Why Trump went all-out in New Hampshire and Iowa GOP primaries

The campaign’s early investment paid off with record numbers.

February 13, 2020, 12:23 PM

Manchester, N.H. -- President Donald Trump’s historic showing in both Iowa and New Hampshire wasn’t an accident.

While Trump didn’t have a serious Republican primary challenger in either state, the re-election team and the Republican National Committee launched a successful general election style effort to run up the score in both states.

Trump held preemptive rallies in both Iowa and New Hampshire and blanketed both states with dozens of top surrogates, including members of the first family, sporting red Trump 2020 hats and custom Team Trump quarter-zip pullovers who campaigned at caucus sites and polling stations while volunteers on the ground carried out a massive get-out-the-vote effort.

Campaign aides called the showing a “dry run” for November.

And thanks to the sweeping effort, the president walked away from Iowa having smashed incumbent turnout records. He did the same in New Hampshire, turning out more than 120,000 votes in the Granite State. All during a split screen with Democrats going through chaos in Iowa and a tight race in New Hampshire that could spell a long drawn out primary.

“We wanted to make sure we put on a show of force and deliver results for this president and we did,” Trump campaign principal deputy communications director Erin Perrine told ABC News when asked about their primary push. “When we step up and we turn on we deliver.”

But the broad attempt to boost Trump’s numbers in first two uncompetitive GOP primary contests was not only a show of force, it’s in line with the campaign’s larger effort to project a Republican Party that’s fully unified behind the president ahead of the summer convention in Charlotte which advisers plan to turn into a week-long reelection ad for the president.

While Trump enjoys wide-spread support among Republicans, his political team is sharply aware of the impact party “disunity” can have on a president running for re-election.

“We studied why past incumbent presidents usually win reelection,” a senior Trump advisor said. “History tells us that incumbent presidents usually win reelection. But when they don’t, there’s a commonality in their losses … Bush 41, Carter, Ford and Taft all lost reelection because they were fighting primary battles up until the very end.”

“They had infighting and they had disunity,” the Trump advisor added.

And on election night for both Iowa and New Hampshire, the campaign’s large-scale efforts delivered overwhelming results that showed the Republican Party was not only in lock step with the president in Washington D.C., but in key states that could be crucial to his re-election chances. Trump captured 97.1 in Iowa, and just under 86% in New Hampshire.

The big turnout numbers gave the president a strong counter narrative to push at a time when focus shifted briefly away from him—which Trump and his campaign quickly jump on, flooding social media with the GOP primary results as counter messaging.

“The Fake News Media is looking hard for the Big Democrat Story, but there is nothing too fabulous,” Trump tweeted complaining about media coverage shortly after Sen. Bernie Sanders was declared the winner in the Democratic New Hampshire primary. “Wouldn’t a big story be that I got more New Hampshire Primary Votes than any incumbent president, in either party, in the history of that Great State? Not an insignificant fact!”

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale live tweeted the New Hampshire primary, sharing updates on the president’s turnout in the sure-to-win state.

“Enthusiasm for @realDonaldTrump is through the roof!” Parscale tweeted. “With approximately, 70% of precincts reporting, President Trump has surpassed the New Hampshire Primary vote total of every incumbent President running for re-election over the last four decades."

On top of hitting record numbers, the campaign and RNC viewed the operation as an opportunity to put their organization, bolstered by a massive $200 million war chest, to the test and work out any sore spots months out from Election Day.

“Each day provided us an opportunity to put our foot on the gas and see how our team performed,” Rick Gorka, regional communications director for Trump campaign and RNC, told ABC News. “And so far we're very impressed with how the team is respond.”

In Iowa, the Trump campaign said they activated 2,400 volunteers for caucus efforts and held 93 training sessions and made 125,000 phone calls to voters, and saw that around 10% of Republican caucus goers were either same day new party registrants or registered for the first time.

“Why would why would somebody in Iowa go out and caucus for an incumbent president with no real opposition?” Gorka added. “Just shows the fire and energy the president brings out.”

But not all the numbers coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire were postive. While Trump trounced lone Republican challenger Bill Weld in both states, the former Massachusetts governor was able to land a few blows on the president—grabbing one lone Republican delegate in Iowa and chipping away nearly 10% of the vote in the Granite State, which deprived Trump from besting former President Ronald Reagan’s modern historic voter percentage of 86.43%.

“I look at it as another great strong showing for the party united behind Donald Trump,” Gorka said when asked about Weld’s performance. “This belief that there's a never Trump Republican movement— it's just false. It's like searching for the 'Lost' City of Atlantis, it just doesn’t exist.”

However, Trump campaign and advocates jumped to defend the president against the as news started to spread across social media about Weld emerging from New Hampshire with a storyline after scooping nearly 14,000 votes.

“Seeing lots of blue check marks opining on Trump pulling about 86% in GOP primary,” Trump communications director Tim Murtaugh tweeted on New Hampshire primary night, before sharing that Trump had passed the voter percentages in New Hampshire of the last three incumbent presidents.

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