Former President Donald Trump returned to Iowa for his first visit after losing the presidential election in November, launching a multifront assault on President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats he said were taking the nation to the “brink of ruin.”
Trump, who spoke for more than 90 minutes Saturday night, rattled off a list of campaign-style promises and joked about a potential new slogan, but stopped short of announcing a reelection bid.
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“We’re going to take America back,” he said.
He repeated false claims that the 2020 election was “rigged.” He continued to cast doubt on the results including in Arizona, which just concluded a review of the state’s largest county’s votes and found no evidence of a stolen election.
And in front of thousands of whipped-up supporters, he endorsed both U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, which has for decades launched the presidential nominating contests for both major political parties.
“You proved why Iowa should continue to vote first in the nation, that’s right. First in the nation,” Trump said, referencing his 8-point margin of victory in Iowa in November 2020.
Trump criticized Biden for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Afghanistan withdrawal, and multiple pieces of domestic legislation that have clogged up Congress — which Democrats control by slim margins — for months.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Trump said, later encouraging his supporters to turn out en masse for the 2022 midterm elections.
“We must send the radical left a message they will never forget,” he said.
Trump’s visit comes as, according to the latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, more Iowans feel favorably toward him than have before. Overall, 53% of Iowa adults hold favorable feelings toward Trump. His ratings are even higher among his fellow Republicans, with 91% feeling favorably toward him.
‘Iowa, what a place’: Trump gives some love to the Hawkeyes — and recalls his victory
Despite his dark message about the Biden administration, Trump was upbeat about Iowa during his visit.
“As disastrous as the Biden administration has been, no one can blame the great state of Iowa, because boy, we did really — we did really good here,” he said. “Iowa, what a place.”
He took the stage shortly after the University of Iowa scored a come-from-behind victory against Penn State in a game that was displayed on large screens during the rally’s pre-program.
“Hello, Iowa, and congratulations to the Iowa Hawkeyes!” Trump said, kicking off his remarks. “That was a big win today!”
His appreciation for Iowa extended toward 88-year-old Grassley, who he said “has my complete and total endorsement for reelection.”
“We have with us tonight a great American patriot, a man who truly loves Iowa — loves Iowa,” Trump said. “He’s a young — very young guy. He’s strong. And he’s very handsome. He fights like no other. When I’ve needed him for help he was always there.”
As for Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has not formally announced her reelection campaign, Trump hinted that an endorsement could be coming very soon.
“I said, ‘Kim, do you want me to endorse you tonight or later?’ And she said, ‘Sir, this is Chuck Grassley’s night.’ How nice is that?” the former president said.
More:Who’s running for Iowa governor in 2022? Here are Democratic candidates hoping to challenge Kim Reynolds
Iowa, national Democrats criticize state Republicans for supporting Trump after Jan. 6 riot
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn criticized Iowa Republicans for supporting Trump after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in January.
“Iowa Republicans have tied themselves to a man who attacked the foundations of our democracy throughout his time in office,” Wilburn said in a statement. “Just nine months ago, he incited a violent mob to attack his own Vice President and threaten the lives of lawmakers who were simply fulfilling their constitutional duty to certify our election.”
A slew of Iowa’s top Republican leaders warmed up the crowd ahead of Trump, including Reynolds, Grassley and U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks.
Reynolds led the crowd in a chant of “U.S.A.” and criticized Biden on his immigration policies, mentioning that she visited the U.S.-Mexico border this week.
“I was just there this week,” she said. “You know who’s never been there? Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They don’t care. They don’t care what’s happening at the border.”
Vice President Kamala Harris visited the U.S.-Mexico border in June.
Reynolds also mentioned Biden’s COVID-19 response, eliciting boos from the crowd.
“They don’t respect you,” she said of Democrats. “They don’t respect your faith, your values. They don’t think you’re capable of making your own decisions and they don’t think you should. And this is what America looks like under Democratic leadership but I’m here to tell you we’re fighting back.”
National Democrats slammed Trump’s visit to Iowa. Ammar Moussa, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said Trump’s grip on the Republican party “is the anvil around their necks going into 2022.”
“The Republican Party remains beholden to a president who oversaw millions of lost jobs, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and a violent assault on the Capitol and police officers,” Moussa said in the statement. “While Republicans have failed to lead, President Biden and Democrats continue to deliver for Iowans and Americans in ways Trump and Iowa Republicans are desperate to claim credit for.”
