Reynolds’ standing with fellow Republicans in Iowa.
“I think there’s fatigue about some side things that aren’t the general issues that we should be focusing on,” Barker said. “What’s the benefit of attacking a strong governor, and who benefits? I think people are just puzzled.”
Most Iowa GOP insiders say Trump’s outburst is unlikely to affect the caucus.
Steve Scheffler, an RNC committee member from Iowa and president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, said the dust was likely to blow up without having much impact on the caucus or Reynolds’ position. Neutrality makes sense for Iowa leaders at this point in the primary, said Scheffler, who is not aligned with a candidate.
“I guess,” he said of Trump’s message, “we’d all rather these conversations be done internally.”
Alan Ostergren, an attorney involved in Republican politics in the state, said Trump may have hurt himself by suing a governor who has a high reputation among conservatives.
“I think this issue could potentially have lasting consequences,” said Ostergren, who said he hasn’t endorsed a candidate. “There are polls showing Trump in the lead, but we haven’t had really good polls with large sample sizes yet.”
And, he added, “I don’t think Donald Trump’s support is as strong as people say.”
This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com