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As the GOP prepares for midterms, they welcome Trump with open arms


Former President Donald Trump's hold on the Republican Party remains strong. That was evident at this weekend's rally in De Moines. Thousands of Trump supporters packed the Iowa State Fairgrounds. What was even more telling were the influential Republican politicians who were also there. Longtime Senator Chuck Grassley, who is running for an eighth term, appeared on stage with Trump.


DONALD TRUMP: I'm thrilled to announce tonight that Senator Chuck Grassley has my complete and total endorsement for reelection. Chuck.


CHUCK GRASSLEY: I was born at night but not last night.


GRASSLEY: So if I didn't accept the endorsement of a person that's got 91% of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn't be too smart. I'm smart enough to accept that endorsement.

MARTÍNEZ: Republican political commentator Amanda Carpenter is director of the Republicans for Voting Rights and a former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz. She joins us now. Amanda, Senator Grassley is seeking reelection. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds is expected to seek reelection next year. Do these two Republicans, Grassley and Reynolds, actually need Trump's backing still?

AMANDA CARPENTER: Well, I guess I would think about the alternative. What would happen if they didn't seek his endorsement and didn't attend a big rally in their home state? That would immediately signal some kind of divide. Trump would likely seek out another candidate to endorse. That candidate would immediately have, you know, the former president backing, huge fundraising available to him or her. And so at this point, given Trump's hold on the Republican base voter, particularly in red states, candidates like Grassley may not have a choice, unless they really want to pursue a tough, hard road ahead in their campaign and make a statement that they disagree with Trump on some things.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, during Saturday's rally, Trump continued to push lies about the 2020 election. Senator Grassley and Governor Reynolds and other prominent Iowa Republicans just - kind of just stood there, a far different response compared to both Grassley and Reynolds' response back in January. What do you think, Amanda, does this welcoming in Iowa signal to you?

CARPENTER: It signals that Trump has won the argument, that despite what happened on January 6, despite the fact that people like Chuck Grassley did assign some degree of blame to Trump in inciting that riot, he has won the argument that he remains leader of the Republican Party. And this isn't the first rally where Trump has held forth in this manner before other Republican officials. I mean, he's also been going and holding major events in Florida, Georgia, Ohio. And this is all meant to signal his strength and hold and grip over those very politicians.

MARTÍNEZ: Do you think most Republican voters believe Trump when he says the election was stolen? I mean, I talk to my family all the time. My aunts and uncles, my grandparents - they think so (laughter). Or do - maybe Republicans don't care now.

CARPENTER: Well, I guess why wouldn't they? This is a person that they have voted for probably twice. This is a person that they trust. And Trump has been telling them there's been something wrong with the election since the summer of 2020. This isn't something that just happened in December when they launched some court cases. There was a narrative being laid early that summer that something might be going wrong with the mail-in ballots, that something might be afoot. I don't know if you recall even when then-Attorney General Bill Barr was giving interviews with CNN, saying, you know, there might be something going on with foreign influence in these elections. And so that has been going on for a long time.

And it's not just Trump saying it, right? You have the Republican Whip, Steve Scalise, even going on Fox News this weekend and being asked directly if there's something wrong with the election. He couldn't say who legitimately won either way. And so it's hard to blame the voters, people who aren't avid consumers of news and information as a part of their jobs like you and I, when all the people that they had voted for and trust and respect are telling them that, yes, something went wrong with the election, and you should be concerned.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, Chris Wallace put it very plainly, and yeah, he could not answer it. So this is strategy then, right? I mean, it sounds like strategy for Republican candidates in 2022 in the midterms and 2024.

CARPENTER: It seems to be the case. One race - you know, one candidate that I've been watching is an Arizona who's running for governor. Her name is Kari Lake. She's a former newscaster who recently got the Trump endorsement. And I've had this question, kind of wondering, why is it at all these Republican, Trump grassroots events is the narrative about election fraud and anti-vaccine tendencies going hand in hand, right? Like, this is an interesting development. You see even people like, you know, Ron DeSantis in Florida putting these two things together. And she got on the podium and said essentially, well, if the election went the way that it should have gone, meaning Donald Trump had won, we would never be in the position to have these vaccine mandates. And so that that is a really interesting development that I do think is going to play, at least on the Republican side in 2022. And you even see this factor in a little bit into the Virginia gubernatorial race between Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe.

MARTÍNEZ: If Trump winds up declaring that he will run in 2024, do you think that whoever is on his ticket will be sharing his views or at least openly expressing his views about the 2020 election being stolen?

CARPENTER: One hundred percent. That is a requirement to even get his endorsement in the lowest-level congressional race. I would argue that if you wanted to be on the side of the Trump voter in a school boards race, you would have to mouth those things.

MARTÍNEZ: Is he running again in 2024? What's your best guess?

CARPENTER: I would say absolutely. He is running - that event in Iowa - that was a presidential campaign event, right? Even if he hasn't declared formally, people there are carrying flags saying Trump 2024. He is standing on the stage and saying, here's my new slogan. Make America Great Again Again. He's doing everything but filing the papers.

MARTÍNEZ: Then why not just do it? Why didn't he do it this weekend.

CARPENTER: Because you have a lot more freedom as someone who is exploring a run or thinking about a run than you actually do as a candidate. Once you sign those papers saying you have a campaign, you trigger all kinds of reporting requirements. There's equal rights time when it comes to broadcasting. And also, Trump is nervous about owning the midterms. And so I think it would be wise - at least, you know, his advisers would be arguing, wait until after the midterms because if it doesn't - if the Republicans don't clean up in the House and the Senate, you don't want to be responsible for that.

MARTÍNEZ: Republican political commentator Amanda Carpenter, thanks a lot.

CARPENTER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.