President Donald Trump praises foreign leaders while knocking Joe Biden's mental acuity at Des Moines rally
President Donald Trump praised the mental acuity of the leaders of China, Russia and North Korea at a rally in Des Moines on Wednesday evening, arguing that his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, is not as smart.
"President Xi of China, he’s 100%. Putin of Russia, 100%. … Kim Jong Un of North Korea, 100%," Trump said. "These people are sharp, and they’re smart. Joe has lost it. In his best days he wasn’t a smart man, and everybody knows it."
Trump returned to Iowa with early voting already underway and with polls suggesting a far closer contest here than the one he faced in 2016.
As he began speaking, Trump turned almost immediately to his place in the polls. He cited a poll released Wednesday by Focus on Rural America that showed him leading Biden in Iowa by 6 percentage points, 50% to 44%.
“For me to only be up six, I'm a little bit concerned, I'll tell you that,” he said. “Because nobody's going to do for Iowa what I did for Iowa.”
"I saved ethanol. Ethanol is safe," Trump said, promising Iowa's farmers and biofuels industry that he is the only one who will deliver for them.
The Focus on Rural America poll of 200 likely Iowa voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 6.9 percentage points and paints a rosier picture for the president than other recent polling.
A September Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed Trump and Biden tied at 47% — a number that is relatively unchanged from June, when Trump led by just 1 percentage point.
Trump said he was “thrilled to be back in the American heartland with thousands of loyal hardworking Iowa patriots.”
MORE COVERAGE OF TRUMP IN IOWA
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- TERRY BRANSTAD: Trump shares stories of former Iowa governor at rally
Attendees arrived to the airport in cars bedecked with "Make America Great Again" flags, and they sported "Trump Pence 2020" campaign gear as they trekked across the airport's parking lots and open fields to reach the airport hangar where Trump was set to speak.
"Eye of the Tiger" played over the loudspeakers as Air Force One rolled up to the rally site and the crowd of onlookers cheered and snapped photos.
The president’s reelection efforts come at an extraordinary and volatile moment in American history. This year has been marked by the president's impeachment, nationwide protests over racism and policing, a global pandemic, a bitter dispute over the nation's next U.S. Supreme Court justice and concerns over an election that is being conducted by mail to an unprecedented degree.
Biden has campaigned on the argument that he can help restore calm and order to a chaotic world.
"Iowans whose lives have been thrown into chaos need real leadership — not more division," he said in a statement provided to the Des Moines Register on Wednesday. "... We’re better than this moment under President Trump — and as president, I will bring this country together so that we can build back better."
More:Joe Biden: Trump is traveling to Iowa to 'distract from his record of failure' on coronavirus
Biden last physically campaigned in the state in February ahead of the Iowa Democratic caucuses. He finished in fourth place.
'Didn't love it,' Trump says of bout with coronavirus
The president's Des Moines rally was the last on a three-day campaign swing of battleground states — his first campaign events since testing positive for the coronavirus earlier this month.
Trump was helicoptered to Walter Reed medical center Oct. 3 after he developed a fever and cough, and his oxygen level dropped. He spent three nights in the hospital, where doctors gave him several medications, including an experimental antibody treatment that is not widely available.
"Didn't love it," Trump said sharply. "It's a little tough when you have a temperature, you don't feel good. And the scary part is, you know, where does it go? ... You see what happens to people."
More than 215,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, including more than 1,500 Iowans.
First lady Melania Trump confirmed publicly earlier Wednesday that Trump's youngest son, Barron, 14, had recently tested positive for COVID-19 and has since tested negative.
Trump claimed that “99.9%” of children do fine if they catch the coronavirus, and he argued schools should be reopened.
“He had it for such a short period of time, I don’t even think he knew he had it," Trump said of his son. "Because they’re young, and their immune systems are strong and they fight it off — 99.9%. And Barron is beautiful and he’s free, free."
Trump also suggested again that he is immune from the virus. He invited legendary Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable to join him onstage, saying he intended to soon present Gable with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"Hey, Dan, I’m immune and I can’t give it to you," he said, urging Gable to come close to him on the stage. Neither man wore a mask.