Trump supporters from near and far gather at Iowa State Fairgrounds
Hours before the rally began, thousands of supporters and merchants selling Trump paraphernalia lined up at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
Among the revelers was T. Trump, a Vietnamese immigrant who traveled with other Vietnamese immigrants from California. T. Trump and others said they legally changed their last names from Tran to Trump out of respect for the “king.”
“When you have a king that really works hard … the people take over his name,” T. Trump, 55 and wearing an American flag themed cowboy hat, said. “We came here for freedom. We don’t want to lose this country. You were born free, you want to live free, you want to die free.”
Diana Johnson, 66, and Lori Ediger, 58 — sisters from Nebraska — were also in line Saturday. They arrived at the fairgrounds at 5:30 a.m.
Ediger was so excited, she couldn’t sleep, she said.
“This guy’s a man of his word,” Ediger said. “He does what he says he’s going to do.”
Both were decked out in American flag themed clothing and Trump 2024 attire.
“Biden shouldn’t be in the White House,” Johnson said. “Period.”
Sheryl Robins, a retired nurse from Osceola, said she was glad to see the level of energy inside the fairgrounds. It was her first Trump rally since 2016.
She said she likes how Trump brought the background of a businessman to the White House and how he supported veterans and the economy. She said she’s been unhappy with how Biden has handled those issues.
“He ruined our economy, gave all that free money out, and look what he did to our military (and) the Afghans,” she said, adding that her husband is a Vietnam War veteran.
Inside the gate of the fairgrounds, David Lage, an evangelist from Ankeny, said he believes Trump will win again in 2024, and he plans to support him unless the former endorsed someone else.
“Trump’s for the country. He’s for America. He’s for Jesus,” he said.
Trump’s remarks didn’t impress everyone in attendance. Darcy Shelton, a health care worker from Des Moines, said she has supported Trump in the past but did not enjoy Saturday’s speech.
“I thought he was more full of himself than anything,” said Shelton, who wore a Trump flag draped around her shoulders. “…It was more about the election being stolen from him than about the American people.”
Shelton, who said she’s an independent, said she’s displeased with the Biden administration — particularly his vaccine mandate for health care workers. But she said she’d like to see someone else other than Trump run in 2024. She said she particularly likes Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose name has been floated as a possible candidate.
Trump hints at 2024 ambitions
Although Trump talked briefly about electing Republicans to Congress next year, his speech also sounded like that of a candidate seeking another run at the presidency.
“We will quickly complete the border wall and we will end illegal immigration, once and for all,” he said, running through a list of promises. “We will have to start it all over again — it would have been so much better if we had an honest election, but we’ll be able to do it again.”
At one point, he speculated that Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, would run for president.
“Let’s run against Stacey Abrams, I’d like that,” he said.
Trump has left open the door to trying to reclaim the White House, though he hasn’t made any official declarations. According to the Washington Post, Trump was eager to announce his 2024 candidacy in August as the American withdrawal from Afghanistan turned chaotic. Advisers talked him out of it with how a formally declared candidacy introduces new rules about fundraising and media appearances, according to the Post.
Trump never left the political arena, even as he boarded Marine One to leave the White House shortly before Biden’s inauguration in January. He had already launched a political action committee, dubbed Save America, soon after it was clear Biden won the electoral college in November.
Within weeks of leaving office, his reelection PAC was transferring tens of millions of dollars to the new PAC. By mid-summer, it was sitting on more than $90 million, according to the most recent federal financial filings. The Save America PAC has also hired two GOP consultants with deep Iowa ties.
More:Donald Trump’s leadership PAC hires two Iowa GOP political consultants
Trump openly eyeing the Republican nomination for president for a third consecutive time hasn’t cleared the field of other potential rivals in 2024, though none have formally declared.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, all Republicans, have visited Iowa this year.
- Which Republicans might run for president in 2024? Iowa visits give early hint
- ‘The Iowa caucuses are on’: Republicans say early political trips reinforce plans for 2024 caucus
- Potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates to speak at Family Leader forum in July in Des Moines
Ian Richardson covers the Iowa Statehouse for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 515-284-8254, or on Twitter at @DMRIanR.
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.
Nick Coltrain is a politics and data reporter for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 515-284-8361.
Andrea Sahouri covers social justice for the Des Moines Register. She can be contacted at email@example.com, on Twitter @andreamsahouri, or by phone 515-284-8247.