Trump Travels to Iowa to Energize Supporters for Caucuses Next Week

Source: By Annie Karni, New York Times • Posted: Friday, January 31, 2020

Four Democratic presidential candidates hoping for success in the state remained in Washington for President Trump’s Senate trial.

President Trump on Thursday at a rally in Des Moines.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times

DES MOINES — Four Democratic presidential candidates hoping for breakout performances in the Iowa caucuses next week spent Thursday in Washington listening to questioning in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump.

But the man on trial appeared in Des Moines for a rally to fire up his supporters before the caucuses on Monday. It was his second rally in three nights.

In a state where the Democratic field faces a competitive and critical contest on Monday night, the president told his supporters that they had a “front-row seat to the lunacy and the madness of a totally sick left.” He called the Democrats the party of “socialism and blatant corruption,” even as he sits accused of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Unlike the Democrats, Mr. Trump does not face a competitive contest in Iowa, where his two Republican challengers — Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman, and Bill Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts — have failed to make any dent in Mr. Trump’s support.

But the Trump campaign views a show of force before the caucuses as an opportunity to try to slow any momentum the winning Democrat hopes to gain from the close race. And Mr. Trump’s team is seeking to build excitement ahead of the first chance voters have had to show their support for the president since the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump tried to belittle his Democratic opponents on Thursday with his signature nicknames, referring to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as “Sleepy Joe,” Senator Bernie Sanders as “Crazy Bernie” and Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor, as “Mini Mike.” He poked fun multiple times at the pronunciation of the name of Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and accused the field at large of “glorifying illegal immigration.”

Four years after voters first saw Mr. Trump’s name on a ballot, he leaned into some of the original, fear-mongering themes that defined his entry into politics, calling undocumented immigrants “stone cold rapists.” The line was a callback to his kickoff speech in 2015, when he said of undocumented immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Mr. Trump’s rally on Thursday. The president last held a campaign rally in Iowa in Council Bluffs in October 2018 as part of his push before the midterm elections.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Mr. Trump seemed aware that he was rocketing into a state where Democrats have been camped out for months, noting that “we’re going to defeat the radical socialist Democrats that are right down the street.”

But his focus on the Democratic field in front of him appeared to be divided by his political enemies of the past and his foils in Congress.

The president reminisced about the 2016 election, expressing a longing for the former Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and rehashing a four-year-old campaign gaffe where she described some of his supporters as “deplorables.”

“Maybe we take another crack at Crazy Hillary,” Mr. Trump said. “She was so easy.”

And he broke up his re-election pitch with invective aimed at Representative Adam B. Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, whom the president referred to as a “sick puppy,” and a diatribe against Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom he accused of letting her district in San Francisco fall into decay.

“We’re having probably the best years we’ve ever had, and I just got impeached. Can you believe these people?” Mr. Trump said. But he claimed it was still a “happy period because we call it ‘impeachment light.’”

“This is not easy,” he said, “you got maniacs doing a number on you for three years.”

Mr. Trump spoke as the Senate waited on Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and a close friend of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to announce his decision on whether to support hearing from witnesses during the impeachment trial. A couple of hours after Mr. Trump left the stage, Mr. Alexander said he was a “no” on hearing from more witnesses. His is a critical vote, and his decision will help determine whether Mr. Trump receives a swift acquittal as soon as Friday.

Trump officials said the caucus on Monday, even if it was not competitive, would be an important milestone for a campaign that has essentially been going on since Mr. Trump’s famous escalator ride in Trump Tower in 2015. “This will be the first time his supporters are able to take part in the process that begins his re-election,” said Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman.

Before the rally on Thursday night at Drake University, Mr. Trump made a brief stop in Warren, Mich., where he spoke to manufacturing workers the day after he signed the revised North American Free Trade Agreement into law.

Mr. Trump’s trade deals are a key part of his re-election message. But it was clear that the impeachment trial — which Republican senators are hoping to wrap up quickly without hearing from additional witnesses like John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser — was on his mind.

“I’ve kept my promise, not only my promise of loving the people of Michigan, but my promise of taking care of it so other countries aren’t ripping us off,” Mr. Trump told the crowd gathered at Dana Inc., a major auto parts manufacturer of axles, transmissions and other key components in Warren, an industrial city north of Detroit. “You remember the tax cut? It was the biggest tax cut in the history of our country, and what do they do? They impeach you. It’s frankly a disgrace to our country.”

The Trump campaign plans to follow up on the Des Moines rally with a blitz of appearances at caucus sites on Monday by roughly 80 cabinet secretaries, administration officials and members of Congress to generate enthusiasm among Iowa Republicans.

Mr. Biden on Thursday spent significant time during campaign stops in Iowa marveling at the band of Trump surrogates and supporters planning to flood the state, suggesting it was proof Mr. Trump’s campaign was running scared. “I never saw another party have so much interest in, in a Democratic caucus,” he said. “I wonder why they’re all coming. I wonder why they’re here.”

Mr. Trump already has deep support in Iowa, a state he won in 2016 by more than nine points. Jeff Kaufmann, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, has been a strong Trump supporter who has echoed the president’s description of a Democratic Party defined by “left-wing nuts.” Campaign officials have tried to reward Mr. Kaufmann’s loyalty with presidential visits intended to motivate other state chairmen to follow suit.

The president last held a campaign rally in Iowa in Council Bluffs in October 2018 as part of his push before the midterm elections. In June, he traveled to the state to speak at the Iowa Republican dinner on the same day that Mr. Biden was crisscrossing the state, giving voters a preview of what a general election matchup between the two would look like.

Since then, however, Mr. Biden has slipped from his front-runner status in the state, where Mr. Sanders has emerged on top in a handful of polls. But Mr. Sanders as well Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennet of Colorado spent the day in the Senate chamber.

Steve Friess contributed reporting from Warren, Mich., and Katie Glueck from Des Moines.