Will Grassley’s Blessing of Trump Matter?

Robert Leonard has interviewed Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa once a week on the radio for the last ten years. That might explain why he has such a high opinion of the Hawkeye State’s senior senator. And it could be that Grassley really is as influential in Iowa’s Republican circles as Leonard believes.

What impressed Leonard is that Grassley showed up for a Trump rally on Saturday. Of course, Grassley didn’t come right out and endorse Trump, and he’s scheduled to appear with Sen. Marco Rubio tomorrow. On the other hand, Grassley did take the stage on Trump’s behalf and he talked about “Making America Great Again,” which is The Donald’s mantra.

That was enough for Leonard to declare “I just watched Donald Trump win the Iowa caucus: Inside the one rally that sealed the deal.”

Maybe Grassley’s appearance with Trump was a hugely important validation that converted a toss-up race into a done deal. I’m skeptical, however. It seems like the key component of the Republican nominating contest this year is that the voters really don’t care what people like Chuck Grassley think.

To see what I mean, take a look at Byron York’s piece from New Hampshire. He went up there over the weekend and hobnobbed with a Who’s Who of Republican Establishment figures. He asked everyone he met whether they personally knew anyone who was supporting Donald Trump. For the most part, these establishment figures couldn’t come up with a single name.

In one of my first conversations at the Radisson, with two Republican activists, I asked a simple what’s-up question about Trump. Both immediately responded in exactly the same way: “I don’t know anybody who supports him.” They’re politically active and aware, but they said they have no contact in their daily lives with even a single person who supports their party’s front-runner.

After that conversation, I began to ask everyone I met: Do you know anyone who supports Donald Trump? In more cases than not — actually, in nearly all the cases — the answer was no.

While there is a bit of skepticism about the accuracy of the polls, the predominant mood is one of mystification. How can Trump be doing so well when virtually no one “respectable” is willing to admit that they’re supporting him?

I’m sure part of the explanation here is that there are a lot more people who are willing to vote for Trump than there are who are willing to tell their friends that they’re supporting him. But, back to the Grassley question, is it really likely that there are a bunch of potential Trump voters out there who were just waiting for Grassley’s tepid stamp of approval? It seems to me like a Grassley endorsement would be more likely to make people question whether Trump is really the outsider he claims to be.

It will be interesting to see how accurate the polls are. It’s a very challenging environment to try to gauge the mood of the electorate. In Iowa, you have the oddity of the caucus system which makes it harder to turn out minimally invested voters. In New Hampshire, you have a system where independents can choose either the Democratic or the Republican race, so some folks may be contemplating not whether to vote for Trump or Cruz, but Trump or Sanders.

In both cases, Trump will be challenged to do as well as the polls indicate he’s going to do. Maybe a semi-endorsement from Grassley helps. My guess is that it doesn’t.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.