In the state’s noncompetitive Republican primary, President Trump’s true believers dominated school gyms, churches and other caucus sites.
Republican caucusgoers were counted at the Butcher Block Steakhouse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Monday.Credit…Christian Monterrosa for The New York Times
WAUKEE, Iowa — The Republican Party belongs to President Trump, and everyone in the Waukee Elementary School gymnasium knew it. Even the man who was ostensibly trying to persuade his neighbors otherwise.
“I want to explain to you why I, I — you might be surprised to see someone supporting Joe Walsh in front of all these Trump fans — and why I have the bravery that I do,” Jim Marwedel, 50, said nervously. “It’s because of my fifth great-grandfather, William Lee. He came from Ireland to the colonies and fought in the Revolutionary War. He was left for dead at the Battle of Guilford County, and I figured if he has the bravery to come forward and die for his country, I can just stand before you and talk about the Constitution for a few minutes.”
It did take some courage to do what Mr. Marwedel and a very small minority of Republicans did on Monday night when they registered protest votes against Mr. Trump — even if it wasn’t exactly the kind of courage required on a real field of battle. Mr. Trump’s true believers dominated school gyms, churches and other caucus sites across Iowa and helped deliver his first victory on the path to reclaiming the nomination of a political party that four years ago broke into civil war over his insurgent candidacy.
Some 140 miles away, when the caucus captain at the Butcher Block Steakhouse in Cedar Rapids called out to two men standing in the very back of the room — the only two who had not raised their hands to support Mr. Trump — there was a very pregnant pause.
“Who are you here to vote for?” the captain asked before they each uttered, “Mitt Romney.”
A woman gasped in indignation, “What?”
“Join another party,” muttered Keith Zeigler, a man sitting near her.
After the vote, Mr. Zeigler offered his opinions on Mr. Romney, the Utah senator who has been one of the few dissenting voices in the Republican Party urging a more thorough airing of the charges against Mr. Trump in his impeachment trial in the Senate. “It’s not happening. That guy is done,” he said.
According to The Associated Press, Mr. Trump won all of Iowa’s 38 delegates, shutting out his two opponents, Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, and Joe Walsh, a former congressman from Illinois.
Sanders adviser Jeff Weaver: Internal reports from about 40% of precincts show Sanders ahead. Again, we can’t verify or conclude it’s representative.
Buttigieg aide basing victory claim on reports from 77% of their precinct captains. But we can’t say that’s representative or confirm their results.
In the four years since Mr. Trump, a reality television star and longtime Democrat, became the Republicans’ improbable standard-bearer, he has only strengthened his grip on the party. His approval ratings in Iowa and nationally among Republicans have never fallen too far below 90 percent. The “Never Trump” coalition of conservatives who rallied against him has all but dissolved. His political team has worked aggressively to purge opponents and consolidate control in the state and local party committees that play a major role in deciding the presidential nominee.
To ensure that grip holds, the Trump campaign dispatched more than 80 surrogates to caucus sites across Iowa to rev up his supporters. In Waukee, his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, ditched a campaign script (“boring,” he said, taking a cue from his boss, who has made a show of discarding his prepared remarks) and drew raucous applause for listing some of the administration’s recent actions.
“Put aside all the — oh, there’s young children here, so I’ll use all the crap that’s been happening in the House for the last couple weeks,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “Realize what’s happened just in January by itself. We took out one of the world’s leading terrorists, finalized the U.S.M.C.A. trade deal, finalized the first piece of the China trade deal. All that’s happening against that backdrop, and all I can tell you is the president is really, really good at the job.”
At the Butcher Block in Cedar Rapids, Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, delivered a more reserved, family-friendly endorsement of the president. “America will never be a socialist country,” she said, drawing applause and a few “amens” from the crowd.
Mostly, Ms. DeVos stuck to the script.
“Tonight we take an important first step in showing Democrats we are a united party,” Ms. DeVos said, reading from Mr. Trump’s letter to Iowans, which began, “Iowa! Under the leadership of my administration and the backing of the Republican Senate, our country has seen tremendous victories these past three years.”
Caucusgoers, asked why they were taking an hour out of their Monday evening to support an incumbent who was likely to coast to renomination, said they wanted to send a message: that they stood by Mr. Trump, especially as he battled his way through an impeachment that they said was personal and politically motivated.
“He’s the strongest conservative we’ve had in my lifetime,” Brad Mills, 60, said, citing Mr. Trump’s policies on immigration, Israel and abortion. “The left is so crooked and so dishonest and so corrupt that it motivates people like us to show support.”
“He’s a fighter. He’s in there battling. And I think a lot of other people would have wilted by now,” said Tom Sandersfeld, a real estate broker and auctioneer from Cedar Rapids. Mr. Sandersfeld, who said he had supported previous Republican nominees including Mr. Romney and Senator John McCain of Arizona, cannot imagine supporting them today. “I’m almost glad Obama got in and they didn’t, after seeing some of the things that they did later.”
Scott Piper, 19, one of the two men in Cedar Rapids who voted for Mr. Romney on Monday night, was participating in his first caucus. Mr. Piper, a college freshman, is from a conservative, evangelical family in the suburbs of Cedar Rapids and said he had just finished reading George Orwell’s novel “1984.” He saw some disturbing parallels between Orwell’s dystopia and what he said was “the hive mind” of Mr. Trump’s G.O.P.
“It’s like a cult of personality,” Mr. Piper said, adding that he felt compelled to vote against Mr. Trump now even if he could not see himself supporting any of the Democrats running for president. “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. I love my country, and I’ve got to play a role in the process,” he said, adding that he did not know what he might do in November.
Before the vote in Waukee, Mr. Marwedel, the Walsh supporter, argued that Mr. Trump’s expansive use of executive authority could have dangerous and unintended consequences. “We need to stand for the Constitution, even if it means we have to stand up to our friends,” he said. “So with that, I’m thankful that you let me talk to you. I hope you can see why I’m voting for Joe Walsh, and I just encourage you as you go forward —”
He cut himself off.
“I know you’re mostly going to support Trump,” he said, with a distinct air of wondering why he was there at all. He concluded, plaintively: “Please understand that people like me are conservative, and we’re not trying to just bad-mouth the president. We’re trying to preserve the Constitution.”
Of the 102 caucusgoers in the gym, 99 voted for Mr. Trump.
Maggie Astor reported from Waukee, and Jeremy W. Peters from Cedar Rapids.
Maggie Astor is a political reporter based in New York. Previously, she was a general assignment reporter and a copy editor for The Times and a reporter for The Record in New Jersey. @MaggieAstor
Jeremy W. Peters covers national politics in the Washington bureau. His other assignments in his decade at The Times have included covering the financial markets, the media, New York politics and two presidential campaigns. @jwpetersNYT • Facebook