Trump looks to harden his hold on Iowa amid abortion blowback
MAQUOKETA, Iowa – Former President Donald Trump returned to Iowa on Wednesday for the second time in as many weeks, looking to press his advantage in the GOP 2024 primary race and dash any hopes of his rivals of catching him before the caucuses in January.
Mr. Trump told the crowd gathered here to see him at a county fairgrounds that his presidential campaign is bigger and better than it was in 2016, when he finished as the runner-up in the Iowa caucuses.
“We are going to get out that vote, that caucus vote, which is very important,” Mr. Trump said. “Last time I was leading. I was beating everybody, but they didn’t do the caucus thing very well.”
“I learned a lot,” Mr. Trump said. “Honestly, we had a good group and now we have a group like never before.”
“I don’t like second,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s journeys to Iowa have been few and far between. It has opened the door for others, including his closest rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has been laser-focused on the state.
Mr. Trump is slated to become more of a regular in the key state over the coming weeks as part of a concentrated effort to erase any doubt about his commitment to voters in Iowa, and his status as the runaway frontrunner.
The former president arrived here amid a wave of criticism over his downplaying of six-week abortion bans that have been adopted in states.
The laws have energized social and religious conservatives across the country, including in Iowa, where Evangelical and born-again Christians helped Sen. Ted Cruz defeat Mr.Trump in the 2016 caucuses.
But Mr. Trump, in a recent interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said the fetal heartbeat law Mr. DeSantis signed into law in Florida is “terrible” and a “mistake.”
The comment also put him at odds with the likes of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who signed a ban earlier this year.
“It’s never a ‘terrible thing’ to protect innocent life,” Ms. Reynolds said on Twitter, in a rare public jab at Mr. Trump. “I’m proud of the fetal heartbeat bill the Iowa legislature passed and I signed in 2018 and again earlier this year.”
Piling on, Mr.DeSantis complimented Ms. Reynolds “and the Iowa legislature for promoting a culture of life.”
“Donald Trump is wrong to attack the heartbeat bill as ‘terrible,’” Mr. DeSantis said on social media. “Standing for life is a noble cause.”
For his part, Mr. Trump maintains he is the most pro-life president in history. He takes credit for appointing justices to the Supreme Court who supported the overturning of Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling which made abortion a constitutional right.
Jack McDermott of Iowa said that is part of the reason why he is willing to cut Mr. Trump some slack on his opposition to a six-week ban.
“It just goes to show he is not perfect,” Mr. McDermott said. “It is not a dealbreaker.”
The 79-year-old farmer said he took solace in the fact the Iowa ban is already on the books and is unlikely to change, given the state’s political reddening.
Tammy Streets, who recently relocated here to her hometown from Texas, said she loathes abortion but said she is willing to cut Mr. Trump some slack on the issue.
“Oh, that’s my president,” said Ms. Streets, 64. “Hey, we’re not all perfect, and we all have our own opinions. We all have our own ideas, right? I love him.”
“There are more important things right now,” she said, before raising concerns about President Biden, and the U.S. support for Ukraine.
It is a reminder of how strong the Trump brand is in Iowa.
Mr. Trump has a 46% to 15.8% lead over Mr. DeSantis, according to polling averages that show Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina coming in at 9%, and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at 7%.
Less than four months out from the Jan. 15 caucus, Mr. Trump continues to suck the oxygen out of the room and remind the political universe he is not a typical candidate.
The 91 felony charges stemming from covering up hush-money payments to a porn actress, mishandling classified documents and interfering with the 2020 election have only solidified Mr. Trump’s frontrunner status.
Indeed, some voters here showed up in T-shirts featuring a photograph of Trump’s mugshot and a “NEVER SURRENDER!” call to arms.