DUBUQUE — Former President Donald Trump defended his position on abortion following criticism from some Republicans, saying that GOP politicians need to learn how to “properly talk” about the issue in order to win elections.
The former president made two stops in northeast Iowa Wednesday afternoon. After speaking in Maquoketa, Trump held a rally at the Grand River Conference Center in Dubuque. Trump told the crowd of more than 1,000 that he was the first Republican president to “get the job done” on abortion, pointing to the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade that was supported by Trump-nominated justices.
“They couldn’t get the job done, I got the job done,” Trump said. “I got it done. … With the three Supreme Court justices that I appointed, this issue has been returned to the states, where all legal scholars on both sides said it should be. Of course, now the pro-life community has tremendous negotiating power. You have none when you have Roe v. Wade, they could do whatever they want.”
Trump’s travel comes after he faced some pushback from fellow Republicans about his comments on abortion. In a September taping of MSNBC’s “Meet the Press,” Trump said he does not agree with the call for a 15-week federal abortion ban from some members of the GOP. He also criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, for signing into law a measure banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
“I mean, (DeSantis) is willing to sign a five-week and six-week ban,” Trump said in the interview. “I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds criticized Trump’s statements on social media. The Republican governor signed a similar measure into law in July following a special session. The so-called “fetal heartbeat” law, like Florida’s law, bans abortions after embryonic cardiac activity can be detected in an ultrasound — typically occurring around six weeks of gestation — with narrow exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
“It’s never a “terrible thing” to protect innocent life,” Reynolds said on X, formerly Twitter. “I’m proud of the fetal heartbeat bill the Iowa legislature passed and I signed in 2018 and again earlier this year.”
At the Dubuque rally, Trump said he believes the issue of abortion “cost us unnecessarily but dearly in the midterms” in 2022, when Democrats won in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. He said some other Republicans calling for a total ban on abortion could cost the GOP another election.
The crowd cheered when Trump said he supports exceptions to abortion bans for cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is at risk.
“Without the exceptions, it is very difficult to win the elections,” Trump said. “We would probably lose the majorities in 2024 without the exceptions, and perhaps the presidency itself. But you have to follow your heart. … But at the same time, we have to win elections. We don’t want to be back where we were.”
On “Meet the Press,” Trump said he would work with Democrats to find a compromise on a standard number of weeks after which abortion should be outlawed. He said at the rally that “pro-lifers” need to be better about portraying Democrats and abortion access supporters as radicals, claiming that some states’ abortion laws allow doctors to commit infanticide.
He asked the crowd to remember that he was the one who “delivered” on abortion restrictions through his Supreme Court appointments.
“The same people attacking us now are those who have been failing you for decades,” Trump said. “But unlike them, I don’t just talk, I get the job done. I got this job done and, and you have to take that issue and you have to say they’re the radicals, they’re willing to kill a baby in the seventh month, ninth month, eighth month after birth, after birth. There are some states that have legislation where you can do it after birth. Ok? They’re the radicals.”
Mary Lockwood said she came with a family member who supported Trump, but his speech at the rally “basically won me over.” Lockwood said she supported abortion access for much of her life, but now thinks there should be restrictions on late-term abortions — and thought Trump approached the issue “respectfully.”
“I think that as a woman and a mother, I don’t want to see babies being killed either,” Lockwood said. “I thought that was just propaganda, but I really think anything over a few weeks is not acceptable to me.”
Late-term abortions at or after 21 weeks of pregnancy are rare, representing 1% of all abortions in the U.S., and are typically the result of medical concerns such as fetal anomalies or danger to the life of the pregnant patient, according to KFF.
Trump campaign plans more Iowa events in fall
Trump plans to make five more Iowa trips in the next six weeks, according to his campaign. While Trump still holds a sizable lead in Iowa, he has so far only held seven events in Iowa. Before his Wednesday events, he last was in Iowa attending the Iowa-Iowa State football game in Ames, and before that, holding dueling stops at the Iowa State Fair with DeSantis in August.
His rivals for the GOP presidential nomination are hoping to make a dent in the former president’s popularity with heavy investments of time and funding in Iowa. DeSantis, who was 23 percentage points behind Trump in the August Des Moines Register/Mediacom/NBC News Iowa Poll, has campaigned aggressively in Iowa with events hosted through the Never Back Down PAC. He has said he plans to campaign in all 99 counties.
In recent interviews with Iowa reporters, DeSantis has criticized Trump for taking a victory in the Iowa caucuses for granted.
“I think the former president believes he’s entitled to be nominated,” DeSantis told KCCI Monday. “He’s not doing the work it takes to really earn people’s votes, and I just view it differently. I don’t think we’re entitled to anything. I think you got to show up … answer the questions, you got to talk about the vision for the future of this country, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Other candidates, including entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, have picked up the pace on the Iowa campaign trail in hopes of building momentum following the first Republican presidential debate in August. Trump did not participate in the first debate.
Though Trump led in the Iowa Poll, more than half of the respondents who planned to caucus in 2024 answered they could still be persuaded to support a different candidate. An Emerson poll of Iowa Republicans conducted Sept. 7-9 found Trump holds a double-digit lead above other candidates, but that his support decreased from 62% in May to 49%.
His new campaign schedule in Iowa is focused on locking in the support he has in the state. In Maquoketa, Trump spoke to campaign volunteers for a “Team Trump Caucus Commitment” event. The town of just over 6,000 residents hosted more than 1,000 people attending the former president’s appearance, with supporters lined up outside the Jackson County Fairgrounds Expo Center hours before the event.
In 2016, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz won the Iowa Republican caucuses, with Trump finishing in a close second. But Trump told the group that he believes he will win in a “landslide” in the Iowa Republican caucuses in 2024, criticizing his 2016 team.
“They didn’t do the caucus thing too well and I learned a lot,” Trump said. “I don’t like second, though.”
Trump campaign staff went through the crowd gathering cards from Iowans who made a non-binding pledge to caucus for the candidate. Speakers asked supporters to sign up for texts and emails from the campaign and directed people online to a website with information on how to register to vote, how to caucus and how to volunteer.
In Dubuque, Trump said he would sign a law requiring single-day voting on paper ballots for all elections. But until then, Trump said, Republicans need to show up to the ballots — and Iowans need to show up to the caucuses. The 2024 election is “our final battle,” he said.
“With you at my side, we will demolish the deep state,” Trump said. “We will expel the warmongers from our government, they want to go to war with everybody. We will drive out the globalists. We will cast out the communists, Marxists and fascists, and we will throw out the sick political class that truly hates our country. … The great silent majority is rising like never before and under our leadership, the forgotten man and woman will be forgotten no longer with your help, your love and your vote.”
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