Opposing Trump, GOP congressmen are on the trail in Iowa for DeSantis

Most House Republicans operate under an unspoken but ironclad rule: Do everything you can to avoid provoking the wrath of former President Donald J. Trump.

But on a recent weekend here in Iowa, just days before the state’s first nominating contest, two of the staunchest conservatives in Congress were doing just that as they criss-crossed the state with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida to make the case for a different party standard bearer.

Stop after stop on a series of cold, gray days, Representatives Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas Massie of Kentucky gathered in packed sports bars and coffee shops, casting Mr. DeSantis as a leader with a proven track record of conservative victories. In doing so, they provided a surprisingly straightforward review of what they argued was a series of policy failures by the former president — including his failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, complete the US border wall with Mexico and rein in the skyrocketing national duty – and an implicit critique of his character.

“The main reason I’m supporting Gov. Ron DeSantis for president is that I want my son and my daughter to be able to look up to the occupant of the Oval Office,” Mr. Roy told a packed house of sports bar patrons. in Ankeny. “Someone they can emulate. Someone you would be proud to follow and look up to as a leader.”

Mr. Roy and Mr. Massey have always been outstanding figures in the Congress. Mr. Roy, a former chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, has emerged as perhaps the most influential conservative voice on policy in the House GOP conference. Mr. Massie, a libertarian who is by turns brooding and mischievous, forced Congress to return to Washington to hold a recorded vote on the $2 trillion stimulus measure at the height of the pandemic.

But their commitment to break with the vast majority of their colleagues — including the entire House Republican leadership — and campaign for Mr. DeSantis, even though he is trailing well in the polls behind Mr. Trump, is perhaps one of the their heaviest political moves yet.

Despite the possible political risks, they stood firm, not only criticizing Mr. Trump’s record — even throwing in a knock-off or two of the famously thin-skinned Republican front-runner — but also openly bemoaning the choices of their fellow Republicans who endorsed him.

“I would say that a large number of people who have supported Trump in Congress have done so because they really want him to be president and they prefer him,” Mr. Massey said in an interview before an event with Mr. DeSantis at a sports bar in Grimes. “But most of them are afraid of their own voters. Not necessarily fear of Trump, but that he would anger their voters and that they might lose the primary. And that’s disappointing to me.”

“It’s a political risk,” Mr. Massey acknowledged his support for Mr. DeSantis, noting that two primary opponents have recently filed to challenge him.

He and Mr. Roy are two of only five sitting members of Congress, including Representative Bob Goode of Virginia, the newly elected chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, who have endorsed the Florida governor. As of last week, every GOP leader in the House of Representatives had lined up behind Mr. Trump.

Asked about the potential political risks of campaigning against Mr Trump, Mr Roy said: “I don’t care what some influencers say on Twitter.”

“Frankly,” he continued, “too many of my fellow Republicans are acting out of fear. I fear the Lord. I’m not afraid of politics. I am not afraid of political retribution. Worst case scenario, will I end up back in Texas? My life is pretty good.”

If Mr. Trump’s retinue of surrogates are MAGA darlings, Mr. DeSantis’ group is more of an oddball conservative clique. During his campaign, Mr. Massey described how, when Mr. DeSantis was in Congress, the two avoided black-tie dinners in favor of reading the text of bills they voted on over sandwiches. Mr. Roy raved about Florida’s balanced budget, contrasting it with the growing national debt that Mr. Trump left behind.

Their criticisms begin tactfully. Mr. Roy notes that he supported Mr. Trump in 2016 and 2020, points out that many of his “great friends” worked in the Trump administration, and often emphasizes his references to the former president “with all my respect’. Mr Massey acknowledged that “Trump has done a lot of good things”.

They are not household names, but many voters in Iowa greeted them enthusiastically. At one coffee shop, a man cheered Mr. Roy by name, and at another stop a woman stopped Mr. Massey to ask if her young daughter could shake his hand.

The Trump campaign signaled it was unimpressed with Mr. DeSantis’ appearances before members of Congress.

“Wow, what a game changer (insert sarcasm here),” Stephen Cheng, a Trump spokesman, said in a text message.

But they appear to have personally angered Mr. Trump himself.

“Has any smart and energetic Republican in the great state of Texas decided to run in the primary against RINO Congressman Chip Roy,” Mr. Trump wrote last month on his social media platform, using the acronym “Republican in Name Only.” “For the right guy, he’s very beatable. If you are interested let me know!!!”

In fact, the window for filing nominations to challenge Mr. Roy had already closed.

Both Mr. Roy and Mr. Massey have opposed the former president before. They issued a letter in the days leading up to January 6, 2021, arguing that the Constitution does not give Congress the power to overturn President Biden’s election victory.

“Both Thomas and I said two years ago, ‘Oh, you’re going to be in trouble because you voted for the constituents,'” Mr. Roy said in an interview. “I got more votes than anyone else in Texas in my district. I will go and speak honestly to my constituents. They know what I’m fighting for.”

Mr Massey has already successfully fended off a primary challenge from his right wing: “I have Trump’s antibodies. I was attacked, I built a resistance in my area.

He often tells voters how Mr. Trump tried to kick him out of the party after he forced Congress back to Washington for an in-person vote on the first coronavirus stimulus measure.

Mimicking Mr. Trump’s distinctive way of speaking, Mr. Massey regaled crowds on a recent Saturday with an impression of a call he received from the president at the time. “I’m more popular in Kentucky than you are, and you know it,” he recalled Mr Trump saying. “He was! I had been polling. And he says, ‘I’m supporting your primary challenger and you’re going to lose.’

Mr. Massey won by more than 60 points.

However, there are some limits to their criticism.

When Mr. Massey reminded voters at the Ankeny bar that, as president, Mr. Trump had signed a massive government funding bill and vowed never to approve a single, major spending measure again, one man shouted: “He he lied!’

Mr. Massey paused and smiled wryly, “He … failed very tragically.”

Nicholas Nehamas contributed reporting.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *