SIOUX CITY | Sam Clovis describes himself as a “utility infielder” on Donald Trump’s political team.
As national co-chairman and chief policy adviser for Trump, the surprise front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Clovis performs a wide range of duties. He appears on TV as a Trump surrogate, writes talking points for speeches and helps find key people who can inform Trump's developing policies on economics, immigration and foreign affairs.
"My job is to facilitate all that, gather the data, gather the inputs and put the products together and make sure that they get to Mr. Trump," Clovis told the Journal in a wide-ranging interview Thursday. "It is really exciting, because no day is ever the same. I get an opportunity to touch everything in the campaign from a policy perspective."
Clovis, a former radio talk show host who is on leave from his job as an economics professor at Morningside College, periodically joins Trump on the campaign trail.
"I spend most of my time in D.C., the last couple months, and New York. I'd say I go to New York every other trip, every third trip," Clovis said. The Trump campaign’s national headquarters are on the fifth floor of Trump Tower at 56th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City, so he's often in the heart of Manhattan.
The time Clovis spends rubbing shoulders with Trump varies.
"Since March, I have had more electronic contact. That is because it has been the evolution of my tasking and the pace of the campaign. Before, I had a great deal more personal interaction, as the debate season was in the flow of the campaign," he said.
Clovis spoke with the Journal during a two-week visit to his home in Hinton, Iowa, as well as other stops in Siouxland and Iowa. It’s his most extended visit back home since he joined the Trump campaign in August, months before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses on Feb. 1.
Trump, an outspoken billionaire businessman and reality TV star, finished second in Iowa behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, but subsequently reeled off a series of wins in other early voting states.
On Tuesday, Trump won more than 60 percent of the vote in his home state of New York, raising his commanding delegate lead over his two remaining GOP opponents -- Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Clovis attributed Trump’s electoral success to Americans feeling shut out of power corridors, and, under Democratic President Barack Obama, seeing the U.S. stepping back from a world leadership role.
"That's not the America they understand," Clovis said.
Clovis also assessed the much-aired speculation that Trump might fall just short of the 1,237 delegates needed to cinch the nomination, setting up the potential for a contested national convention in Cleveland in July.
The rules of the Republican National Committee, Clovis said, should bind delegates to the state primaries and caucus results and not allow them to jump ship to other candidates like Cruz, whose campaign has been recruiting delegates to support him after the first ballot.
Clovis said Kasich and Cruz should drop out of the race to reduce the confusion. Trump himself tweeted on that topic Thursday, writing, "Both Ted Cruz and John Kasich have no path to victory. They should both drop out of the race so that the Republican Party can unify!"
If another candidate wins the nomination over Trump, Clovis recently vowed to leave the Republican Party, in which he has served as a party activist and, most recently, the GOP nominee for state treasurer in 2014.
Clovis doubled down on that threat during his interview with the Journal.
"If they pull rules and they manipulate circumstances that would deny Donald Trump the nomination, when he should legitimately have it, I think that that will be it,” he said. "That, to me, would be the final straw. I said that and I meant it."
As a tenured professor at Morningside, Clovis has been on unpaid leave since August. He said his open-ended options for coming back depend on whether Trump becomes the nominee and beats presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the November general election. If Trump wins the White House, Clovis perhaps could work in his administration.
"We have the options to take unpaid leave to fulfill these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities," Clovis said.
Clovis visited the Morningside campus Wednesday to talk with a college official on his nonspecific plans to return.
When the 2016 presidential campaign kicked off early last year, Clovis signed on as an adviser to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign. After a summer in which the tough-talking Trump surged to the top of polls and Perry faded, Clovis switched to the Trump team.
Clovis said he embraced Trump for his eviscerating talk against the "undue" heft that special interests have in national politics.
"(Trump) swore that he would not take money from special interests ... I could not trust anybody else running to hold to that, and frankly most of the rest of them refused to disavow special interests. My choice was simple," he said.
Clovis said he's not been troubled by any of Trump's campaign statements that some find disconcerting on immigration and other topics. Trump has supported a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. in response to a 2015 shooting spree in San Bernardino by two Muslims and mocked a disabled newspaper reporter.
"I really have had nothing that has given me pause, because I know where he is coming from," Clovis said.
He said some Republicans may be troubled by Trump's stance on abortion, since he supports exceptions for women to take that step if they became pregnant by rape of incest. Clovis said he personally doesn't like any exceptions that would allow access to abortions, but said he fits philosophically well with Trump's stances.
Plymouth County Repulbican Party Chairman Don Kass, of Remsen, said Clovis has longstanding strong conservative stances, so he "provides gravitas" to the Trump team.
"His TV appearances, (Clovis) does a great job of promoting Mr. Trump. Sam has always been well-spoken," Kass said.
Iowa Democratic Party spokesman Sam Lau said Iowans will reject Trump's agenda if he moves ahead to the November presidential ballot.
"Sam Clovis is certainly well suited to work for Donald Trump, since they both share the same bigoted, fear-mongering and hateful policies that aim to divide the country," Lau said.