by Jennifer Epstein and Justin Sink
President Donald Trump lashed out at Democratic front-runner Joe Biden on Tuesday as the two prepared for competing events in the key swing state of Iowa later in the day.
The former vice president “is a loser,” the president told reporters as he departed the White House. “Obama took him off the trash heap.”
Iowa will get a preview of a potential 2020 showdown on Tuesday when both Trump and Biden hold events in different parts of the state, which is already being blanketed by Democratic presidential candidates.
Trump will visit the Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy project in Council Bluffs to celebrate a promise he delivered on ethanol. The president plans to target Biden in remarks at a fundraiser later in the day, where Republicans expect to raise about $700,000, two people familiar with the matter said.
Biden, too, will be going on the offense, blasting Trump on the impact his tariffs have had on farming and manufacturing, his "childishness” in attacking rivals while overseas for a D-Day commemoration and his stance on climate change. He’ll label Trump “an existential threat to America.”
“I hope Trump’s presence here will be a clarifying event,” Biden will say, according to advanced excerpts from his speech provided by his campaign Tuesday.
“America’s farmers have been crushed by his tariff war with China. No one knows that better than Iowa,” he’ll say. The tariffs also are “hitting a lot of American manufacturing -- especially the American automobile industry.”
The former vice president will be playing catch-up. He’s been scarce in Iowa since he began his campaign in April while his competitors have been fanning out across the Hawkeye State, which holds the nation’s first nominating contest. Over the weekend, 19 of the party’s presidential hopefuls were in Iowa while Biden was at the high school graduation of one of his granddaughters.
More than a month into his candidacy, Biden still leads all Democratic contenders by a healthy margin in both national and state-level polling, though in Iowa other contenders are beginning to close the gap. Biden led the Des Moines Register’s Iowa poll, released on Saturday, with the support of 24% of likely caucus participants. He was followed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders with 16%; Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren won 15% and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg got 14%. No other candidate drew support in the double digits.
Biden also leads Trump in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups in many competitive states. The president has taken notice, targeting Biden in his tweets far more often than any other potential rival.
Biden plans to hit back at Trump Tuesday. He’ll call out Trump’s behavior while representing the U.S. in Europe for the D-Day anniversary -- during which Trump attacked entertainer Bette Midler, the London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- as a “stunning display of childishness for the whole world to see.”
Biden will also reference the record flooding across the Midwest, noting that many farmers can’t even plant their crops, and accuse Trump of denying climate change after he said in a recent interview that “the weather goes both ways.”
“It reminds me of when he tweeted in the winter that since it was cold outside there was no climate warming. Or how about when he said the way to deal with California’s fires was to rake the leaves?” Biden will say. “It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.”
Biden also plans to address recent criticism he’s gotten from Democrats, Republicans and the media about his hopes of fostering bipartisanship if elected. “That’s not naive,” he will say. “That’s not some old-fashioned way of doing things that no longer works. That’s the way our system is supposed to work.”
Trump and many of the Democratic contenders are courting Midwestern votes over ethanol -- Warren on Monday visited a facility in Dyersville, Iowa. In a rare moment of agreement, she said she supported Trump’s recent move to make E15 -- a gasoline blend comprised of 15% ethanol -- available year-round while criticizing his administration for granting exceptions to refiners.
Trump won Iowa in 2016 after the state went for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. Trump’s path to victory in 2020 will require him to hang on to Iowa and other largely rural states where his support was strongest in 2016 and where the impact of the trade war with China is being acutely felt.
Trump, as he departed the White House, said that Biden didn’t consider China a competitor of the U.S.
“Joe Biden is a dummy,” the 72-year old president said.
Trump “thinks he’s being tough,” Biden will say Tuesday. “Well, it’s easy to be tough when someone else is feeling the pain. How many farmers across this state and across this nation have had to face the prospect of losing their business, of losing their farm because of Trump’s tariffs?”
The president will be accompanied on his tour of the ethanol facility by Representative Cindy Axne who defeated an incumbent Republican in the district that includes Council Bluffs in the 2018 midterm election as part of a Democratic wave that gave the party control of the House.
She plans to thank the president for disaster aid for farmers recovering from flooding in March as well as for finalizing the year-round E15 policy -- a promise he made to Iowans last October, according to her office. Previously, sales of E15 gasoline had been barred from June 1 to September 15 in areas where smog is a problem. Iowa is the largest U.S. producer of both corn and ethanol.
Ethanol sales may benefit only modestly in the short term, analysts say, but the E15 policy change is still a potent show of support to Midwestern farmers suffering from retaliatory Chinese tariffs on soybeans, flooding and a deluge of rain. Last month, the administration announced that it would roll out a $16 billion aid package to help farmers hurt by the deepening trade war. That follows last year’s $12 billion in aid.
‘‘Everyone’s worried about the tariffs, everyone’s worried about the crops,” Jeremy Dumkrieger, an art teacher and chairman of Iowa’s Woodbury County’s Democratic party, said in a telephone interview.
While Trump is in southwest Iowa, Biden will be more than 200 miles to the east for several campaign events. He’s coming off the first rough patch for his campaign.
Last week, he was put on the defensive after a climate change plan was released with some passages lifted without citations from the work of advocacy groups. His staff called the failure to credit sources a mistake and corrected the plan. Then he reversed a long-held stance and said he no longer supported the Hyde Amendment restricting federal funding of abortion, a day after his campaign that he would continue backing its inclusion in federal spending bills.
He’s also been been taking indirect attacks from the other Democrats who’ve been trying to knock him off his front-runner perch. Sanders, his closest competitor, on Sunday criticized Biden without naming him of failing to take bold stands. Buttigieg, 37, made implicit criticism of Biden, 76, part of his message of generational change.
“We Democrats can no more promise to return to the ’90s than Republicans can deliver on their promise to return to the ’50s,” he said at a party event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Trump got into trouble himself after citing North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to mock Biden while in Japan late last month. After North Korea’s official news service called Biden a “fool of low IQ,” Trump said at a news conference that he agreed with the assessment.
The remarks drew criticism from some Republicans, who said Trump should respect the longstanding U.S. tradition that domestic politics stop at the water’s edge when presidents travel abroad. Biden’s campaign waited until Trump was back on U.S. soil before responding, calling his remarks “part of a pattern of embracing autocrats at the expense of our institutions.”