On Trump Force One, KFC Is On The Menu and 45 Is Still President

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(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump wants back in the White House — badly. Look no further than the recreation of Air Force One protocols on his recent trip to Iowa, the key Republican early-voting primary state.

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There had been questions as to whether he was fully committed to a third White House bid after a lackluster November announcement. But the vernacular and procedures evident in traveling with the former president and current front-runner for the GOP nomination cast light on Trump’s yearning for the trappings of the White House.

His Boeing 757, dubbed “Trump Force One,” a blue, red and white plane with his last name in bold, gold lettering, was visible from the road near the private Palm Beach airport, just as Air Force One was when Trump would visit Mar-a-Lago as president.

The small group of reporters traveling with Trump on March 13 were given gold, octagonal lanyards that said “Trump Force One Press Pool,” near-replicas of those issued during his administration. President Joe Biden’s White House has since changed the traveling badges to a longer, rectangular shape.

Reporters dropped their bags at their seats on the plane — just as they would have on Air Force One — before heading back down to the tarmac to watch Trump’s motorcade arrive. The former president hopped out of a black sport utility vehicle, waved and flashed a slight clenched fist and boarded.

Trump traveled to Iowa three days after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whom Trump has called his strongest challenger for the GOP nomination. Despite facing a multitude of investigations, Trump currently leads the potential field of 2024 Republican presidential hopefuls. So far only Trump, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Ohio entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Michigan businessman Perry Johnson have announced their candidacies. Others including DeSantis and Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence have sent strong signals that they plan to run.

Trump’s plane has large, white leather seats, cream-colored carpeting, wood paneling and — in typical Trump fashion — gold trimmings. The plane is equipped with Wi-Fi, a feature reporters on Air Force One don’t have.

Not long after the plane was airborne, reporters were beckoned toward the front of the plane, where Trump was seated at a wooden table.

“I hope you like the accommodations,” Trump said. “We have good Wi-Fi. You notice? They say it works very well. There’s a lot of planes that it doesn’t work too well.”

Staff traveling with the former president were huddled around. That included Susie Wiles, Chris LaCivita and Brian Jack, the triumvirate leading his 2024 comeback bid, as well as longtime aides Dan Scavino, Jason Miller and spokesman Steven Cheung. Trump’s former acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, an Iowa native, was also on board.

Trump engaged in a freewheeling conversation with the press that bounced from his rationale for calling DeSantis “DeSanctimonious” to the Silicon Valley Bank failure, to Pence’s recent rebuke of his ex-boss, to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol by his supporters and to his record as president.

In Iowa, Trump was greeted on the tarmac by local Republicans in a similar fashion to Air Force One’s arrival in a given state. Reporters and fans watched him deplane. He walked over to the press gaggle, now including those with local outlets, and took a few questions over the roar of the plane’s engines.

His motorcade made an unannounced stop at the Machine Shed Restaurant in Davenport. He shook hands and posed for photographs in the dimly lit, wood-laden Midwestern barbecue joint — a change from how he approached Iowa voters in 2016. He famously lost the 2016 Iowa caucus to Texas Republican US Senator Ted Cruz after avoiding the kind of retail politics essential to wooing primary voters in the state.

In an address billed as a rollout of his education platform, Trump’s more than two-hour speech before a packed auditorium at Davenport’s Adler Theatre was closer to one of his signature rallies. It included an extended attack on DeSantis, whom he compared to former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Utah US Senator Mitt Romney — both unpopular with far-right primary voters.

Trump is planning to ramp up travel, particularly in early primary states, to gain support while DeSantis is mostly tethered to Florida and the state’s legislative session.

Shortly after Trump’s plane was wheels up from Iowa back to Palm Beach, a flight attendant walked to the front with a large red and white bucket of KFC chicken. Aides went back and forth to the plane’s kitchen with plates of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. Coconut pie was served for dessert. The soundtrack from his rallies lightly played on the plane’s speakers.

Trump again held a freewheeling conversation with reporters, and it was clear he was eager to tear into DeSantis. In response to a reporter’s question about a Bloomberg story on nicknames he was mulling, Trump said “Tiny D’s good.”

The former president knocked his potential rival for perceived disloyalty, launching into a diatribe about DeSantis working in a law firm in an alternate reality.

“Right now he’d be working at a law office. Schwartz, Schwartz, Schwartz and Schwartz. Where’s my f——— governor? Where’s my governor? Get him over here! He’s got 10 minutes or we’re gonna fire him. That’s what he’d be doing right now,” Trump said, laughing.

As Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” played over the speakers, Trump told reporters, “Remember, this Ron DeSanctimonious would be right now working probably at a law firm or maybe a Pizza Hut. I hope you had a good time.”

The plane landed, and the press stood off to the side to watch Trump deplane. He walked over, said a few more words, entered the motorcade, and it snaked away.

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