If the campaign to win the Republican Party’s Iowa caucuses can be compared to the final minutes of a football game, last night frontrunner Donald Trump ran a few plays into the line and took a knee. With less than four days before Republican voters in the Hawkeye state choose their preferred presidential candidate, he skipped a final debate and held a dull and generally unremarkable fundraiser for wounded veterans across town at Drake University in Des Moines.
The Trump event was scheduled for the same time slot as the prime time debate being hosted by Fox News, which Trump was boycotting over his objection to the presence of moderator Megyn Kelly who, he says, is biased against him.
However, Trump would have had more than enough reason to skip the debate, even if it had been hosted by one of his own children. There was virtually no upside for him. Having fended off a surge from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa polling, he was guaranteed to be the main target of other candidates Thursday night. By staying away, the hope was clearly to insulate him from his competitors’ attacks and, not inconsiderably, to do damage to Fox News.
Trump’s event was carried in its entirety by an unreliable YouTube live stream, as well as CSPAN and the fledgling One America Network. Other news organizations cut to the feed periodically, but didn’t dedicate their coverage to it.
For the first hour, the stage was mainly occupied by an empty podium and two empty chairs. Trump himself took the stage at a quarter past nine, some 15 minutes after the start of the debate across town. He essentially admitted that the whole point of the exercise was to draw market share away from the Fox-sponsored debate.
Presidential? No. Trumpian? Yeah, absolutely.
The Trump rally featured a couple of appearances by YouTube sensations and Trump supporters Diamond and Silk, as well as two other GOP presidential hopefuls, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who both drove across town to support the veteran fundraising event after competing in the GOP’s undercard” event.
The two, who can claim les than 5 percent of Iowa voters between them, likely did little to either increase or decrease his numbers, but they surely increased his airtime.
Trump also ceded the stage for a lengthy appearance by wounded Green Beret John Wayne Walding, who after a long set of remarks, introduced representatives of the only actual veterans’ organization mentioned Thursday night, 22Kill.com, which is dedicated to reducing the suicide rate among veterans.
Trump claimed that the event raised more than $6 million for vets, but undermined himself by pointing out, name-by-name, people he knows socially or who owe him favors that cut large check to Trump for distribution to vets.
One of Trump’s main selling points is that he doesn’t owe anyone anything; In fact, he hit that point multiple times Thursday. But his announcement of donors sure looked like a quid pro quo.