Presidential heavy-hitters duke it out in heartland
‘Existential threat’ vs. ‘mentally’ weak in Iowa
President Trump and Democratic front-runner Joseph R. Biden campaigned in Iowa simultaneously Tuesday in the first potential preview of the 2020 election, with the president criticizing Mr. Biden as “the weakest mentally” and the former vice president telling voters that Mr. Trump poses an “existential threat” to the nation.
Mr. Trump, who will turn 73 Friday, and Mr. Biden, 76, questioned each other’s fitness for office as they continued to brush aside the crowded field of mostly younger Democratic rivals who are gaining on the former vice president.
“I’d rather run against I think Biden than anybody,” the president told reporters. “I think he’s the weakest mentally. And I like running against people that are weak mentally. The other ones have much more energy.”
Pointing to his head, the president said, “I think Joe is the weakest up here.”
Mr. Trump even tagged Mr. Biden with perhaps his ultimate insult: He said the former vice president “reminds me of Crooked Hillary” Clinton in 2016, because he stands only for his opposition to Mr. Trump.
“He makes his stand in Iowa once every two
weeks, and then he mentions my name 74 times in one speech,” Mr. Trump said in Council Bluffs. “That reminds me of Crooked Hillary — she did the same thing.”
Their dueling campaign events in the crucial caucus state were held as a national poll showed Mr. Biden leading the president by “landslide proportions” and five other Democratic candidates edging out Mr. Trump. The Quinnipiac University survey found Mr. Biden with a lead of 53% to 40% in a hypothetical matchup against the president.
Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump among female voters 60% to 34% and among independents 58% to 28%.
But the Quinnipiac poll and an Iowa survey showed Mr. Biden’s support slipping against the rest of the Democratic field. Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, gained ground on Mr. Biden in the Quinnipiac poll in the past three weeks. Mr. Sanders, at 77 the only candidate older than Mr. Biden, was closest, trailing him by 11 percentage points, 30% to 19%.
Mr. Trump taunted Mr. Biden by saying, “It looks like his friends from the left are going to overtake him pretty soon.”
Speaking in Ottumwa, Iowa, Mr. Biden said polls so early in the campaign “don’t mean a thing.” He said he hoped the president’s appearance in Iowa will be “a clarifying event” for voters because of the administration’s tariffs that he said are hurting farmers.
As Mr. Biden spoke, Trump supporter Russell Weeks, 39, circled the parking lot outside the event in his Mercury Zephyr with a poster of Mr. Trump in the passenger seat and dangling a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag out his driver’s window.
The president had his own challenge with polls Tuesday. The Quinnipiac survey showed Mr. Trump trailing not just Mr. Biden but also Mr. Sanders (51% to 42%), Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California (49% to 41%), Ms. Warren (49% to 42%), Mr. Buttigieg (47% to 42%) and Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey (47% to 42%).
The president, who often notes that surveys in 2016 were consistently wrong about his chances of defeating Mrs. Clinton, dismissed the polling.
“My poll numbers are great,” he said. Mr. Trump also pushed back against a New York Times report that he told aides to lie about internal polling that purportedly shows him trailing Mr. Biden in swing states.
“I never do [tell aides to lie],” said the president, describing the surveys of battleground states as “fake polls.”
He noted that his reelection campaign will hold an official launch rally Tuesday in Orlando, Florida.
“It’s going to be something, I think, very special,” he said.
After touring an ethanol plant in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Mr. Trump reminded an enthusiastic audience of corn growers that his administration lifted restrictions on selling E15 ethanol during the hot summer months “just in time to fuel America’s summer vacations.”
“America must never again be held hostage to foreign suppliers of energy, as we were under the Obama-Biden ‘Sleepy Joe’” administration, the president said.
Mr. Trump noted that his Democratic rival was campaigning in the state at virtually the same time.
“It was someplace in Iowa today, and he said my name so many times that people couldn’t stand it anymore,” Mr. Trump joked.
Referring to ethanol production again, the president added, “This isn’t political season quite for me. It’ll start next week. But just remember the Democrats were totally opposed to this, folks.”
The president’s speech was heavy with accusations that the “Obama-Biden” administration failed farmers in trade agreements. He said his tariff war with China is necessary because “somebody had to say ‘no more’” to Beijing’s exploitation of the U.S.
“Obama-Biden didn’t say it; they just let it happen,” Mr. Trump said.
He added that if Mr. Biden is elected “we would never be treated with respect because people don’t respect him — even the people that he’s running against.”
The Trump administration has approved a $16 billion bailout fund this year for farmers hurt by China’s retaliatory tariffs after a $12 billion bailout last year. The president said U.S. tariffs on China are funding the emergency farm aid.
“And out of those tariffs, we gave the farmers $16 billion,” he said. “Nobody else is going to do that. China has levied unfair retaliation … [but] we’ve made up for it and more so. We’re reversing decades of failed trade policies.”
The president also urged his audience to pressure House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats in Congress to approve his U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a replacement for the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. He said the new deal would expand markets for U.S. farmers.
“You have to get out and push the Democrats to put it up because they’d rather see our country do badly than give us a victory,” Mr. Trump said. “So go out. Go out and press the Democrats. Press Nancy Pelosi, press them all.”
Before heading to a Republican Party fundraiser, the president signed an executive order aimed at speeding up federal reviews of agricultural biotechnology innovations.
To cheers, Mr. Trump said he will never stop fighting for farmers “because we know that farm country is God’s country.”
President Trump said, “I’d rather run against I think Biden than anybody,” but a Quinnipiac University survey showed the former vice president winning against the incumbent by “landslide proportions,” with a lead of 53% to 40% in a hypothetical matchup.