Highlights from Donald Trump's swing through Davenport and Cedar Rapids

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump campaigned in Iowa Thursday for the first time since the February 1 precinct caucuses. Follow me after the jump for clips and highlights from his events in Davenport and Cedar Rapids.

Among Iowa's 99 counties, Linn County (containing the Cedar Rapids area) and Scott County (containing the Iowa side of the Quad Cities) are second and third in the number of registered voters. Trump finished third in Linn County on caucus night, behind Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. He was a close second to Rubio in Scott County and repeatedly praised the Florida senator during his Davenport speech.

I didn't watch Trump's event in Davenport. Brianne Pfannenstiel, William Petroski and Jeff Charis-Carlson reported for the Des Moines Register,

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann introduced Trump, who was back in the state for the first time since officially securing his party’s nomination last week in Cleveland. [...]

“It reminds me a little of Harry Truman,” Branstad told the crowd of about 2,400. “When Harry Truman was running for president, they always used to say, ‘Give 'em hell, Harry.’ And he said, ‘I just tell it like it is, and they think it’s hell.’ And that’s the way it is with Donald Trump. He just tells the truth.”

Ernst was less effusive about the nominee, mentioning only near the end of her short speech that Trump "will make America strong," according to Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs. Though she spoke at last week's Republican National Convention and has made clear she will campaign for Trump this fall, Ernst has at times expressed discomfort about certain aspects of Trump's style. Ernst said nothing about the crowd chanting "Lock her up!" in reference to Hillary Clinton.

The Des Moines Register posted short video clips from Trump in Davenport, including comments about the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, and a passage in which Trump said,

I'm not in love with the caucus system, by the way, I have to tell you. No insult. One thing I have to say before I--a lot of people say, "We hear they're moving Iowa to the back of the pack." Not gonna happen, folks. 100 percent, not going to happen. Because I'll be in charge if I win, and that's not happening. [...] There's a beautiful tradition, Iowa, New Hampshire, you know, there's something beautiful about it. It's gonna stay that way, and that goes for New Hampshire.

If Trump loses the presidency, it will be a battle to preserve our state's place in the nominating calendar. But Iowa should have other supporters on the Republican National Committee, because the caucus system rewards candidates like Cruz.

In Davenport yesterday, Trump also touched on the subject of Russia, a day after his extraordinary remarks during a lengthy press conference. For those who missed that story:

Donald J. Trump said on Wednesday that he hoped Russian intelligence services had successfully hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, and encouraged them to publish whatever they may have stolen, essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage against a former secretary of state.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Mr. Trump said during a news conference here in an apparent reference to Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” [...]

At the same news conference, Mr. Trump also appeared to leave the door open to accepting Russia’s annexation of Crimea two years ago — which the United States and its European allies consider an illegal seizure of territory. That seizure, and the continued efforts of Russian-aided insurgents to undermine the government of Ukraine, are the reason that the United States and its allies still have economic sanctions in force against Moscow.

When asked whether he would recognize Crimea “as Russian territory” and lift the sanctions, Mr. Trump said: “We’ll be looking at that. Yeah, we’ll be looking.”

Calling on a foreign power to hack into Clinton's computers should be disqualifying for a presidential candidate, especially when you factor in in Trump's considerable financial connections to Russia. Trump posted on Twitter this week, "For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia." But he was trying to confuse the issue. The question is not how much he's invested, it's how much have Russian entities invested in or loaned Trump's businesses? Such financial entanglements could become leverage for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

From the Register's story on Trump in Davenport:

Trump has begun walking back the comments about Russia, calling them a joke in an interview with CNN. But he reiterated Thursday his desire to see other NATO nations pay more to be part of the alliance, saying that the United States picks up 73 percent of the cost.

“And what are we doing? We’re protecting them,” he said. “We’re protecting them. It’s got to change.”

(After his Davenport speech, The Associated Press reported in a fact check that the U.S. picks up just over 22 percent of the cost of NATO operations, based on last year's figures. Trump's figure of 73 percent is based on the U.S. share of overall military spending by NATO member countries, not on the money devoted to the alliance. NATO asks member nations to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Of the 28 NATO nations, only five — the U.S., Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland — meet or exceed that percentage.)

Trump said that if the United States could get along with nations like Russia, the countries might be able to work together to fight terror and take out Islamic State.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with Russia? Wouldn’t it be nice?” he said. “And then we say let’s go get ISIS. ... And we’re going to get other countries to pay for it."

Trump's comments about NATO have alarmed many in the diplomatic community and could encourage Russian aggression in some of the former Soviet republics. Yet in Cedar Rapids, Ernst told the crowd Clinton "is not fit to serve as our commander in chief." Kaufmann gave one of the fiery speeches that are his hallmark. Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio quoted the GOP state chair as shouting, "I don't care what Donald Trump tweets!!! we need him in the White House!!!!"

