When Donald Trump finally began speaking at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Saturday night, it took him less than two minutes to get to his central message: “The election was rigged.”
He was lying, but about an hour into his speech, the former president did say something true about the 2020 election.
“I never conceded. Never,” Trump said. “Never conceded.”
He then moved on to fabricated voter data that have been debunked repeatedly, as well as imaginary incidents of election fraud and hints at dark conspiracies. By then, some of the thousands crowded into the fairgrounds in Des Moines were leaving.
Trump fans had begun gathering before noon for the “Save America” rally. Trump did not appear until almost 8 p.m.
In the meantime, the giant screens on either side of the stage showed the Iowa-Penn State football game. Starting shortly after 6 p.m., there was also a series of speakers, including Rep. Ashley Hinson, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, former acting attorney general (and former Hawkeye tight end) Matt Whittaker, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Gov. Kim Reynolds, all of whom had to share the audience’s attention with the game. The big screens went to picture-in-picture format whenever there was action in Kinnick Stadium, with the game taking up about a quarter of the screen space.
The speakers all praised Trump and denounced Biden, describing America since January in apocalyptic-sounding terms. Most took the opportunity to praise themselves as well.
Grassley talked about helping to put three justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, although he didn’t mention that the first was the result of his unprecedented refusal to hold hearings on an Obama nominee, the second was the result of his efforts to help block an investigation of a credible charge of an attempted sexual assault and the third was forced through the Senate confirmation process in record time.
Those three have cemented a majority on the high court that appears ready to gut or overturn Roe v. Wade, and accomplish other Republican priorities.
“A six-to-three majority there is very, very important to save the Constitution and save the country,” Grassley said, as the audience applauded.
Reynolds praised Trump and denounced the “radical, irresponsible, reckless policies that we see coming out of the Biden administration,” before boasting about her approach to COVID-19.
“We put our trust in Iowans to do the right thing,” she said. “And guess what? You did.”
The thousands gathered at the Fairgrounds, few with masks, many with T-shirts announcing they are unvaccinated, cheered.
Reynolds was the final warm-up speaker. Her speech finished slightly before the game ended, and the crowd was left listening to the same set of songs played over and over on the sound system. Around 7:20, some of the crowd started chanting “We want Trump.” It would be almost another 30 minutes before they got Trump, but in the meantime, they did a get clip from the 1970 movie Patton.
An enormous American flag filled the screen, followed by George C. Scott dressed as Gen. George S. Patton.
Although the opening of Patton is famous — if only for the number of times it has been parodied — it might seem like an odd choice to have an actor portraying a World War II hero growling out lines like “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser,” before a politician, who avoided military service during the Vietnam War, spoke at length about an election he lost.
But the clip served Trump in three ways. First, the audience enjoyed it. Second, in a very Trumpy move, he referred to the clip during his speech, using the image of an actor playing a general in a movie to criticize the actual generals who oversaw the withdrawal from Afghanistan, whom he called “TV generals.” Third, it pulled attention away from the stage, as two campaign workers struggled to set up a teleprompter for Trump during the clip.
The former president was the only speaker on Saturday who read their speech off a teleprompter.
Trump no doubt needed the teleprompter, because while many of the lies and distortions of fact he repeated at the rally were familiar, he tossed in precise-sounding phony numbers when he spoke about the election, and had an extensive list of ways President Biden is allegedly ruining America.
“After just nine months under Biden, violent criminals and bloodthirsty gangs are taking over our streets, illegal aliens and deadly drug cartels are taking over our borders, inflation is taking over our economy, China’s taking over our jobs, the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan, lunatic leftists are taking over our schools and radical socialists are taking over our country,” Trump said at the beginning of his speech. “And we’re not going to let that happen, we’re not going to let that happen.”
“And you can’t say I didn’t warn you, but I also can’t say you didn’t get out,” he told the thousands of Iowans and others in the crowd. “You got out and voted like no sitting president has ever received [sic].”
