Donald Trump sought to solidify his support with Republican voters on Saturday in Fort Dodge. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
FORT DODGE — Former President Donald Trump rallied supporters on Saturday and asked them to repay his kindnesses to Iowa of keeping it the first state in the Republican presidential nomination process and of paying farmers billions of dollars during trade disputes with China in his first term.
He mentioned the payments to farmers several times during his roughly hourlong address to a capacity crowd in the gymnasium of Fort Dodge High School. The gym’s scoreboard time was set to 20:24, with the team scores set to 45 and 47, to signify the upcoming election year, his status as the 45th president and his hope to be the 47th.
“We gave $28 billion to the farmers,” Trump said. “And just so you know, my people have said, ‘Sir, please don’t talk about that so much. It makes you sound very arrogant.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute, I got $28 billion for the farmers!’”
Those payments in 2019 were bailouts to farmers affected by Trump’s attempts to overhaul the nation’s trade policies. He imposed new tariffs on Chinese products, and the country responded, in part, with tariffs on American soybeans.
Trump’s multiple mentions of the payments to farmers were part of a streak of transactional politicking during his speech. He also insinuated U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst owe credit to his endorsements for their last election wins.
“I got ’em elected,” Trump said. “Remember that.”
He did not mention Gov. Kim Reynolds, who this month endorsed one of his rivals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and drew Trump’s ire.
But Trump took aim at DeSantis for being less friendly to Iowa agriculture and for trailing him distantly in recent polls.
“He’s going down the tubes,” Trump said of DeSantis. “He’s like a wounded bird going to the ground.”
A recent Iowa State University/Civiqs poll — the results of which were published on Thursday — found that 54% of likely Republican caucusgoers it surveyed support Trump. That’s comparable to Trump’s level of support in the poll in the past two months.
DeSantis had the second-most support at 18%, and former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley had 12%.
Support for DeSantis in the poll was only slightly higher from last month — a 1-percentage-point increase — despite his endorsement by Reynolds.
Trump’s campaign said in an email that the recent poll results show DeSantis is “dead in the water, and even Kim Reynolds’ endorsement hasn’t made a difference.”
But it wasn’t farm payments, endorsements or Trump’s attacks on his rivals that drew the loudest applause. That was reserved for his allegations that the last presidential election was rigged and for his critiques of transgender women competing in sports.
“We will not allow men to play in women’s sports,” he said to a standing ovation. Trump later added: “It’s very demeaning to women.”
Those who delivered short speeches before Trump took the stage also aggressively confronted the issue.
“Are you ready for a president that will tell transgender males they need to put their jock strap back on?” said Iowa Rep. Mike Sexton, a Rockwell City Republican.
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a Wilton Republican, added: “It’s ridiculous I even have to say this, but I will. There are two genders. Male and female.”
Jolene Messerly, a vocal music teacher in Storm Lake who attended Saturday’s rally, has twice voted for Trump and plans to again.
She said social policies — such as those that pertain to someone’s gender or sexuality — are not among what she considers important voting issues, but that illegal immigration and border security are. She said Trump’s policies are best for those issues.
“I like Trump’s policies, and I like him,” Messerly said. “He’s a businessman, and I think we just need to stick to the business of running the country. We don’t need to get into all this other crap.”
Messerly said she has not paid close attention to the criminal indictments Trump faces but dismissed them as “a wild goose chase to try to keep him out of office.”
“But I think that he’s gonna keep knocking it out of the park,” she said.
Trump is the subject of four criminal indictments related to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, his alleged efforts to overturn election results in Georgia, his handling of classified documents after his time in the White House, and alleged hush-money payments to an adult film actress.
Three of those cases are set for trial next year.
His civil fraud trial in New York is also underway, pertaining to whether Trump inflated the values of his properties to get more favorable loans.
Trump has said the prosecutions are politically motivated and meant to prevent him from returning to office.
“They know that in a free and fair fight, crooked Joe Biden doesn’t have a shot.”
Cindy Knutson, of Fort Dodge, voted for President Biden in the last general election but is seeking other options this year because Biden’s age is becoming problematic for her.
“He’s really gone downhill,” Knutson said.
She is a registered Democrat who sometimes votes for Republican candidates and attended the Trump event to see if he is a viable option. Knutson said she is not leaning toward supporting any particular candidate.
James Outlaw, of Dakota City, said he will vote for Trump in hopes that he can “reverse everything” that the Biden administration has done, “and then the country will be fine.”
Outlaw believes that Biden has mismanaged the nation’s military, and restricting abortion is one of his top issues. He said Trump deserves another term because his U.S. Supreme Court nominees overturned Roe v. Wade.
He said the country’s borders need to be locked down to prevent illegal immigration.
Trump pledged Saturday to launch the largest mass deportation in the country’s history of people who immigrated illegally and to impose “strong ideological screening” of immigrants to prevent potentially dangerous people from arriving in the United States.
Trump asked rally attendees to turn out in force in the January caucuses and “make sure we win by a lot.”
“Iowa’s been good to me, and I’ve been great to you,” he said.
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