US2024 Election

Donald Trump plays the hits at Fox News reunion, but some voters want more than just a ‘winner’

Iowa event shows abortion could be lingering issue for Republican frontrunner in the US presidential race

Fox News and Donald Trump: it wasn’t exactly a rapprochement on another night of ghostly streets and steady snowfall in Des Moines, Iowa, but after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, the former president sat down for a live, nationally televised interview with the broadcaster that had championed his first coming.

It was a strange evening. By 6pm, the wide, snow-packed main boulevards of Locust and Grand were empty and city life, such as it was, revolved around the Events Center. Word had spread of another faller among the challengers to Trump’s ascendant return to as Republican presidential nominee. Chris Christie, the former president’s most vociferous critic, told a gathering in New Hampshire that his run was ending here and now.

While Trump held court, his rivals Ron de Santis and Nikki Haley sparred and sparked in a CNN-hosted Republican debate just a short drive away. Once again, Trump had declined to participate, instead negotiating a head-to-head prime time television show.

Most of the few hundred people who had applied to attend were steadfast Trump supporters. Others came to be persuaded. They endured the treacherous weather and a thorough security check from the Secret Service as they entered the Events Center. It’s an unfeasibly massive venue, seemingly built in case everyone in Des Moines – and possibly the entirety of Iowa – ever feels like attending a dinner-dance at the one time.


This was never going to be the kind of mass, raucous, heat-seeking rally that Trump orchestrated during his 2016 campaign. It was at once, as the announcer told those of us inside, “a show”, urging the crowd to “clap and cheer and please keep the energy going”.

The hour-long event was another reminder of the many levels on which the US election machinery works: this was at once a piece of choreographed television news, a tiny chapter in the existential battle for democracy in which the ghosts and deeds of the founding fathers are trotted out by the candidates ad nauseum, and a sincere gathering of ordinary midwesterners, addled with the genuine concerns about the future of their country.

The room was too big and cavernous and the lighting too low. The moderators, Fox News stalwarts Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier, had promised to rein in the former president over the hour-long conversation. But this was Trump in cruise control, easing into the familiar narrative which shapes his four years in the White House as a lost idyll.

He spoke, as ever, in the rolling soundbites that are music to the ears of people who like his sort of music.

– “I had no wars. I was the only president in 72 years. I didn’t have any wars.”

– “We had the greatest border. We had the greatest economy in history. We had so much energy! We were ready to start supplying energy to Europe and Asia. We had an incredible four years. The greatest economy in the history of our country with no inflation – pretty good.”

– “When you look at Ron’s numbers, he is practically out of the race. I’m leading Biden in every single poll. I’m leading by 11 in Michigan; that’s great, the auto workers are smart.”

– “For fifty-four years they were trying to get Roe v Wade terminated and I did it. And I’m proud to have done it. We did something that was a miracle.”

– “We have a situation where I believe the stock market goes up because I am leading. And frankly, I think that if I don’t win the stock market is going to crash. I don’t want to be Herbert Hoover. And I won’t be Herbert Hoover.”

Here he was when asked about Chris Christie’s sustained criticisms.

– “The biggest story wasn’t that he dropped out – nobody really cared about that – but he had a hot mike,” he said, in reference to Christie, who was recorded on microphone predicting that Nikki Haley will “get smoked” in the polls.

“It’s one of the few things he was right about,” he deadpanned.

The delivery is familiar: the free-form declarations, the sharp asides and comic’s cruel timing. But of the checklist of subjects discussed – the questions came from the public rather than the Fox presenters – it was the issue of abortion and Trump’s long, rambling answer that may be the moment that hangs around from this wintry evening.

The question came from Rebekah Haynie, an anti-abortion advocate, and a mother of six ranging in age from one to 20.

“I don’t want to give a closed answer to this,” she said when she stopped to talk about whether she was convinced by how Mr Trump had answered her question. She had asked him about where he stood on Iowa’s heartbeat legislation – which would ban almost all abortions once cardiac activity can be detected.

“The struggle I have is that I want to know where his heart is. I think it is a social justice issue we have to account for in our time. He was talking about winning elections and my question is: winning, great ... but then what do you do with that victory?”

Twenty-one states ban abortion or restrict the procedure earlier in pregnancy than had been the standard during the half century when reproductive rights were governed by Roe v Wade.

Haynie believes that the abortion issue will become one of the most contentious issues later this year.

“It has to. Because you have essentially a war of federalism going on in the states right now. You have states like Florida and Iowa that have enacted heartbeat legislation and states like New York and California that are openly pro-abortion so those two things can’t really coexist, I think, without it coming to a head. I think it is not outlandish to expect that it should be federally acted upon. I am a person of faith, so I pray a lot for the situation. But I feel we have to address it. It’s an equal rights issue.”

But that’s for later in the year. The huge building emptied quickly.

Like everyone else, Rebekah Haynie was keen to get on her way home: to Ogden, in Boone County, about an hour’s drive away. She said she’d put her husband on speaker phone for company. Much like the polls suggest of Donald Trump, she was likely to have the Iowa road all to herself.

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