Trump then turned his attention to some sort of mash-up of the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill currently before Congress, which he just called “the bill.” That he was mixing up two things and lying about them wasn’t the point. Stoking fear and anger was the point.
It’s a socialist transformation bill; it’s an open borders bill; it’s an American energy destruction bill — first time ever we had energy independence, ever… it’s an illegal, race-based discrimination bill; it’s a corrupt elections bill — oh, wait until you look at what they have about your elections, like the elections aren’t bad enough and corrupt enough — it’s a bankrupt Medicare bill, it’s a bankrupt Social Security bill, they’ll bankrupt both of them and it’s a naked power grab by the likes of Biden and Pelosi and Kamala Harris. Hasn’t she done a great job on the border?
Trump famously began his successful 2016 campaign by claiming Mexico was sending murderers and rapists into the United States. The former president has now enlarged the scope of xenophobic claims to encompass “many, many countries, including Middle Eastern counties.”
“Other countries are emptying their prisons, and sending their murderers and drug smugglers and child abusers into the United States,” he said later in the speech. “We are becoming a dumping ground. We are a dumping ground for very, very serious criminals.”
Trump added, “Joe Biden has launched a foreign invasion of his own country.”
The former president managed to conflate xenophobia and “the bill.”
“Biden’s socialist bill also includes mass amnesty and free college — don’t get excited — for illegal aliens, not for you,” he told the crowd. “It includes a blowout increase in chain migration and it eliminates caps on Green Cards for foreign workers. Lots of luck.”
He even specifically targeted Afghan refugees, suggesting many are criminals.
“It will include unlimited funding for unlimited numbers for unvetted Afghan nationals to be brought to America and given welfare and government benefits courtesy of you, the people of Iowa and the American taxpayers,” Trump claimed, as the crowd booed. “Congratulations, I’m sure you’re thrilled about it, as you have to struggle.”
He even suggested some of the refugees might be terrorists waiting to attack.
“You’re going to be hearing from those people in the coming years in a very bad way. Right?”
Even that didn’t exhaust the horrors that will be caused by “the bill,” according to Trump’s speechwriters.
The bill will not only encourage abortion, Trump said, it will legalize “ripping babies from their mothers’ wombs, right up until the moment of birth and, in fact, killing babies after birth.”
Moving from the decades-old Republican fear-mongering on abortion (and enduring conspiracy theories about Democrats murdering children), Trump turned to a more recent favorite rightwing talking point.
“The Democrat bill contains billions and billions of dollars for unlawful government training programs inspired by toxic and bigoted Critical Race Theory,” he said. “It’s crammed with so-called equity provisions.”
“Equity. You know what equity means? It means we’re going to take it away from you and give it to other people.”
Iowa’s leading Republicans sat smiling and nodding, clapping and cheering, as Trump told obvious lies, engaged in blatant xenophobia and even smeared Afghan refugees, whom Reynolds has said are welcome in Iowa. None have ventured any criticism of Trump’s speech since Saturday. It’s possible they agree with everything the former president said, but Grassley’s interaction with Trump at the rally suggested a more cynical reason for their smiles and applause.
As he was concluding the long section of speech with phony claims of election fraud, Trump singled out Grassley as “one of our best supporters on election fraud.” A few minutes later, Trump called on Grassley to join him on stage, as he endorsed the 88-year-old senator for reelection.
“I was born at night, but not last night,” Grassley said after the endorsement. “So, if I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91 percent approval of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart. And I’m smart enough to accept that endorsement.”
Trump also promised he would soon endorse Reynolds in her reelection bid. He didn’t say the same about either Hinson or Miller-Meeks. All they got for their applause were passing mentions read off the teleprompter.
During his speech on Saturday night, Trump announced what he said was his new slogan: “Make America great again again.”
Trump has not yet formally announced if he is running for president in 2024.
“Thank you, Iowa. I’ll see you soon,” he said, before exiting the stage at the fairgrounds as the sound system played The Village People’s “Macho Man.”