Former President Donald Trump returned Saturday for his first visit to Iowa since losing the presidential election in November, launching a multifront assault on President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats he said are taking the nation to the “brink of ruin.”
Trump spoke for more than 90 minutes, rattling off a long list of campaign-style promises. He joked about a potential slogan but stopped short of announcing a reelection bid.
“We’re going to take America back,” he said.
He repeated false claims that the 2020 election was “rigged,” including in Arizona, which concluded a review of the state’s largest county’s votes and found no evidence of a stolen election.
In front of thousands of whipped-up supporters, he endorsed Sen. Chuck Grassley and Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, which have launched the presidential nominating contests for both major political parties for decades.
“You proved why Iowa should continue to vote first in the nation. That’s right, first in the nation,” Trump said, referring to his 8-percentage-point margin of victory in Iowa in 2020.
Trump assailed Biden for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Afghanistan withdrawal and domestic legislation that has clogged up Congress – which Democrats control by slim margins – for months.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Trump said, encouraging his supporters to turn out en masse next fall for the 2022 midterm elections.
“We must send the radical left a message they will never forget,” he said.
More Iowans says they feel more favorably toward him than ever before, according to the latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll. Overall, 53% hold favorable feelings toward Trump, and among his fellow Republicans, 91% say they feel favorable 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 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 to 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.”
Though Gov. Kim Reynolds has not formally announced her reelection campaign, Trump hinted an endorsement could come 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 great is that?”
Iowa, national Democrats criticize state Republicans for supporting Trump after Jan. 6 riot
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn criticized state 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 Republican leaders warmed up the crowd before Trump, including Reynolds, Grassley and U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks.
Reynolds led the crowd in a chant of “USA” and criticized Biden on his immigration policies, mentioning that she visited the U.S.-Mexican 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 border in June.
Reynolds 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 name to Trump out of respect for the “king.”
“When you have a king that really works hard … the people take over his name,” said T. Trump, 55, wearing an American-flag-themed cowboy hat. “Wherever Trump goes, 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 – arrived at the fairgrounds at 5: 30 a.m.
Ediger was so excited, she couldn’t sleep.
“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 energy inside the fairgrounds. It was her first Trump rally since 2016.
She said she likes how Trump brought his background as 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.
Robins said she wanted to hear what changes Trump would make if he runs again in 2024.
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 Trump endorses someone else.
“Trump’s for the country. He’s for America. He’s for Jesus,” he said.
Darcy Shelton, a health care worker from Des Moines, said she has supported Trump but did not enjoy Saturday’s speech.
“I thought he was more full of himself than anything. … It was more about the election being stolen from him than about the American people,” said Shelton, who wore a Trump flag draped around her shoulders.
Shelton, who said she’s an independent, said she’s displeased with the Biden administration – particularly his vaccine mandate for health care workers. She said she’d like to see someone other than Trump run in 2024. She said she likes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a possible Republican candidate.
Trump hints at 2024 ambitions, if hints are $90 million in the bank and two advisers from Iowa
Although Trump talked briefly about electing Republicans to Congress next year, his speech sounded more like that of a candidate seeking another run at the presidency in 2024.
“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.”
He speculated about Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, running 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, 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 launched a political action committee, dubbed Save America, soon after Biden won the Electoral College in November.
Within weeks of leaving office, his reelection PAC transferred tens of millions of dollars to the new PAC. By midsummer, it was sitting on more than $90 million, according to the most recent federal financial filings. The Save America PAC hired two GOP consultants with deep Iowa ties.
Trump eyeing the Republican nomination for president for a third consecutive time hasn’t cleared the field of potential rivals in 2024, though none has formally declared. Former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, all Republicans, have visited the state this year.