Former President Donald Trump on Saturday offered his most forceful rebuttal to President Joe Biden’s argument that a second Trump term would threaten American democracy.
Trump, who faces felony charges over his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, argued to a crowd of supporters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that Biden was the one who posed a threat to US democracy and that his administration was full of “criminals.”
“This campaign is a righteous crusade to liberate our republic from Biden and the criminals in the Biden administration,” Trump, who faces 91 criminal charges across four cases, told the crowd gathered at a community college gymnasium. The former president has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The speech comes weeks after Biden compared some of Trump’s recent rhetoric to language used in Nazi Germany, specifically Trump calling his political enemies “vermin” and saying undocumented immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.” Biden and his campaign have in recent weeks sharpened their attacks on Trump, the undisputed front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination next year.
At his event in Cedar Rapids, Trump pointed to a speech Biden gave ahead of the 2022 midterm elections in which the president warned Trump and his closest followers were trying to undermine American democracy and that their efforts could devolve into violence.
“If Joe Biden wants to make this race a question of which candidate will defend our democracy and protect our freedoms, and I say to crooked Joe – and he is crooked, the most corrupt president we’ve ever had – we will win that fight and we’re going to win it very big,” Trump said.
Trump added, “Joe Biden is not the defender of American democracy. Joe Biden is the destroyer of American democracy.”
The Trump campaign on Saturday passed out new signs that read, “Biden Attacks Democracy” before the event.
Trump’s focus on Biden rather than the GOP candidates who trail him in the polls is the latest sign he is looking beyond the Republican primary to a potential general election rematch with the president. The Biden campaign has been leaning more heavily in recent weeks into spotlighting some of the former president’s hardline positions and proposals, including on health care, immigration and abortion.
A few hours away Saturday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was also in the Hawkeye State as he looked to jolt his lagging presidential campaign. DeSantis is trying to fend off a recent surge by former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and close the wide gap between him and Trump heading into the final weeks before the January 15 GOP caucuses.
The Florida governor this weekend completed his tour of all 99 counties in Iowa – a feat known as the “full Grassley,” named after Republican Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who visits all counties in the state every year. DeSantis is seeking to capitalize on the endorsements he received from popular Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and influential Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats, as he tries to gin up momentum for a late break in the race.
Trump’s campaign on Friday launched a six-figure broadcast TV ad buy in Iowa, according to a senior Trump campaign aide, and is running two new ads. One ad is focused on attacking Biden, while the other highlights past praise of Trump by Reynolds. Trump has relentlessly attacked the Iowa governor, who threw her support behind DeSantis after initially indicating she would stay neutral in the primary.
Haley, who has been rising in the polls, did not have public events scheduled in Iowa this weekend and recently wrapped a New Hampshire campaign swing. The former United Nations ambassador this week received an endorsement from a powerful conservative political advocacy group associated with billionaire Charles Koch, which could create an opening to elevate her position in the race.
Haley and DeSantis will likely be among those participating in next week’s fourth Republican presidential debate in Alabama, which Trump is skipping. The former president is expected to participate in a prime-time town hall moderated by Fox News host Sean Hannity in Davenport, Iowa, the night before, according to the senior Trump campaign aide. On the night of the debate, he is slated to attend a fundraiser in Florida.
Trump’s campaigning in Iowa comes days after a New York appellate court reinstated a gag order prohibiting the former president and his attorneys from making public statements about the courtroom staff in his $250 million civil fraud trial. Trump has been fined a total of $15,000 for violating the gag order.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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