MUSCATINE, Iowa — Donald Trump spent his weekend doing the sorts of things that long ago became a way of life for presidential candidates trying to win the Iowa caucuses.
Rather than jetting out of town after holding events, as has become his pattern, Trump schmoozed with some of the state’s Republican leaders, spent Saturday night at a Dutch-style hotel in a small town, ate at a restaurant with a prime-rib buffet, took photos with locals and went to church Sunday morning.
With the Feb. 1 caucuses quickly approaching, Trump made seven major appearances in seven days in the state last week, spending two nights and trying out retail politics.
The overnights gave the billionaire real estate developer a closer look at life in Iowa, beyond what he sees out the windows of his private plane and motorcade. He marveled at how Iowa has good steak and how the television airwaves are packed with so many attack ads.
“I like it. I like it,” Trump said Sunday morning. “I like staying, it’s really nice. The hotels were beautiful; they were clean, nice. I’ll be here next week. I’ll be here a lot.”
His visit was quieter in tone and scope than his trademark massive rallies, although he was recognized everywhere he went. Word that Trump was spending more time in the state prompted curious speculation.
“I wondered, where is he staying?” said Debra Core, a Democrat-turned-Republican artist from Solon, Iowa, who attended Trump’s rally in Muscatine in eastern Iowa on Sunday afternoon. “I think he went back to his plane, cozied up on his plane — or maybe he has a private bus or something? I don’t think he would stay in a B and B.”
While the extended stays are buzzy, Core said she doesn’t think Trump has to do it to win the state.
“I think he’s already gotten his message across,” said Core, who plans to caucus for Trump. “I don’t think he has to meet and greet.”
Her husband, Ken Core, said: “We’ll see on February 1st.”
Trump held two rallies in Iowa on Saturday, first in Sioux Center, in the deeply conservative northwest corner of the state, and then in Pella, in the central part of the state. In Pella — which calls itself “America’s Dutch Treasure” — Trump was joined by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who has held the position for more than three decades and visits every county of the state each year. Trump spent the night at Pella’s Royal Amsterdam Hotel, venturing to the restaurant for dinner with campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and spokeswoman Hope Hicks.
The candidate was offered a private dining room but declined, instead choosing to eat in the center of the main room as college basketball games played on the bar’s televisions. Trump, who does not drink alcohol, ordered cans of soda. As patrons lined up at a buffet for prime rib, they asked Trump for pictures and autographs.
Later, Trump declared the meal “really good” and “really excellent.”
The next morning, Trump ventured to the First Presbyterian Church in Muscatine, a small town on the Mississippi River. Evangelicals often play a crucial role in the Iowa caucuses, and Trump has been talking up his Presbyterian faith — although this was the first time he was spotted in a church. (Trump said he attended church once in New Hampshire.)
Unlike most Trump events that are covered live on cable television, Trump’s morning visit was documented by a small group of print reporters and photographers who were invited by the campaign. As he entered the church, Trump was asked about what his faith meant to him and he replied, “A lot.”
Trump joined about 100 churchgoers, taking a seat in the fifth row. He sat next to Debra Whitaker, 59, a supporter and the mother of Dustin Whitaker, an Iowa National Guard member and Purple Heart recipient who was killed in a 2012 motorcycle accident after serving in Iraq.
During the hour-long service, Trump clasped his hands in prayer, nodded along as an elderly organist played songs of praise, and traced his finger along a paper pamphlet. During the offering of peace, Trump grasped hands and said, “Peace be with you” to a dozen people who approached him. When a young girl asked him for a selfie as well as a handshake, he paused for a moment but then bowed down and obliged, flashing a grin before he returned to his seat in the wooden aisle.
The Rev. Pam Saturnia brought up the immigration debate, which for months has propelled Trump’s bid for the GOP nomination. Saturnia said “Syrian refugees and Mexican migrants” should be welcomed rather than shunned by Americans.
“Instead of feeling rage at Jesus that we have to share him, we are called to do just that,” she said in her sermon. “Share Jesus with the ones who need him.”
Later in the morning, Trump told reporters that the sermon did not sway him — but he was intrigued by the reading of 1 Corinthians 12 and an accompanying speech by a woman in the congregation about humility.
“I heard that. I wonder if that was for me,” Trump told reporters. “They didn’t even know I was coming, so I doubt it. But it was an appropriate phrase. . . . Humility. Perhaps she had something in mind.”
He added: “I have more humility than people think.”
From there, Trump was off to his third campaign rally of the weekend, in the gym at Muscatine High School. He was again introduced by one of the party’s leaders, Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, the latest in a series of establishment Republicans who have suddenly begun appearing in public with Trump.
“I know that some of you that are standing in the crowd today are also a bit angry — that’s okay,” Kaufmann said. “I’m a little bit angry, too.”
Trump opened the rally with a recap of church that morning, mentioning the reading about humility. Then he launched into his usual campaign talking points, plugging his poll numbers, slamming his opponents, and reminding Iowans that they must caucus for him.
“You have not had a winner in so long — you haven’t had a winner,” Trump said. The crowd then began chanting “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
After the 65-minute speech, Trump walked along the barrier separating him from the crowd, shaking hands, chatting with voters and signing copies of his books, campaign hats and signs. Cameras and reporters were kept at a distance, far away from the candidate.
Then, it was back to the airport.