DES MOINES — Donald Trump made one of his final pitches to Iowa voters in a speech in which he once again needled Fox News over last week’s presidential debate, which he skipped and instead held a competing event for veterans.
“It didn’t do very well — it had 12 million people,” Trump said of the ratings for the debate on Thursday, comparing it to the more than 24 million who tuned in to the first GOP debate in August, setting a cable record.
“If I was there, we would have broken that record,” he told the audience in Waterloo, Iowa, while noting that the competing event he held raised $6 million for veterans.
With just hours to go before the caucuses, Trump is mixing in boasts with jabs at rivals and appeals to evangelicals, attempting to cut into the support of Ted Cruz.
“Believing in God — so important,” Trump said in Waterloo.
On Fox News Sunday, Trump told Chris Wallace that he “would be very strong in putting certain judges on the bench that could maybe change” the Supreme Court ruling last year in favor of same-sex marriage.
He talked about the “war on Christmas,” telling the audience that when he becomes president, “We are going to say Merry Christmas a lot, believe me folks.” That was segue to talk about Macy’s, which ended its business relationship with Trump last summer after protests from immigration and Latino groups over comments he made in his opening campaign announcement.
“A very disloyal company,” Trump said. “They were told they were going to have a couple of picketers in front of Macy’s. I told them they will picket for about 20 minutes and then they will want to go to lunch.”
When it comes to Fox News, Trump said that “people respect us that we didn’t take this stuff from people who treat us this way.” He ran down the list of those who instead contributed to his veterans event, including Marvel Entertainment’s Ike Perlmutter, who donated $1 million.
“They make all the great movies. I think he’s got five of the top 10 grossing movies of all time,” he said.
Trump’s unconventional campaign is also a test of turnout, and whether his publicity and energetic followers will be enough to match more traditional operations that depend heavily on canvassing and phone banks. His campaign is doing that, but in his speech he acknowledged that other campaigns are spending much more on field operations.
“They have got great ground games,” he said, with money from “special interests.”
“I have spent less money than any other and I am getting the best results,” he said.
The campaign has shelled out for the signature “Make America Great Again” hats — just over $400,000 in the last three months of 2015, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
For all of the polling, the common refrain heard throughout the day has been about turnout. On Sunday, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad predicted record turnout. The two figures most cited are the 121,503 caucusgoers for Republicans in 2012, and the 239,872 who turned out for Democrats in 2008.
A big turnout could favor Trump as well as Bernie Sanders, who are depending on first-time caucusgoers.
“What every polls tells us, and what every political pundit understands, is we will win tonight if voter turnout is strong,” Sanders told supporters on Monday.
The campaigns and media contingency here got a respite from the hyper partisanship and political maneuvering that characterized Sunday, at the Snowflake Garden Brunch at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates. Hosted by “With All Due Respect’s” Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Tammy Haddad, Hilary Rosen, Ben Ginsberg, and John and Christine Stineman, the event raised money for Blue Star Families. The eclectic mix of attendees included Branstad, pollster Ann Selzer, Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric, and actor Richard Dreyfuss.
Dreyfuss said that he’s been attending caucus events as an observer, not to endorse any candidate, and in part was looking to see what has happened to the Republican party and it’s push rightward. Cruz’s campaign tweeted out a photo of the candidate with Dreyfuss in Ames, Iowa.
Also there was Brent Roske, the Hollywood producer who moved to Des Moines last year to host a political talk show, “Roske on Politics.” He also screened his new web series “Courting Des Moines,” a followup to “Chasing the Hill,” on Sunday night, with guests that included former Sen. Tom Harkin.
So what happens after Tuesday? Roske has decided to stay in Iowa, and live here permanently.