In his closing pitch to Iowa Republicans, Trump says their votes can help him punish his enemies
INDIANOLA, Iowa (AP) — Donald Trump implored his supporters Sunday to brave frigid temperatures and deliver him a decisive victory in Monday’s Iowa caucuses, saying their vote would help bring to Washington the retribution he has repeatedly promised if he returns to the White House.
The former president has set sky-high expectations for his own performance in the first contest of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. He spent the day before the caucuses trying to ensure he meets them. His main GOP rivals all spent Sunday in Iowa as well, making last-minute appeals to Iowans open to hearing them.
At a rally in Indianola, Trump said his supporters could fight back against his political enemies, claiming that the four indictments he faces were driven by politics and renewing his false claims about the 2020 election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
Many in the crowd wore white and gold caps identifying them as Trump caucus captains who will help round up support for him Monday night.
“These caucuses are your personal chance to score the ultimate victory over all of the liars, cheaters, thugs, perverts, frauds, crooks, freaks, creeps and other quite nice people," Trump told the audience. “The Washington swamp has done everything in its power to take away your voice. But tomorrow is your time to turn on them and to say and speak your mind and to vote."
More than 30 minutes before the doors opened for Trump's rally at Simpson College, Marc Smiarowski said he planned to do just that.
“I’m here in part out of spite,” said the 44-year-old public utility worker who drove 40 miles from Huneston to see Trump. “I can’t abandon him. After what they did to him in the last election, and the political persecution he faces, I feel like I owe him this. He’s our only option.”
He was among more than 100 layered in Carhartt coveralls with hats and hoods pulled down tight to fight off the minus 18-degree Fahrenheit (minus 28-degree Celsius) chill. It was a test run for Iowa’s caucuses Monday night — and of the devotion Trump said last week would make his supporters “walk on glass” for him.
He took it a step further on Sunday, suggesting casting a vote for him would be worth dying for.
“You can’t sit home," Trump said. "If you’re sick as a dog, you say ‘Darling, I gotta make it.’ Even if you vote and then pass away, it’s worth it.”
Even as he predicted his supporters would deliver a substantial victory over his nearest rival, he sought to temper expectations that he could cross 50% of the vote, a threshold never crossed in a contested Republican caucus. The previous record for a margin of victory was Bob Dole's nearly 13-point win over Pat Robertson in 1988.
“Well we should do that. If we don’t do that, let 'em criticize us, right?” Trump told volunteers in Des Moines on Sunday morning. Still, he told them: “Let’s see if we can get to 50%.“
Both former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has bet big on Iowa, exuded confidence in national interviews as they compete for a caucus showing that will boost their campaigns even if they don't beat Trump.
The final Des Moines Register/ NBC News poll before Monday’s caucuses found Trump maintaining a formidable lead, supported by nearly half of likely caucusgoers, compared with 20% for Haley and 16% for DeSantis. Haley and DeSantis remain locked in a close battle for second.
“With our folks, they’re committed, they’re gonna be there,” DeSantis said on CNN's “State of the Union,” noting that the Republican calendar doesn't end with Iowa. “We’re going to have a good night.”
The sun was out across Iowa, but some streets and highways remained covered in snow from a Saturday blizzard. Temperatures stayed below 0 degrees Fahrenheit all day and were not forecast to rise into positive territory until Tuesday. The weather — by far the coldest since Iowa started leading the presidential selection process in 1976 — continued to disrupt plans.
Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann predicted the weather wouldn't substantially dampen turnout, saying Iowans can handle cold weather as long as the roads aren't icy.
Because of travel conditions from Des Moines, Haley canceled a Sunday morning stop in the eastern city of Dubuque about an hour before it was to start. She swapped in a virtual town hall.
Voters walking into the venue were given the news by campaign staffers, who offered some a T-shirt, hat or yard sign as consolation.
“I don’t blame her,” said John Schmid, 69, a retiree from Asbury, a few miles outside Dubuque. He is a Haley supporter but wanted to see the “refreshing” candidate in person.
“It’s just part of living in Iowa in January,” he said.
Haley did make it to an event in Ames, a college town much closer to Des Moines.
“It’s been 11 months, and it comes down to tomorrow,” Haley said of Monday’s votes, repeating her frequent call to GOP voters to elect her as a “new generational leader that leaves the negativity and the baggage behind and focuses on the solutions of the future.”
Trump continued picking up support from Republicans who’d remained on the sidelines. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who ran for the GOP nomination himself but failed to catch fire, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio endorsed him Sunday. In picking Trump, Rubio passed over DeSantis, the governor of his home state, and Haley, who endorsed Rubio at a crucial moment in his own unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign.
Some voters, too, were waiting until the last minute to make up their minds.
Judy Knowler, 64, of Peosta, had hoped to see Haley in person to help her make up her mind.
“I have one foot in Nikki’s camp but we’ll see,” she said in Dubuque. “It’s an opportunity most Americans don’t get to be this close in person.”
After his rally, Trump dropped by a Casey’s convenience store in Waukee with Burgum, where he picked up pizzas that a store worker said would be “the best you’ll ever have.”
He then headed to a firehouse, where he passed out the pizza, and chatted with a group of first responders about their trucks, posed for photos, and ate a slice.
“This is good pizza, by the way,” he said.