Trump appeals to farmers in Iowa campaign visit

COUNCIL BLUFFS — Former President Donald Trump claimed he is the “most pro-farmer president that you’ve ever had” during a campaign stop in Iowa and joked that his payments to them during a trade war with China should guarantee he will win the state’s caucuses.

“How the hell can I not? I gave the farmers $28 billion,” he said Friday in a ballroom of the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs.

Trump was referring to bailout money paid to farmers in 2019 amid his efforts to rework the country’s trade policies, which included imposing tariffs on Chinese products. The country retaliated, in part, by imposing its own tariffs on soybeans, crippling an important export market for Iowa farmers.

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Last year, the United States exported about $154 billion of goods to China, up about 19% from 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Exports dropped to about $107 billion during the trade war in 2019.

Trump said farmers benefited from the dispute and his trade renegotiations with other countries such as Canada and Mexico. He said farmers also benefited from tax cuts implemented by Congress during his administration, along with a temporary increase in the exemption to the federal tax that is levied on the estates of wealthy people after they die.

“A lot of times, they lose the farm,” he said of children of farmers who can’t afford to pay.

Further, Trump said his administration supported the ethanol industry by allowing summertime sales of E15 — a gasoline blend with 15% ethanol. A federal judge later reversed that action, saying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not have the authority to lift restrictions on its sales without approval from Congress.

Trump said he would continue to negotiate better trade deals for farmers if reelected and would prevent Chinese ownership of American farmland.

State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a Wilton Republican who is a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign in Iowa, launched the Friday event with a panel discussion about agriculture that included talks about water quality restrictions, farm subsidies and other issues.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Donald Trump has been the single best president in United States history for Iowa agriculture and farmers in general,” Kaufmann said. “I mean, look, he brought the rain today.”

Rally attendees had long waits in sometimes heavy rain to get into the venue, which was considerably smaller than the large-scale rallies for which Trump is known. Staff at the Mid-America Center said the ballroom could accommodate about 2,000 people.

As they waited inside, there were periodic chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and “Build the wall!” There was also an impromptu recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Shadow of indictments

It was the Republican frontrunner’s first appearance in Iowa since his 37-count federal indictment last month that accuses Trump of scheming to keep classified documents from his time as president.

“It’s all bulls—,” Trump said Friday. “I’m the only person who ever got indicted that got more popular.”

Trump, as a presidential candidate seven years ago, made repeated statements about the importance of protecting classified information, according to the indictment: “No one will be above the law,” he said in August 2016.

But he has pivoted to claim he is being unfairly targeted by the federal government for political reasons and that others — including President Joe Biden and his first presidential opponent Hillary Clinton — are guilty of similar offenses.

However, the accusations against Trump stand apart in that he allegedly took more than 100 classified documents from his former presidency to his resort and home in Florida, stored them haphazardly, and disclosed some of the information they contained to people without appropriate security clearances.

That doesn’t matter to Travis Humbert, of Underwood, who attended the rally with his 13-year-old son.

“It could be true,” said Humbert, who voted twice in presidential elections for Trump and plans to again. “But people are stuck in the past. Who cares? We all have a past. Let’s move on. He’s a businessman, not a politician, and he’s actually trying to work for the American people.”

The federal indictment is the second criminal allegation against him that has yielded formal charges this year. In April, a New York grand jury indicted Trump for falsifying business records. The state indictment targets Trump’s claims that certain payments to an attorney were for legal fees, while investigators allege they were reimbursements for a hush-money payment to an adult film actress.

And there are two pending investigations into whether Trump attempted to interfere with the 2020 election in Georgia — a state Biden narrowly won — and into Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack of the U.S. Capitol.

“It’s a joke — a total joke,” Patty Murray, of Omaha, Nebraska, said of the criminal inquiries into Trump.

Murray wants Trump to get a second term so that he can finish building a wall at the country’s southern border with Mexico, promote international peace and bolster the economy.

She said the investigations and indictments have done little to diminish his credibility with his supporters.

“It’s helped him,” Murray said. “Everybody says it’s a joke.”

Jeanne Greisen, a Lincoln, Nebraska resident who volunteered at Friday’s rally, agreed: “People like to support somebody that’s being attacked and doing the right thing. They like to back the small guy.”

Trump pledged last month to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Biden and his family if he is elected president again. Greisen hesitated to express support for politically motivated investigations, but said: “I think it just needs to be fair across the board. The same law needs to be applied to every person.”

Greisen said she will vote for Trump, hoping in a second term he can require public school children to learn more about the U.S. Constitution, lessen the prevalence of human trafficking and reduce the size and scope of government.

Greisen, Murray and Humbert also said the economy has suffered under Biden’s leadership and that inflation is still a major problem.

“Gas prices need to come back down,” said Humbert, of Underwood.

Recent polls of potential Republican caucus voters in Iowa show Trump with double-digit percentage point leads over his nearest competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Nationally, pollsters show a wider margin of support for Trump, with Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, in a distant third.

Trump lobbed numerous personal attacks at DeSantis for being a “lousy candidate” for governor who was only elected because of Trump’s support in 2018.

Trump said his status as the clear frontrunner is what made him a target for criminal investigations, and that he is acting as a shield for the nation’s citizens.

“They want to take away my freedom because I sure as hell won’t let them take your freedom,” he said to rapturous applause. He later added: “In the end, they’re not after me. They’re after you, and I just happen to be standing in the way.”

He was not more specific about who was planning to take freedoms from citizens nor what specific freedoms they are.

Democrats point to Roe

Iowa Auditor Rob Sand, the state’s sole elected Democrat to currently hold a statewide office, criticized Trump at a news conference in Des Moines Friday before the former president’s Council Bluffs event.

Sand said Trump is advocating for the same “extremist” policies that Iowa Republican lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds advocate for. He pointed to Reynolds’ call for a special session Tuesday, July 11 to pass abortion legislation following the Iowa Supreme Court decision not allowing enforcement of the state’s 2018 six-week abortion ban.

“So as Donald Trump comes to Iowa today, it’s important to remember that he bragged about being the one to get Roe overturned,” Sand said. “It’s important to remember that they are paving the way for the legislative bans that Republicans are going to do right here in Iowa.”

Trump mentioned abortion briefly and said the Supreme Court decision gives abortion opponents more leverage to negotiate for regulations that are less extreme than what he said Democrats want. He said he supports exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother.

Of the court decision to eliminate a right to abortion at the federal level: “Good things are going to come about it, and you move it back to the states where all the legal scholars said it should be,” Trump said.

— Reporter Robin Opsahl contributed to this article.

This article was originally published by the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister publication of Arizona Mirror and a member of the States Newsroom network of local newsrooms.

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