Nikki Haley and Mount MAGA

That night, as reporters gathered outside the candlelit speakeasy beneath the Fort Des Moines Hotel (aptly named In Confidence), Trump’s spokesman Jason Miller he could hang out at the bar, swirling his glass of brown liquor until 1 a.m. and handing out quotes. Reporters starving for column inches might be lulled for a moment into forgetting that these same people helped organize, promote and otherwise incite a deadly uprising on January 6, 2021.

The next day, the DeSantis campaign shed its press credentials and brought a hundred or more reporters out in the freezing cold, their stampede of cameras and tape recorders obscuring the low number of actual DeSantis fans. With the speakers set to deafening volume, it was the impression of a high-wattage Ron DeSantis rally.

The open question for voters and the press was and remains why Nikki Haley never attacks Donald Trump more forcefully and directly. David Kochel veteran GOP consultant (who hosted a Saturday night press party where he sang AC/DC’s «You Shook Me All Night Long» for the likes of MSNBC John Heilemann and CNN Dana Bash), told me that focus groups revealed that Republican voters became defensive if you attacked the former president. They stopped their ears.

«They won’t get negative information because they live in a conservative media ecosystem that they rarely escape and that teaches them how to reflexively defend Trump,» Kochel explained. “They have all the arguments, all the justifications, so it’s really hard to attack.

As a Haley employee told me, “If going after him aggressively would have worked, you would have talked to him Chris Christiecampaign right now.”

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Haley and others used what Kochel called an «enablement structure,» a careful script in which a candidate first praises Trump for his presidency and policies and only then criticizes. In other words, you can attack Trump, but you can’t sound like him Joe Biden you attack Trump to become less Trump. Haley’s effective, if subtle, jab at Trump: «I think President Trump was the right president at the right time … I agree with a lot of his policies … but right or wrong, he’s been dogged by chaos.»

At an open house at Trump headquarters in nearby Urbandale, Jason Miller flippantly dismissed Haley’s «chaos» line by attacking Joe Biden’s «chaos» and analyzing Haley’s failed media strategy. In feigned sympathy for her team (barney keller Haley’s media adviser, is his former business partner), Miller said, «If you haven’t done it before, it can be daunting» and that blanketing the airwaves with television ads was a Bush League thing. In a national campaign, «it’s all about the candidate and the media,» he said. “It’s a different game.

It was easy for him to say – his candidate is a media vortex unto himself. And what I witnessed from the MAGA machine underscored why no one else stood a chance against Trump’s base of support in Iowa — and perhaps anywhere.

At Trump headquarters, I asked Mary Doyle, The 69-year-old Iowan with short silver hair and a bright red Trump campaign sweatshirt if she ever considered other candidates. She had – and found Nikki Haley the least attractive. «I’m excited about the body language,» she said, showing Haley holding the microphone with her fingertips — too gentle, Doyle concluded. «That spoke volumes to me,» she said. “You cannot treat the office of the President of the United States as if it were a delicate instrument.

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