Honestly, what did Kim Reynolds expect?

Screenshot of President Donald Trump and Governor Kim Reynolds at a rally in Des Moines on January 30, 2020

“I would say with a great deal of confidence that Kim Reynolds is the only person in the state of Iowa that could be a king or a queenmaker,” Republican Party of Iowa state chair Jeff Kaufmann told the Des Moines Register last February. “There’s a lot of people who like to cast themselves as kingmaker because it helps them to push their organizations, but she’s the only one that could be.”


Governor Reynolds spent much of the last two months campaigning for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and starred in a tv ad on his behalf. Yet her backing didn’t move the needle; polls showed support for DeSantis between the mid-teens and low 20s in Iowa for the last six months. As expected, he finished about 30 points behind former President Donald Trump at the January 15 caucuses.

DeSantis did eke out a second-place finish with 21.2 percent of the vote, about 2 points ahead of Nikki Haley. But that more likely stemmed from the Never Back Down super PAC’s extensive field operation, which was superior to what Americans for Prosperity Action delivered for Haley.

Reynolds should have known it was far too late to convince the GOP base to abandon Trump. She’d avoided offending his fans for years.


Reynolds and DeSantis sat side by side for interviews with NBC News and the Des Moines Register on November 6 to announce the endorsement. Reynolds told the Register’s Brianne Pfannnstiel she couldn’t believe how much the country has declined under President Joe Biden. “And we’re resilient. We’ll be able to come back from this. But if we don’t win this next election, we’re done.”

She said of DeSantis, “He’s the one that can win.” What about Trump? “He’s not the same person. […] I don’t think he can win.”

Reynolds hammered the same point home with NBC’s Dasha Burns: “We gotta get it right. We don’t get a redo on this one.”

Burns noted that recent New York Times/Siena polls had shown Trump leading Biden in five out of six swing states. Reynolds wasn’t convinced: “I believe he can’t win […] I do not think he’ll win the general. You will see the media shift and come at him.”

Selzer & Co’s Iowa Polls for the Des Moines Register, NBC News, and Mediacom showed in October and again in December that most likely caucus-goers believed Trump could win the next general election. Even a majority of DeSantis supporters felt that way.

And really, why would Iowa Republicans believe Trump can’t win in November? They don’t think he lost to Biden last time. Entrance polls taken January 15 indicated that 66 percent of GOP caucus-goers didn’t believe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. Only 30 percent said Biden was the legitimate winner.

Reynolds and the rest of the Iowa GOP establishment share the blame for that mass delusion.


The governor never publicly said Trump lost the 2020 election fair and square. On the contrary: she wanted to join a Texas lawsuit seeking to throw out the presidential election results in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia. At that time, she said in a written statement, “The American people deserve a fair and transparent election.”

Even after the failed coup attempt of January 6, 2021, Reynolds wouldn’t say Trump lost. The day after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, she told reporters “there are a lot of questions out there” about the voting, saying “you can’t shut people down” when half the electorate thinks the election was “not valid.” While she called for “making sure that the people feel that the integrity of our election process is intact,” she and other leading Republicans kept validating Trump’s lies about a stolen election.

Reynolds was among several GOP elected officials who praised Trump at a rally in Des Moines in October 2021. The former president went on to spend about 30 minutes at that event falsely claiming he had won Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

It was foolish for Reynolds to think she could convince Iowan Republicans that DeSantis was more electable than Trump. Enabling election deniers has consequences.


Reynolds also argued the Florida governor could accomplish more than Trump as president. During her Des Moines Register interview in early November, she said of Trump, “I appreciate what he did for four years, he did a lot of good things. It’s just a different time. And we have to look towards the future, and not the past. And we need a candidate that will devote 100 percent of their energy to America and the American people.”

At the first DeSantis rally following her endorsement, Reynolds fired up the crowd by saying, “We need someone who won’t get distracted, but will stay disciplined. Who puts this country first and not himself. That leader, that leader is Ron DeSantis.” She also dinged Trump over his administration’s COVID-19 response and his criticism of near-total abortion bans.

The following week, the DeSantis campaign began running a 30-second ad in Iowa, touting Reynolds’ support.

The spot shows Reynolds telling the crowd, “We need someone who puts this country first and not himself. Ron DeSantis is the person that we need leading this country.” It shows her telling an interviewer, “He is probably the most effective leader that I know,” then cuts back to the governors together: “I am so proud to give him my full support and endorsement.”

Those angles were bound to be a hard sell, given what Reynolds had said about Trump during and after his presidency. If she felt he was too easily distracted or put himself before the country, it didn’t stop her from touting the “honor” of his endorsement for her 2022 re-election campaign.


The Trump campaign released a devastating tv ad called “Thankful” in early December. The 60-second spot, which aired in heavy rotation across Iowa, featured clips of Reynolds lavishing praise on Trump.

