CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — A jubilant President Trump recapped some of his campaign’s greatest hits and offered new policy ideas as well as blatant misstatements during a marathon rally Wednesday night in Iowa.
“We’re not even campaigning and look at this crowd,” said Trump during a rally organized by his 2020 campaign in a near-capacity U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Cedar Rapids. Trump spoke for 70 minutes in front of an exuberant crowd in his first trip west of the Mississippi as president. He stood atop signs reading “Promises Made” and “Promises Kept.”
During his speech, Trump verified reports that he was unhappy with the health care plan that passed the House, saying that he told lawmakers to “throw money” at health care to come up a plan with “heart.” He made a brief plea for bipartisanship, saying that Democrats wouldn’t vote yes even if Republicans came up with a plan that offered the best health care for free, but if the parties worked together they could get “really, really great legislation” passed. He also confirmed a report from earlier this month that he was considering a “solar wall” along the border with Mexico, generating electricity to offset the cost — which would still be borne by Mexico, Trump insisted.
The president also said he would change the law so that immigrants could not receive welfare benefits until they had been in the country for five years. That has already been the United States’ policy since 1996.
As Trump got further into the evening he began to riff more, veering off script — and deviating from the truth in the process. He said the Keystone Pipeline would bring 38,000 jobs to the United States, when the actual number of permanent jobs is closer to 35. He said Republicans had gone 5-0 in special elections and specifically mentioned California, a race where the runoff election was between two Democrats. (Of contested races between Democrats and Republicans, the president’s party has won all four, although by unexpectedly small margins compared to 2016 results in the same districts.) He said America was the highest taxed nation in the world, when, depending on the metric used, it falls between 17th and 31st.
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Trump revisited many of his touchstones from the campaign, and attendees seemed happy to indulge in the memories. Chants of “Build that wall” broke out multiple times during the speech, and the crowd obediently booed mentions of NAFTA and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. A mention of Hillary Clinton’s campaign ads brought out enthusiastic chants of “Lock her up.” Regarding his own potential legal problems, Trump did not directly mention special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia and the Republican campaign, but he did decry the “phony witch hunt” that he said was targeting him. Apropos of something apparent only to him, Trump also asked “What the hell is going on in Chicago?” a common refrain from the trail. He brought up his campaign announcement from June 2015 and how much people enjoyed the long escalator ride he took at Trump Tower.
He also struck a few new notes. After demonizing Goldman Sachs repeatedly during the campaign, Trump bragged about having the investment bank’s former president Gary Cohn as his chief economic advisor, saying that while he loved poor people, he didn’t want them running the economy. (“I love all people. Rich or poor. But in those particular positions I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense?” Trump explained.) After targeting China and Saudi Arabia during his campaign, Wednesday night Trump praised Chinese President Xi Jinping and referred to King Salman of Saudi Arabia as a “very special man,” whom he met on his “monumental, epic trip” to the Mideast. He applauded Saudi Arabia for taking a tougher stance against terrorism, an apparent reference to the kingdom’s sanctions against Qatar — a position that puts the president at odds with his own State Department, which is cognizant of the 10,000 American military personnel based in Qatar.
Trump mentioned Republican Karen Handel’s victory in Tuesday’s special congressional election three times during the rally, after the White House had specifically said the race in Georgia’s Sixth District was not a referendum on the president or his policies. Trump’s view of the election evolved as the rally wore on, first saying the media barely acknowledged Handel’s win and then a few minutes later thanking the assembled press for admitting it was a big deal.
Inside the confines of the U.S. Cellular Center, you would not know that Trump’s national disapproval ratings were heading toward 60 percent. The crowd was in high spirits all evening long, with some having waited in line all day to secure a seat in the arena. (When the doors opened, however, the tickets–which were free but required pre-registration — weren’t being checked at the door, and the hall never quite reached capacity.) Attendees reminisced about the early days of the campaign, where the events consisted of standing around a ball room at the nearby Hilton listening to an unscripted Trump.
There were some negative notes. One was the media, a target of Trump and those who spoke before him. (“They’re whiners,” said one attendee, of the reporters who have complained that White House briefings are growing, well, briefer, as well as less frequent.) There was a front-page letter from the local paper waiting for Trump upon his arrival, welcoming him to town but asking him to govern instead of holding campaign events. Some rallygoers attempted to be magnanimous with the smattering of anti-Trump demonstrators outside. “Sorry you hate us; we love you,” said one woman who was waiting in line, addressing a protester holding up a sign that said “Impeach.” She then explained to those around her how protesters were bullies, and that it was unfair because she spent eight years not complaining about Barack Obama even though she disagreed with most of the things he did.
Another surprise target was Senator Ben Sasse, the Republican from Nebraska who had been a vocal critic of Trump during the campaign but has mainly voted with the White House agenda. In a speech preceding Trump’s, Iowa GOP chair Ted Kaufmann said Sasse could stay his side of the Missouri River, which separates the Hawkeye State from Nebraska.
The reelection campaign was in full swing, with multiple attendees wearing “Trump Pence 2020 – Keep America Great” shirts, and one vendor selling similar wares outside the arena. One girl wearing a “Hillary for Prison” tee took photos with attendees as they exited, and there was a shirt for InfoWars, the right-wing conspiracy site that Trump was interviewed by in December 2015.
Trump left the stage to his customary anthem, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” by the Rolling Stones, harkening back to last year’s campaign and looking ahead to the one he expects to run in 2020. With much of his agenda stalled in Washington, or by the courts, and investigators circling some of his closest aides, it seems the president needs his next campaign to get started.
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