Terry Branstad

Former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is leaving his diplomatic post.

Trump spoke by phone with U.S. Senator Joni Ernst Saturday on another topic. As Ernst held the phone out so volunteers at GOP campaign headquarters could hear Trump, the president concluded by mentioning Branstad, who has been Ambassador to China, as well as the former governor’s son, Eric, who is a senior advisor to Trump’s reelection campaign in Iowa.

“I just want to thank everybody there. I hear on the ground it’s fantastic. Eric Branstad’s fantastic and you know, Eric’s father is coming home because he wants to campaign,” Trump said, as Ernst and others in the room reacted as Trump concluded: “We have a real team.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted overnight, shortly before midnight Iowa time, thanking Branstad for his service in China.

During a campaign rally in Sioux City just before the 2016 election, Trump said Branstad would make a good ambassador.

“I think there’s nobody that knows about trade than him. He’s one of the ones,” Trump said on November 6, 2016. “You would be our prime candidate to take care of China.”

This is how Branstad remembered that moment a few months later.

“He made some sort of off the cuff remark like, ‘Well, Governor Branstad can take care of China or something like that,” Branstad said, laughing.

Branstad described the meeting he and his wife, Chris, had in President-elect Trump’s office in New York.

“First thing he said is: ‘Your son, Eric. He did a great job. He was the state director for me in Iowa and I just love that guy. What’s his phone number? Let’s give him a call.’ And Chris and I looked at each other. We didn’t have our cell phones with us and we don’t have his number memorized, so that was kind of an embarrassing moment,” Branstad said with a laugh. “And then he looked at Chris and said: ‘Do you really want to do this?’ And she said: ‘Yes.” And that was it.”

Trump held a rally in Des Moines in December of 2016, shortly after announcing he’d appoint Branstad as ambassador to China.

“America’s longest-serving governor in the history of our country,” Trump said, as the crowd cheered.

Branstad hinted at his pending job during his final “Condition of the State” speech in January of 2017.

“Today, America and Iowa exist in a challenging world,” Branstad said. “We must seize the opportunity to make it a better place.”

In May of 2017 Branstad resigned as governor after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate as an ambassador. Pompeo, on Twitter, said Branstad had contributed to rebalancing U.S.-China relations so that it is results-oriented, reciprocal and fair. Pompeo and Branstad visited Des Moines in March of last year. Branstad told reporters then he could not talk about US. politics as a U.S. Ambassador.

Branstad, who is 73, is a native of Lake Mills, Iowa. His wife, daughter and his daughter’s family accompanied him to China in 2017, but Governor Kim Reynolds told reporters earlier this year that Branstad’s family returned to Iowa due to the coronavirus.