COUNCIL BLUFFS — Republicans who were hoping President Donald Trump would take the fight to the Democrats were not disappointed at his Council Bluffs rally on Tuesday.
Trump struck a confrontational tone at Tuesday’s rally in Council Bluffs, going after Democrats locally and nationally as he promoted ethanol and Republicans up for re-election.
He offered the same defiant speech that he has in several other political rallies in the lead-up to the Nov. 6 election.
“The Democrats have become too extreme, and they’ve become, frankly, too dangerous to govern,” he said. “They’ve gone wacko.”
As he repeatedly urged followers to get out and vote, he said, “The only reason to vote Democrat is if you are tired of winning.” He said the midterm elections were about security and prosperity.
Supporters overflowed the 8,000-capacity Mid-America Center, with many standing and others spilling into a parking lot on the south side, where the crowd watched the speech on a jumbo screen. Fans from Nebraska and Iowa and other states had waited hours in the rain and even camped out overnight in order to see the president speak in Council Bluffs.
“Sometimes he sticks his foot in his mouth, but we will take a little bit of that from someone who will fight,” said Kirby Young of Lincoln. “There’s no such thing as a fair fight, and he understands that the way the Democrats always have, unlike so many Republicans.”
Protesters were kept a distance away but persisted with signs and a message that Trump doesn’t represent their values. Several said they were particularly unhappy with Trump’s Supreme Court selection of Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexual assault, accusations he vehemently denies.
“We’re out here to stand up to Donald Trump’s hateful, racist rhetoric that doesn’t work for young people,” said Haley Hager, 28, of Des Moines.
Supporters, on the other hand, cheered hard when Trump mentioned the newly sworn in Kavanaugh, who was confirmed by the Senate despite extreme pressure from Democrats to step aside.
During the speech, the crowd intermittently shouted “U.S.A.,” “Build the wall” and “Lock her up” (about Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.) and booed the mention of Democrats or “fake news.”
Like at other recent rallies, Trump touted his “tremendous victory” in appointing Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, criticized top Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and urged his supporters to vote.
Trump touted his regulatory cuts and the strength of the economy and told the crowd that he needs voters to send Republicans to Congress so he can accomplish more of his goals, such as funding a border wall.
“We’re building the wall, we’ve started, a lot of it’s getting done right now,” he said.
He repeated some mainstays of his stump speech that have been rated false by independent fact-checkers, including taking credit for a veterans health care option that Congress passed before he took office.
The president promoted his decision, following a 2016 campaign pledge, to allow the year-round sale of higher ethanol blends. “Promises made, promises kept,” he said.
Trump brought Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, to the stage to boost their campaigns. Trump urged getting out to vote to widen Republicans’ lead in Congress, acknowledging Republicans from Nebraska, including Reps. Don Bacon and Jeff Fortenberry. He expressed surprise when his mention of Nebraska drew the loudest cheers. At one point, the crowd chanted, “Go Big Red.”
“I thought I was coming to Iowa but there are more people here from Nebraska, right, Pete Ricketts?” Later, he said, “I didn’t know you were bringing half of Nebraska, Pete.”
Bacon, a Republican from the Omaha area’s 2nd District, speaking before the president, touted the recent tax bill and said that if re-elected he would work on health care and immigration.
“We’ve got a big choice to make here in four weeks,” he said. “We’ve got to choose between results and resistance.”
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert was not at the rally but Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer met the president after he landed at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield. Schmaderer said Trump thanked him for his service, took a picture with him and commented on the size of the crowd.
Connie Benedict of Creston, Iowa, said she’d never been to a similar event. She was excited to see a president who she said keeps his promises. The Iowa Republican arrived at the arena parking lot at 5 a.m. Tuesday.
She said she’s proud of the president for following through on what he said he would do about immigration, the economy and taxes and disappointed in the lack of “spine” some fellow Republicans in Congress have shown.
“I’m 72 years old,” she said. “I’ve never seen a president keep so many of his campaign promises. But he needs support in Congress.”
Ben Schmaling, 32, of Prescott, Iowa, said he was pleased to see the president energize a Republican crowd that needs to understand what’s at stake if they don’t vote.
The Iowa animal health sales specialist also said farmers and ranchers know the president is doing all he can for them, to get them better trade deals and to help reduce regulation.
“I like how he kept it conversational,” he said. “He’s not just a politician preaching to us. He related to us.”
Tracy Zeorian, 56, of Manley, Nebraska, said she was just happy to be among a unified crowd that cares about the future of the country after recent weeks of divisive debate.
She says people on the Democratic side can’t seem to understand that women like her who support the president are not traitors to their gender.
“It was nice to see beyond the division you see on TV, that the country can be united,” she said. “I know it was a mostly Republican crowd, but it’s important to see.”
Trump made official Tuesday his administration’s decision to allow the higher ethanol blends, an issue that’s been a priority for Iowa and Nebraska, the nation’s two leading producers of ethanol.
At a pro-ethanol event before Trump’s speech, agricultural supporters praised the decision and said they hope the Environmental Protection Agency implements it quickly.
“This is unleashing the free market by getting rid of bureaucratic regulations,” said State Rep. Jon Jacobsen, a Republican who represents Council Bluffs.
Ray Gaesser of Corning, Iowa, said the decision will bolster an industry that’s grappling with falling commodity prices, and will lower gas prices and create jobs.
“It’s a big deal,” he said.
Democratic Party leaders in Iowa and Nebraska — Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price and Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb — issued a joint statement before the event criticizing the GOP for failing to keep its promises to rural Americans:
“Our farmers and rural communities have been left in the dust by the Trump Administration, Governors Reynolds and Ricketts, and their Republican allies. It’s time to put common sense back in charge of this country.”
Cindy Axne, Young’s opponent, said in a separate statement that she was pleased to see Trump keep his campaign promise on E15, but she said farmers “are still suffering from President Trump’s unnecessary tariffs” and “reckless trade war.”
Trump, however, promoted his trade policy, including his work to open markets in Japan and the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada pact, which he called “another historic victory for Iowa farmers and ranchers.”