CEDAR RAPIDS — Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States is “ludicrous,” but his comments won’t prompt Sen. Joni Ernst or other top Iowa Republicans to endorse one of his rivals in in the Feb. 1 precinct caucuses.
In language stronger than either Sen. Chuck Grassley or Gov. Terry Branstad used to voice disagreement with Trump, Ernst called on Iowans to “look beyond inflammatory comments, provocative comments and really dig into policy and see if this helping us in the global war on terror or is it hurting?”
“We can’t just grab onto something that sounds very provocative out in the media, which is exactly what is happening right now,” the Iowa Republican said during a conference call with reporters Thursday.
Ernst, who just retired from more than two decades in the Iowa Army National Guard, said Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. would end a partnership between the Guard and security forces in Kosovo, a European nation with a predominantly Muslim population.
“In Kosovo, you will probably see as many American flags flying as you will Kosovo national flags,” Ernst said. “They adore the U.S. These are great partners for us.”
Kosovar military personnel would not be able to participate with the Iowa Guard in annual training and drill weekends, Ernst said.
“That is ludicrous,” she said.
The partnership between Iowa and Kosovo “is just one example of many, many great partners we have around the globe,” Ernst said.
Despite her opposition to Trump’s plan, Ernst won’t change her mind about endorsing another candidate ahead of the caucuses.
“I said from the beginning I will not endorse a candidate,” Ernst said, “but speaking out against what he is proposing is pretty telling of a number of us elected leaders.”
That’s the same approach Grassley and Branstad have taken — voicing disagreement with Trump’s comments but leaving his fate in the hands of caucus-goers.
“It’s not for me” to condemn him, Grassley said about Trump. “We’ve invited everybody into Iowa to campaign, so wouldn’t it be intellectually dishonest to tell him you ought to never come back to Iowa?”
Besides, he said, in the American political system “Trump or anybody else can run for president, so you’re not going to dump anybody from running for president.”
Likewise, Branstad said he will continue to remain neutral in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus campaign. On Wednesday, however, he made it clear he’s not supporting Trump.
“No, he’s not the best candidate in my mind,” Branstad said. “I’ll let the voters of Iowa decide. I’m not taking sides.”
Trump may be falling out of favor with Iowa GOP caucus-goers, Branstad said in a CNN interview Thursday morning in New York. Noting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s gains in recent polls, the governor predicted Trump will not win the caucuses.
“I have a lot of confidence in the Iowa voters in making that decision,” he said.