Former President Donald Trump barely mentioned the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol as he rallied supporters in Iowa on Saturday, but his speech was centered on countering President Joe Biden’s argument that the riot and Trump’s broader effort to overturn the 2020 election represent a grave threat to the republic.
“This guy goes around and says I’m a threat to democracy,” Trump said. “He’s a threat to democracy. … You know, you can be grossly incompetent and be a threat to democracy.”
Trump faces federal election interference charges stemming from his well-documented campaign to stay in office after he lost. His efforts culminated in his loyalists assaulting police officers, storming the Capitol and hunting for lawmakers in a failed attempt to prevent electoral votes from being tallied on Jan. 6, 2021.
He made just one reference to the date during Saturday’s first event, a 113-minute speech — to express puzzlement that he was impeached for his role. “Nobody thought J6 was even a possibility,” he said, using a shorthand for the date.
After a more than three-hour delay, in part, due to inclement weather, Trump held a second rally in Clinton, Iowa. He hit on many of the issues that he talked about during the first rally, and once again only mentioned the Jan. 6 Capitol riots once during the 62-minute speech. The late-night event touched on many of the same unfounded claims, like the 2020 election was stolen, that have found a place in most of Trump’s recent stump speeches.
But even as he tiptoed around the edges of the anniversary, it was clear that Trump sees a political imperative in fighting on the turf Biden has chosen — which one of them represents a threat to democracy — if for no other reason than to blunt the force of the central argument against him.
“If you can bring it to a draw,” one Trump adviser said, “it’s a win.”
The same adviser put the Jan. 6 fight in the larger context of Trump’s view that his campaign should always be on offense.
“In meeting after meeting after meeting, the [former] president says we are not a prevent defense,” the adviser said, borrowing a football term. “That is not a theme of this campaign; it is the lifeblood of the campaign. We are on our toes, not our heels.”
Rather than dwell on the failed effort to overturn the election, Trump repeated the falsehood that fueled the riot: that he won the 2020 election. He accused Biden of “weaponizing law enforcement for high-level election interference like our country has never seen” to defeat him in 2024.
Biden has said he is not involved in the Justice Department’s decisions on prosecuting Trump.
At the same time, he has made Jan. 6 a centerpiece of his campaign against the former president. On Friday, Biden delivered a stump speech in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania — originally scheduled for Saturday’s anniversary — in which he accused Trump of being “willing to sacrifice our democracy, put himself in power.”
The storming of the Capitol, which led to Trump’s second impeachment and criminal charges against him and more than 1,200 of his supporters, is an inescapable part of his record. Biden says it is also a portent.
“Trump’s assault on democracy isn’t just part of his past,” Biden said Friday. “It’s what he’s promising for the future.”
Trump called Biden’s remarks “a ridiculous speech.” Yet he didn’t attempt to defend his own actions on Jan. 6, when he encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol and for hours declined to call on them to stop the riot.
Many Trump voters would prefer not to revisit that day at all.
“I think it’s done. It’s over,” Connie Loehr, 55, a first-time Iowa caucusgoer from Newton, Iowa, said in an interview with NBC News. “There’s a lot of things that have been blown way out of proportion.”
During Saturday’s speech, Trump also took aim at his top Republican rivals, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, accusing both of them of wanting to impose a sales taxes and raise the retirement age for Social Security. He also said neither of them would “do what it takes” to secure the U.S. border with Mexico.
He spoke at a “commit to caucus” event just nine days before Iowans cast the first votes in the 2024 primary season and three days before he plans to appear in a federal appellate court in Washington to hear lawyers argue over whether he should be immune from prosecution for trying to overturn the election. Polls of Iowa voters show Trump with a sizable lead over DeSantis, Haley and the other Republicans vying for the nomination.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com