But the notable elements weren’t what Trump said, but who was with him. In addition to the ex-president, a who’s who of influential Republicans in the state of Hawkeye performed, including Senator Chuck Grassley and Governor Kim Reynolds, Iowa Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson, former Assistant Attorney General Matt Whitaker, and Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann.
Trump has held rallies since leaving the White House. But elected Republicans of such a tenure and stature have never appeared with him. And Grassley’s presence in particular meant that any concerns the GOP may have had with Trump are now faded memories; any questions they had about the direction of the party were resolved.
Trump himself seemed to be realizing this as he focused intensely on challenging the 2020 election results again, despite admitting that his own party members wished he would just move on.
“Sir, think about the future, don’t go back to the past,” said Trump, advised by some Republican congressmen.
“I’m telling you the biggest single problem, as bad as the border is and it’s terrible, terrible what they are doing, they are destroying our country, but as bad as that is the biggest single problem that matters most, drawing the greatest respect, the biggest cheer is to talk about the 2020 presidential election fraud, “said Trump.
It wasn’t long ago that there was more uncertainty about Trump’s future within the party. Back in January, Grassley painfully condemned Trump’s post-2020 election behavior – the kind of statement that, at its core, suggested a desire to break free from the clutter.
“The reality is, he lost. He filed over 60 lawsuits and lost all but one. He was unable to muster enough votes to overcome President Biden’s substantial margins in key states, “Grassley said in a statement offered after voting against Trump’s second impeachment. “He demeaned and harassed elected officials across the country to get his way. He encouraged his own loyal Vice President Mike Pence to take extraordinary and unconstitutional action during the electoral college count. ”
But Grassley is in a different place now. He recently announced at the age of 88 that he was running for an eighth term. And with that, Trump turned from a nuisance to a need.
This week, Grassley and the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee released a report claiming that Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department to change election results was not only excessive, but also complied with the President’s obligations to uphold the Constitution. And on Saturday night, Trump brought Grassley on stage to offer his “full and complete support for re-election.”
“If I didn’t accept the support of someone who has 91 percent of Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart,” Grassley said.
For Trump this is a wonderful gift. The ex-president has spoken openly about the likelihood that he will run for president again. To be welcomed with open arms in the important first presidential electoral state of Iowa was a neon light signal for voters that this party will remain theirs. And he’s done all of this while still launching broadsides against the current leadership (he gutted Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in various places on Saturday for reaching an agreement with the Democrats to raise the debt ceiling and did not “have the courage to contest the election”) and show no remorse for the end of his presidency.
“Here’s the difference. Hillary [Clinton] conceded. I never gave in. No reason to give in, “said Trump in front of a cheering crowd.
For the believers who gathered on Saturday night, Trump’s place at the top of the GOP was never really controversial. Over a dozen supporters surveyed said they would count on him to run again in 2024.
“Our country is in a downturn and we need to rebuild it and keep it on track,” said Judy Williamson of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. “Biden, I’m worried about his mental abilities. I’m not sure if he’s mentally okay. ”
When asked if he thinks Trump should run again, Jason Latimer of the State Center in Iowa replied, “He already is, that’s why we’re here.” Citing the border and the economy, he said Trump should run “to get the country back to where it was”. A man standing next to him interfered, “and to show the world that we are back.”
Thousands of Iowans crowded the state fairgrounds to show their support and hear from the former president. A recent Des Moines Register / Mediacom poll in Iowa showed that 53 percent of Iowans and 91 percent of Republicans had a positive opinion of Trump – higher approval ratings than ever before in the White House.
“Absence makes hearts beat faster,” said Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, of Trump’s popularity before his visit.
“I don’t want to be rude,” said Kaufmann. But Trump represents “the middle finger for many Iower to do things the same old way, for the fat cats and corporate welfare that Democrats now support and Republicans have supported in the past.” He represents a desperation – people who say enough is enough. “
Though Trump hasn’t officially announced a presidential run, his visit to Iowa is a wink toward a 2024 application. And the floor game he’s built gives him a clear head start over other hopes of 2024. Trump hired two full-time employees in the state to work on Save America’s public relations work, Alex Latcham, a longtime employee in the state, and Eric Branstad, who worked on both of Trump’s previous campaigns and is the son of Republican Governor of Iowa Terry Branstad. who was also Trump’s ambassador to China.
“He loves Iowa,” said Branstad. “The movement in Iowa was real from the start and he spent so much time here rallies.”
But while Trump has begun to take concrete steps to maintain his position at the top of the shadow field in 2024, not everyone is certain that he is the best Republican to be nominated.
“Ultimately, it’s about whether you can win and that is the question that even Trump will count among his most loyal members, whether he can win in 2024 and whether America is ready to have him back,” said Bob Van Der Plaats, a influential conservative and evangelical leader in the state.
Van Der Plaats noted that the Iowans had warmly welcomed a steady parade of other Republicans visiting the state. In recent months, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) And Tom Cotton (R-Ak.) And South Dakota Gov Kristi Noem and others have visited Iowa. Trump has been paying attention to their moves, but an adviser said his team has so far been unconcerned.
“To be honest, we really don’t have to [pay attention to the others]”Said one of the helper. “Every farm in the state, if you’re on a country road, it’s Trump Country. The polls show it. People show it. The action shows it. For Trump you come from the wood. ”