Speaking on stage as Trump watched, Reynolds gushed in 2018, “On behalf of all Iowans, I want to say thank you. Thank you for cutting taxes for hard-working Iowans. For eliminating senseless regulations that stifled innovations and jobs.”

Footage from a different rally, apparently in 2020, shows Reynolds saying, “What I love about this president and this administration, is that it is an administration of action and outcomes. And the list is long. Lower taxes, lower unemployment, safer borders.”

Going back to the first rally, Reynolds shouted, “For standing strong with Justice Kavanaugh and appointing conservative judges to the court. Our farmers thank you, Iowans thank you. And we are grateful. Promises made, promises kept. The Midwest has a partner in the White House with President Donald Trump.”

And finally, from the second rally, Reynolds described Trump as “A leader, a fighter, a president who puts America and Americans first.”

Reynolds later complained to Fox News that the ad was “misleading Iowans, as if I was endorsing him.” She made the same charge at a DeSantis campaign event in Bettendorf.

Trump lied or misled the public tens of thousands of times as president and continues to lie about the 2020 election and other topics at every campaign rally. Reynolds never expressed concern about his false claims before.

The irony is, the Trump ad was probably one of the least deceptive messages he has promoted lately. The video wasn’t a deepfake and didn’t take Reynolds’ words out of context. Much of the footage came from a Council Bluffs rally in October 2018.

Granted, a viewer not tuned in to Iowa politics might get the impression Reynolds endorsed Trump in this election cycle. But the ad doesn’t make that claim. It simply shows her praising him.

Anyway, Reynolds has repeatedly confirmed she will back Trump if he’s the GOP nominee in 2024.


Long before she went all in for DeSantis, Reynolds undermined any chance that Trump’s legal problems could damage his standing among Iowa Republican voters. She has never acknowledged the former president may have committed serious crimes. At most she has hinted the pending court proceedings could interfere with next year’s campaign, by drawing an unspoken contrast between Trump and DeSantis, who “won’t get distracted.”

Last year, Reynolds reinforced Trump’s claim to be a victim of political persecution. Following his first batch of criminal charges, she denounced the “sham indictment” and the “two-tiered justice system under Joe Biden” in an official news release. Echoing Trump’s own talking points, Reynolds declared, “This is what an assault on democracy looks like – using government power to go after your political opponents – and it’s coming directly from those who proclaim to ‘defend’ it.”

When Trump was indicted again in June for allegedly mishandling classified documents, Reynolds quickly put out another news release calling the move “a grave warning sign for the state of equal justice and public trust in government institutions in this country.”

Just like the Biden CDC’s overreach during COVID will have long-lasting impacts on the American people’s trust in public health institutions, the Biden administration’s weaponization of the Justice Department will diminish Americans’ confidence in law enforcement institutions for decades to come. […] 2024 can’t come soon enough.”

As I wrote last summer, Reynolds’ public statement reframed “the charges against Trump—which, if true, would be disqualifying for someone attempting to become commander-in-chief—as a reason to vote Biden out of office.”

It’s no surprise, then, that 64 percent of Iowa GOP caucus-goers said Trump is fit to be president even if convicted of a crime, according to the entrance poll taken January 15. Why would anyone think crimes are disqualifying, when the most prominent DeSantis endorser depicted the charges as illegitimate?

Even on her semi-secret Twitter account, Reynolds didn’t cite Trump’s indictments as a reason not to caucus for him.

The DeSantis flop proves once and for all that endorsements don’t matter in the Iowa caucuses.

But more than that, it suggests Reynolds vastly overestimated her own clout.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • Kim Reynolds Luck Finally Ran Out

    Reynolds won at the polls in 2018 and 2022 because she had the good fortune to draw inept candidates. I’ll go to my grave thinking the Dems might have beaten Reynolds with the carbon pipeline issue, but they feared the unions. Reynolds, and others, actually believed her victories showed real political strength. Now she’ll have to crawl back into the hole at Terrace Hill, never again to be noticed by the rest of the country.

  • how many ways can she demonstrate her poor judgement and still be counted as somehow savvy?

    she lucked into the populist swing in our national politics but even in friendly interviews she demonstrates that she doesn’t really have much in the way of coherence, competence or insight.
    I mean even in response to polling data she says “You will see the media shift and come at him” as if reporting polling data is somehow the press taking a (pro-Trump!) position, she makes slightly more sense than Trump and like him is a useful idiot front for various rightwing big donor driven movements to enact their agendas.

  • Reynolds clueless to reality

    Reynolds is about ten steps behind her political party members, and their obnoxious support of Trump. But she reflects confusion about how to help the state and country. Endorsing DeSantis only isolated her and now with his poor results she is even more irrelevant. How that affects her impact with the Legislature remains to be seen.