FORT DODGE, Iowa (AP) — Former President Donald Trump celebrated a win in a closely watched election case during a return visit to Iowa Saturday, where he blasted his political foes and encouraged his supporters to not move past their grievances with President Joe Biden.
A Colorado judge Friday rejected an effort to keep the GOP front-runner off the state’s primary ballot, concluding that Trump had engaged in insurrection during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol but that it was unclear whether a Civil War-era constitutional amendment barring insurrectionists from public office applied to the presidency. It was Trump’s latest win following rulings in similar cases in Minnesota and Michigan.
Trump, campaigning in west-central Iowa, called the decision “a gigantic court victory” as he panned what he called “an outrageous attempt to disenfranchise millions of voters by getting us thrown off the ballot.”
“Our opponents are showing every day that they hate democracy,” he charged before a crowd of about 2,000 people at a commit-to-caucus event at a high school in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where supporters decked out in Trump gear had lined up for hours to get a seat in the gymnasium.
Trump’s visit was part of his fall push to sign up supporters and volunteers before the state’s fast-approaching caucuses that will kick off the race for the Republican presidential nomination. It was the latest in a series of targeted regional stops aimed at seizing on the large crowds the former president draws to press attendees to commit to vote for him and serve as precinct leaders on Jan. 15.
While Trump boasted that polls show him far ahead of other contenders, he urged those in attendance Saturday to turn out on caucus day to “make sure we have a big victory” that would signal to other candidates that they should drop out.
“Will you please give me a good showing?” Trump asked the crowd to applause. “That’s the least you can do.”
While Trump has a comfortable edge over his top rivals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, in early polls of likely caucus participants, Trump’s campaign has been more aggressive in Iowa than in any of the other early-voting states.
And he continued to attack both DeSantis and Haley during his appearance Saturday, slamming the Florida governor over his past opposition to federal ethanol mandates and for running against Trump.
Trump in a Thursday radio interview had mocked DeSantis for his standing in the polls even after receiving the endorsement of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who broke with the general practice of declining to support a candidate before the caucuses.
“I don’t think it’s made any difference,” he said of her backing.
DeSantis, who stopped by his campaign’s new office in Urbandale on Saturday, told reporters that Trump was making missteps by attacking Reynolds and focusing on larger rallies.
“I think it’s been a mistake how he’s not been willing to engage with Iowans outside of swooping in and doing, you know, a speech and then just leaving,” DeSantis said. “I think you got to get on the ground, you got to shake the hands, you got to answer their questions.”
DeSantis was campaigning across southern Iowa, moving closer to his goal of campaigning in all 99 counties. That’s a traditional marker some candidates have tried to reach to show their commitment to Iowa.
Despite DeSantis’ push, Dale Mason, a construction worker from Fort Dodge, is a solid Trump backer.
“Trump’s already proven himself to me. If it works, then why mess with it?” Mason said. “I feel like it worked when he was in office.”
The 31-year-old single father said he lives paycheck to paycheck and worries about being able to feed his 12-year-old daughter or put gas in the car. Trump “made it easier for us to get by,” Mason said, adding, “He supported us so I think it’s our turn to give back to him.”
Sue Hewett, who hadn’t seen Trump campaign in person before, agreed. “There’s isn’t anybody coming across like he does,” said Hewett, 68, who lives in Fort Dodge. “They don’t have the draw.” She said she was open to considering different candidates, but so far hasn’t been persuaded by any of the other contenders.
Trump, in his speech, continued to cast Biden as incompetent and weak as he looks toward a potential general election rematch. And he continued to air his grievances about the 2020 election, pressing conspiracies and falsely insisting he had won, even though top state and federal election officials, including his own attorney general, as well as numerous courts found no evidence of the widespread fraud he alleges.
“We can never forget. We can never let history go,” Trump said.
He also continued to rail against his legal challenges, including his civil fraud trial in New York, where a judge has already ruled that Trump committed years of fraud while building his real estate empire.
Trump earlier Saturday escalated his attacks on the judge, Arthur Engoron, his clerk and New York Attorney General Letitia James, saying on his social media site that the three “should be sanctioned and prosecuted over this complete and very obvious MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE!!!”
The attack came two days after an appeals court judge temporary lifted a gag order that had barred Trump from commenting on court personnel, including the clerk. James’ office declined comment on the attacks. Judges have broad immunity for judicial decisions.
Trump has also been indicted four times and faces a total of 91 felony counts.
In his remarks, Trump continued to lay out a second-term agenda that would be far more radical than his first, and announced that he planned to begin implementing his plans before returning to the Oval Office. He said he intended to sign “four or five different documents” on the steps of the Capitol during his inauguration ceremony.
“I may even have a very tiny little desk put on the 20th stair,” he said.
Trump has made regular stops in Iowa, appearing at eight events before audiences totaling more than 16,000, according to Trump’s Secret Service detail, in the past eight weeks.
It’s part of a 2024 strategy that stresses organization more than his campaign did in 2016, when he finished in second place.
Rivals, especially DeSantis, have visited Iowa more often as they hope to score a better-than-expected finish against Trump that they hope can catapult them into a one-on-one matchup against the front-runner in later contests.
A recent memo to donors from DeSantis’ campaign suggested that DeSantis’ all-in strategy in Iowa was in keeping with his hope to rob Trump of “a big win in Iowa.”
___ Colvin reported from New York.