The Trump supporter who matters more to Iowa conservatives than Palin

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

Anti-Equal Rights Amendment activist and conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly, pictured here in a 1976 photo, has endorsed Donald Trump. (Photo: AP)

It’s hard to find people these days who know what’s on the minds of conservative voters in Iowa but who don’t have a rooting interest that shades their comments to favor one presidential candidate over another.

Steve Scheffler is one of those few. The veteran Iowa political organizer may have his preferences, but he is not endorsing anyone. He’s a natural fit for the Ted Cruz constituency, but doesn’t get along with some of Cruz’s top Iowa endorsers.

Given Scheffler’s credentials of both expertise and relative objectivity, his take on Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump on Tuesday was an interesting one.

Scheffler noted first that most Iowans are not swayed by endorsements of any kind. They get to see the candidates themselves, usually more than once, and they make up their own minds.

But as endorsements go, Scheffler said, Palin’s – while moderately helpful to Trump – was not even the most significant of the last few weeks.

He said that it was the support for Trump from 91-year-old conservative organizer Phyllis Schlafly that is “the one that has kind of turned some heads.”

For older conservative caucus-goers, it was Schlafly’s glowing praise for Trump that signaled to those who have followed her over the last few decades that “maybe it’s safe for them to go ahead and support Trump.”

“It gives them a comfort level,” Scheffler said.

Schlafly’s political biography goes all the way back to the Barry Goldwater campaign for president in 1964, when she wrote a populist, self-published book supporting Goldwater and denouncing the Republican establishment.

She is best known, however, for her activism in the 1970s to stop the Equal Rights Amendment from being amended to the Constitution. And in the more than three decades since, she has remained a venerated figure among conservatives who regard her as one of their preeminent culture warriors.

Schlafly, like Palin, has become far less relevant on the national scene in recent years. But unlike Palin, Schlafly has not lost any credibility with older conservatives who remember her many battles with liberals over the years.

The hard-right populist website Breitbart published an adulatory 3,500 words on Schlafly after speaking to her about her support for Trump, describing her as speaking in an interview “plainly and calmly like a general who — far from being war-weary from past skirmishes — thrived on battles of principle and relished the coming challenge ahead.”

Schlafly told Breitbart that undocumented immigrants “all immediately go on welfare” and that the 2013 immigration reform bill that passed the Senate but stalled in the House was “anti-American.”

In an interview in mid-December, Schlafly told WorldNet Daily that Trump is America’s “last hope.”

“It sounds like Donald Trump is the only one who has any fight in him. He will fight for the issues that we really care about and are very hot at the present time, such as the immigration issue,” Schlafly said.

Scheffler, the Iowa organizer, sounded puzzled by Schlafly’s support for Trump.

“I talked to her at home about two weeks ago and asked her, ‘Why?’ … She said things have gone to hell in a handbasket for so long and you’ve got all the promises of the political elites,” Scheffler said. “And she’s willing to take a chance with someone who’s going to shake things up.”

Bob Vander Plaats, an influential organizer of Iowa’s religious conservatives who has endorsed Cruz, downplayed the importance of Schlafly’s endorsement.

“I haven’t heard a lot of buzz since Phyllis Schlafly endorsed Trump. I forget how long ago that was,” Vander Plaats said.

Vander Plaats also said he did not think Palin’s endorsement would have much impact in Iowa either.

“I think people still like and respect Sarah Palin. I just don’t see her endorsement moving numbers,” he said. “It may validate some people who are already voting for Trump.”

But whereas Palin was “coming in to provide cover for some of Trump’s values,” Vander Plaats said, he and other leaders like James Dobson of Focus on the Family “embrace Ted Cruz’s values.”

“We extol them,” he said.

One residual consequence of Palin’s endorsement could come, wrote conservative talk radio host Erick Erickson, if Trump wins Iowa and Cruz is forced to drop out of the primary.

“Palin is not an endorsement to get new people to vote for Trump. She is an endorsement to get Ted Cruz’s voters to go to Trump after Iowa. Cruz, most strategists would agree, gives up his path to victory if he does not win Iowa,” Erickson wrote.