FORT DODGE, Iowa–Hours before former President Donald Trump took the stage here, his campaign sent out a text message declaring his intent: "I'm in Iowa today to wrap up the primary."
Speaking to a full house of about 3,000 people at the Fort Dodge Senior High School gymnasium on Nov. 18, the former president reminded folks that the Hawkeye State's first-in-nation caucuses were just 58 days away. "All over the world, they're going to be watching this," he said, adding, "We want to make sure we have a big victory."
A man who has attended 33 Trump rallies nationwide, Charles Hibbs, 68, of South Dakota, said this Iowa crowd was among the most enthusiastic he has witnessed. After welcoming President Trump with a thunderous “USA! USA!” standing ovation, most of the crowd remained on its feet for 20 more minutes as he spoke.
Random cries and chants of "We Love You!" punctuated President Trump's 80-minute speech. As he was winding down, President Trump told the crowd that Iowa is "special" to him. Then he did something unusual.
Instead of exiting swiftly, he spent the next 20 minutes signing dozens of autographs for fans who jammed the rope line.
"Iowa loves Trump; Trump loves Iowa. It's as simple as that," Mr. Hibbs told The Epoch Times.
'It's Over'–Or Not?Despite trailing far behind President Trump in the polls, Mr. DeSantis, Ms. Haley, and Ohio entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy have been intensifying their campaigns in Iowa. Because it is the first U.S. state to hold a Republican primary, Iowa can play a key role in building momentum for a candidate.
All three challengers to President Trump have made multiple recent campaign stops in Iowa. And Mr. DeSantis opened a campaign headquarters in the state capital, Des Moines, with the blessing of the state's governor, Kim Reynolds.
During his rally in Fort Dodge, President Trump told the audience that a resounding win for him in the state's Jan. 15 caucuses would "send a great signal" to the remaining Republican challengers, "and maybe these people would end it [and] say, 'it's over now,'" President Trump said.
Republicans need to focus on President Joe Biden and the Democrats, he said.
In line with that statement, the former president devoted relatively little effort to attacking his Republican rivals.
Favoring FarmersInstead, he touted his own record, particularly policies that benefit farmers. Iowa is one of the nation's leading agricultural states.
President Trump described his farmer-friendly policies, including foreign trade deals and tariffs on China that reaped $28 billion for farmers. The former president also supported the production of ethanol, a corn-based fuel that is important to Iowa's farmers but is controversial among some environmentalists.
And, if he wins reelection, President Trump said, “To defend our farmers, I will pass the Trump Reciprocal Trade Act. If China or any other country makes us pay a 100 or 200 percent tariff, we will make them pay ... right back."
The former president said: "Iowa’s just been incredible. It’s been an incredible state for me. And I’ve been incredible to you, too."
The crowd applauded and whistled in agreement. Although then-candidate Donald Trump lost the Iowa primary in 2016, he won the state during the presidential election that year. He beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by about 10 percentage points.
When seeking reelection in 2020, President Trump won Iowa by 8 percentage points over then-candidate Joe Biden. President Trump contends that the election was "stolen" from him.
"This is not a man that should be running our country. It's not a man that should have ever been ascended to power," President Trump said about President Biden.
China ConnectionDuring his speech, the former president sharpened his attacks against President Biden, calling him "very corrupt and controlled."
Days ago, President Biden met in San Francisco with China's leader, Xi Jinping. The American leader often appeared confused and made a poor showing next to Mr. Xi, who is "strong like granite" and "a fierce person," President Trump said.
Every voter needs to ask who they want sitting across the table from Mr. Xi or Russian President Vladimir Putin? he said.
"There maybe some people who don’t like my attitude. But my attitude is what gets us there," he added.
He criticized President Biden's actions vis-a-vis China. "He canceled my program to root out Chinese spies; he weakened my China tariffs," President Trump said.
Under President Biden's watch, China has opened military bases in Cuba, posing a threat to the United States because that is only 90 miles away from the U.S. shore, President Trump said.
President Biden is weak on China because he’s owned by China, President Trump declared, saying the Biden family "took millions of dollars from a company controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, with Joe Biden personally receiving large deposits of cash." That flow of money remains under investigation by Republican congressional committees.
Saturday's event was intended to secure Iowans' commitments to plead President Trump's case during their caucuses next year.
As people entered the gymnasium on Saturday, Trump volunteers asked them to complete a card declaring their commitment to caucus on the former president's behalf on Jan. 15.
At 7 p.m. on that date, voters with verified ID's and addresses will gather at 1,600 sites throughout the state and discuss pros and cons of each candidate. The caucus-goers will then mark their choices on paper ballots and can watch as those are tallied in the corner of the room.
Some chanted "Caucus for Trump!" as they waited for the former president to take the stage.
Robert Fonder, 45, who lives near Fort Dodge in Pocahontas County, said that, as a father of two teen girls, he is supporting President Trump because “I want them to have the freedoms that we’re supposed to have.”
“I see the direction the country’s going, down a dark path,” he said.
For Mr. Fonder, “immigration and stopping World War III” are the biggest issues that worry him. He is committing to caucus for President Trump because he has already proven he can do the job, Mr. Fonder said.
He doesn’t think the other Republican candidates would perform as well. “Not right now,” he said. “The country is in such a dire need. This is the right man at the right time.”