I caught Trump's Cedar Rapids speech on KCRG's live stream. Early on, he said, "If you didn't have [the] caucus, I would have won Iowa, I hate to tell you." (GOP strategist David Kochel, who worked on Jeb Bush's campaign, believes Rubio would have won a theoretical Iowa primary on February 1.) Trump later struck a more humble note, saying of losing the caucuses, "It was my fault because I did things that were not good but I learned." That's a far cry from what Trump alleged in an early February tweet storm: that Cruz "stole Iowa" through "fraud" on caucus night.

Trump made some demonstrably false statements during his Cedar Rapids remarks, asserting that Democrats were not planning to have any law enforcement officials speak at their national convention this week in Philadelphia. Indulging in a bit of revisionist history, he claimed, "The system is broken. The system is rigged. And I'm the first one who came up with that term." He predicted he will get a "tremendous crossover" from Democratic voters, including many who preferred Bernie Sanders during the primaries. Having talked to hundreds of Iowans who caucused for Sanders, I'm confident most will vote for Clinton. The small fraction of holdouts will flow mostly to Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

Trump also told the Cedar Rapids audience he is polling "really well" with Hispanics. Not in any public poll I've seen. Latinos are reportedly registering to vote in record numbers in various states, excited to cast a ballot against Trump. That dynamic is one reason Arizona may be in play for the first time in a presidential race in decades.

Remarking on the large number of women in the packed Cedar Rapids ballroom, Trump predicted, "I think we're going to poll great with women, I really do. Am I going to do great w/the women? [...] And women do not like Hillary Clinton." In reality, this election is likely to shatter previous records for the gender gap.

Indirectly acknowledging that not all Republicans are his big fans, Trump called on Republicans to vote for him "even if you don't like me," because the next president will likely make several U.S. Supreme Court appointments.

In both Davenport and Cedar Rapids, Trump lamented the limits on political activity by churches, saying he would repeal the Johnson amendment that then-Senator Lyndon Johnson proposed in the 1950s. Simpson College Professor Kedron Baldwell pointed out that by an overwhelming majority, "evangelical pastors (86%) do NOT favor clergy endorsing in pulpit." Most evangelical voters also disagree with the idea of the church or pastor explicitly endorsing political candidates.

On social media yesterday, some people expressed surprise that the Trump campaign continues to use Rolling Stones songs. "Let's Spend the Night Together" played before his speeches Thursday, while "You Can't Always Get What You Want" played afterwards, as was done following Trump's Republican National Convention acceptance speech. The Stones don't like the GOP nominee and have asked him to stop playing their music. But as University of Iowa communications professor Kembrew McLeod explained last week,

The blanket licenses paid to ASCAP/BMI allow any song to be played in, say, an arena where Trump or Clinton hold a rally. That means they can play anything they want. If the event is televised, networks also have blanket and/or compulsory licenses for live events, which is why you can hear music at the GOP convention or televised sports events. Basically, the artists can't do anything about their song being played at a political rally or convention, unless it's used specifically in a campaign TV or web ad; that requires a sync license for the publishing side, which has to be negotiated separately. So every campaign season, an artist sends out a threatening press release, and then their managers are like, "Yo, there's nothing you can do about this."

Any comments about the presidential race are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that first-term Representative Rod Blum, one of the most vulnerable U.S. House incumbents in the country, did not attend the Cedar Rapids rally because of a family vacation but released a statement giving Trump a "warm welcome."

P.S.- On Thursday morning, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to Iowa's Democratic National Convention delegation in Philadelphia. Jason Noble reported for the Des Moines Register that Vilsack slammed Trump's comments about Russia obtaining Clinton's e-mails,

"That’s a no-no. You can’t do that," Vilsack said. "That’s not legal, that’s not right. Yesterday, Donald Trump sided with Russia and not with us." [...]

The 200-year-old Logan Act bars Americans from engaging in “correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government … with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.”

“What about yesterday?” Vilsack asked the Iowa delegation, referring to Trump's comments. “What about yesterday, where he invited a foreign country with which we have an adversarial relationship, to inject itself into our politics?” [...]

When asked in a follow-up interview he believed Trump had actually violated the Logan Act — which would be a felony — he said it should be investigated.

“I think it’s something that people should carefully and closely look into,” Vilsack said. “I think certainly at the very least it was inappropriate for him to side with Russia yesterday, and I think it’s another indication of why he’s disqualified to be president.”

Timothy B. Lee of Vox called attention to an equally disturbing part of Trump's July 27 press conference:

Everyone is talking about Donald Trump’s call for the Russian government to release emails it may have stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private email server. But that wasn’t the most chilling thing Trump said in his rambling answer to a question about who hacked the email server of the Democratic National Committee.

"Honestly, I wish I had that power," Trump responded. "I’d love to have that power."

The thing is, if Trump gets elected president, he probably will have the power to hack into the private communications of his political opponents. And that’s terrifying.

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