DES MOINES, Iowa — Four days before the Democratic presidential candidates will compete in the Iowa caucuses, and with the U.S. Senate debating in Washington whether to remove him from office, Trump stormed into the Hawkeye State to try to create headlines of his own.
“We’re going to win the great state of Iowa, and it’ll be a historic landslide,” Trump said at a Thursday evening rally at Drake University.
Without any major Republican rivals, Trump, who began his reelection campaign the day after he took office, isn’t bound to a primary calendar. That is a crucial advantage over his Democratic rivals because Trump has more time to focus on key battleground states. But that’s not what’s going on in Iowa, a state Trump safely won by nearly 10 points in 2016. Trump’s appearance in the Hawkeye State seemed a clear effort to inject himself into the conversation around the Democratic caucus. However, Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, insisted Trump’s appearance wasn’t about the Democratic race.
“The president is not averse to a little counterprogramming when it’s warranted, but I mean, the fact is, there are Republican caucuses on Monday and that’s why we’re as heavily engaged as we are,” Murtaugh said. “That’s the purpose of this rally, to get everybody fired up.”
Trump is facing a pair of long shots in the Republican race: former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and erstwhile Illinois congressman Joe Walsh, the latter of whom made his case Thursday to Trump supporters waiting to enter the arena. Trump’s opponents are both polling in the single digits. And, of course, the president is also facing attacks from the Democratic candidates.
Several of the leading Democratic candidates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, were stuck in Washington serving as jurors in Trump’s impeachment trial. But former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg were both in Iowa where they took shots at Trump.
“Watching what’s happening with the impeachment, watching what’s happening in the Senate — it gets you down,” Buttigieg said Thursday while campaigning in Ames on Wednesday. “It makes you want to watch cartoons instead.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned Thursday in Waukee, Iowa, where he used Trump’s visit to the state to draw a clear contrast, and said he “does not believe we are the dark, angry nation that Donald Trump sees in his tweets in the middle of the night.”
“The American people are good, decent, honorable people and given half a chance, they never, ever, ever let their country down,” Biden said. “They deserve a president who tells them the truth, not lie after lie after lie. They deserve a president who will put the country’s interests first, not his own self-interest.”
Murtaugh brushed off the attacks on the president.
“Those guys are running around in their big mess of a primary and they’re going to say what they have to say to get attention and, you know, we’re running on the president’s record,” Murtaugh said.
As Trump held his rally in Des Moines, the Senate continued to lay the groundwork for a pivotal Friday vote on whether to allow witnesses testify at the president’s impeachment trial.
“This is a happy period for us,” Trump said of the trial that is unlikely to result in his removal from office. “Because we call this impeachment lite.”
Trump spent much of the rally taking aim at the Democrats seeking to face him in in the general election, including Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg, the candidates polling highest in Iowa.
And while Murtaugh said the Trump campaign’s strategy might “change a little around the edges” depending on who wins the Democratic primary, he predicted the president will ultimately win.
Trump’s fans who filled the college basketball stadium to see him speak were similarly confident about the president’s chances against his potential Democratic rivals.
A bearded man named Jerry who declined to give his last name called Biden a “piece of garbage.”
“I don’t think any of them are tough. I think he’d beat them all,” Jerry said of the Democratic field.
Wendy Lewis, who wore a T-shirt shirt emblazoned with Trump’s name and the American flag offered a similar verdict.
“I don’t think any of them have a chance,” she said of the Democrats.
The Trump faithful also dismissed the impeachment.
Michael Kracht, a Des Moines resident, said he only watched “the first 10 minutes” of the hearings and was repelled since Trump has faced multiple investigations since taking office.
“I just turned it off. I’m just tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of dealing with it,” Kracht said. “It’s been pretty much for three years we’ve gone through this whole investigation and now this impeachment trial.”
Another Trump supporter, Diane Fish, said she was an avid impeachment watcher.
“I saw a lot of it especially at night. I like to watch it. I think he’s been innocent from the get-go, and the Democrats are always reaching out for something to bring him down,” said Fish.
Even though she believes the impeachment is a partisan persecution of the president, Fish said she’s not bothered by watching it because she sticks to the conservative One America News Network.
“We always watch OAN, so they like Trump,” Fish said. “They’re not biased like the other stations.”
And Fish was wearing a T-shirt featuring an image of a locomotive that made clear her prediction for the election:
“We hear that Trump train coming. We are first in class. Iowa has no doubt that we will kick their ass.”
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