Gable kept a short distance from Trump and used a handheld microphone, rather than the one Trump had been using at a lectern.
Public health experts and others warned that the president's rally had the potential to become a "super-spreader" event for the coronavirus.
Trump's doctor said this week that he is no longer a threat to transmit the virus to others. But experts worry that people who attended the rally and were close to one another could share the virus among themselves.
Several thousand attendees gathered closely together to cheer on the president Wednesday in disregard of state and federal guidance to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Chairs had been set up less than 6 feet apart, and attendees filled bleachers.
Trump campaign officials said rally-goers would have their temperatures checked and would be given masks that they were encouraged to wear, although many in the crowd were not masked. To obtain tickets, attendees had to agree to a liability waiver acknowledging the risk of catching the virus.
Trump's White House Coronavirus Task Force has said central Iowa social gatherings should be limited to 25 people.
"If anyone in attendance is infectious, we are potentially looking at another super-spreader event," Lina Tucker Reinders, executive director of the Iowa Public Health Association, wrote in an email to the Des Moines Register on Tuesday. "We again today set a record high for hospitalizations. We need to be focusing on bringing those numbers down and controlling the spread, not enabling large events, political or otherwise."
The Rural America 2020 campaign put up a digital billboard outside of the Des Moines airport that reads "Trump COVID superspreader event," with an arrow pointing toward the event setup.
Full coverage:Everything you need to know about Trump's event
More:White House experts advise against Des Moines gatherings of more than 25. Trump planned a rally in Des Moines for 10,000.
"It's a virus. Everybody's going to get it," said Jane Finch, a 54-year-old Jefferson resident who arrived at the rally with her daughter, Emily. "It's not like he's Superman. He was going to get it sometime, with as many people that surround him from day to day. He's trying to be a president that's being seen. He's proof that you will survive through it. And I think that he wants to take the fear out of the American public that has been given to them through the media."
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, had encouraged Iowans to attend the rally on Twitter earlier in the week, even though she has issued a proclamation that organizers for social gatherings "must ensure at least six feet of physical distance between each group or individual attending alone."
Reynolds attended the rally and spoke before the president arrived, tossing red, white and camouflage MAGA hats into the crowd.
“The momentum, the enthusiasm, the energy is on our side," she said. "Don’t believe the polls, don’t believe what the media is telling you. Up and down the ticket, people are fired up for Republican victories on November 3rd.”
Trump seizes on unverified Hunter Biden claims
At the start of his speech, Trump seized on unverified claims published Wednesday in an article by the New York Post. The article claimed that a “smoking gun email” showed that while he was vice president, Joe Biden was introduced to an adviser to the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma by his son Hunter, who served with the company. However, the substance and sourcing of the Post story remain suspect.
Biden’s campaign said Wednesday that Biden’s schedules show he didn’t meet with the adviser.
The New York Post claims to have learned about the hard drive containing the email and other files from former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. The tabloid claims to have received a copy of the files from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who said he received the files from a Delaware repair shop owner who said the laptop was left for repairs but never returned.
Officials at Facebook and Twitter both took steps to limit the spread of the story on their social media platforms Wednesday. Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, said the platform is waiting for its third-party fact checkers to fact-check the article.
More:As Donald Trump heads to Iowa, what does the Iowa Poll say Iowans are thinking about him?
Trump has repeatedly gone after Hunter Biden for his work on the board of the company, including claiming that Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor as a way to stop an investigation into the company. But inquiries into the matter, including during Trump’s impeachment proceedings and an investigation by Senate Republicans, have found no evidence that Joe Biden committed wrongdoing.
Trump made other suspect claims about Hunter Biden during the first presidential debate, including that Hunter had received $3.5 million from the wife of Moscow’s ex-mayor. Both USA Today and Politifact have rated that accusation as unproven because it comes from a Senate committee report that links the source of the claim to a confidential document and provides little elaboration.
Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.
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