Live from Sioux City, it’s Donald Trump

Nebraska attorney David Begley continues his series of reports on appearances of the presidential candidates in Iowa for us. Yesterday Dave attended the appearance of Donald Trump in Sioux City, Iowa. The Omaha World-Herald’s report is here; Dave’s is below.

If there was any doubt, Donald Trump is in it to win it.

Other than the Ted Cruz rally for religious liberty in Des Moines, Trump had the largest and most enthusiastic crowd I have seen. The Sioux City West High School gym was filled even though notice of the event was short. Three times Donald noted that his Iowa numbers were down and he exhorted the crowd to get them up. He also promised to “work harder in Iowa” and spend more time there in the future. He is not writing off Iowa by any means.

The format of his speech was familiar, but he took questions from the audience. Trump gives an apparently free-form stream-of-consciousness ramble, but there are pegs to it. Lots of poll numbers. Plenty of superlatives punctuating declarative sentences. From time to time someone in the crowd would shout out something and he would respond.

He started with illegal immigration. He said he will build the wall and the crowd cheered. Trump noted that illegal immigration is bad for the country. He reiterated his stance that all illegal aliens would have to leave the country and the good ones would be allowed to come back. He questioned the figure of 11 million illegals in this country. (In her book, Ann Coulter cited research from Wall Street that the number could be as high as 30 million.) Trump put the cost of illegal immigration at $200 billion per year. In the question and answer session he cited the fact that President Eisenhower removed 1.5 million illegals in very short order.

Before the speech I spoke with local resident “Janet Jackson” (not her real name). I think her story represents why Trump’s focus on illegal immigration resonates with many voters. She said she took a job in a local factory in order to pay her family’s $1,700 per month health insurance premium. She pestered the company’s human resources department for months to get hired and she was the last native born American hired by the company. She claimed that the workforce consisted entirely of illegals. ICE raided the plant and it was shut down for months. It then reopened with the same workforce but the laborers had all changed their names and social security numbers. Wages, however, for the rehired workers were substantially less.

She then told me about two young Hispanic males who were injured on the job. One lost an eye and the other lost functional use of both arms. The man with the arm injuries was fired after a stint in light duty when his doctor released him for unrestricted work. Neither filed a work comp claim. I informed her that in Nebraska there is case law that a worker’s immigration status does not prohibit a work comp claim.

The upshot of Janet Jackson’s story is that both parties are exploiting this matter. The Democrat party for future voters and the Republican party (via certain Chamber of Commerce companies) for cheap labor. Lawlessness continues. The losers are those American citizens who want jobs and a rising standard of living. Wages have been flat for 12 years.

Trump then went into economic matters. He discussed corporate tax inversions and claimed one of his fellow candidates (unnamed) didn’t know what it was. For those who don’t know, our corporate tax rate is the highest in the world. American companies move their tax domicile to countries like Ireland via merger in order to lower taxes. Due to our current tax system, multinational American companies have an estimated $2.3 trillion stranded overseas and can’t bring it back without paying US taxes. Nothing gets done to fix it.

Trade and foreign currency valuations are difficult topics but Trump exploits the issues in a compelling way. Caterpillar had horrible numbers last quarter. Why? A big part of it was the devaluation of the Chinese yuan. Trump said currency devaluation was China’s number one weapon against us.

With China we have a trade imbalance of $400 billion and it is $70 billion with Japan. According to Trump, their “leaders are killing us” but it shouldn’t be that way. Trump asserted “we have all the power” with both China and Japan and the current deals will end. If neither country can sell their goods here, each will be hurt badly. [Editor’s note: It wouldn’t do much for us either.] He seems to be calling for increasing tariffs here and lowering tariffs there. Making “trade deals fair” is supposed to solve the purported trade problem.

Under his personal income tax plan, 40 per cent of income earners would pay no federal income tax because the administrative cost of the IRS to process the returns is too high.

On the Iran nuclear deal Trump said it “was the worst deal ever” and that our people were “stupid or there is something we don’t know about.” Note that last implication.

On foreign policy, Trump sharply attacked Obama regarding Iraq. Announcing our departure in advance by a date certain only allowed the Islamists to lay back and then attack with greater force against the Iraq military after we were gone. He repeated his assertion that we should have taken Iraq’s oil as today it funds ISIS. He has a plan to deal with ISIS but he won’t tell the enemy in advance. He wants ISIS to guess. He referred to a recent business deal where he “beat” a competitor and after the fact his adversary cited Trump’s unpredictability as a major advantage.

On energy he said he would approve Keystone XL but added that he would consider a tax of 10 to 20 percent on Canadian oil. Trump correctly noted that with fracking we have considerable energy beneath our feet.

He also took up campaign finance issues. He said super PACs were one of the “greatest scams of all time” and the media should investigate. He said Jeb Bush’s friend runs one of the Bush super PACs. He said Ben Carson’s super PAC “is running” his campaign in Iowa. He further asserted that for Dr. Carson’s super PAC only between 20 or 30 cents per dollar raised was actually spent on campaign speech. He claimed personal knowledge of some super PACs supporting Romney that created several millionaires.

This is a twofold criticism. It attacks professional consultants and it implies that Dr. Carson is a poor manager of his own campaign. But it should be noted that, by law, the candidates cannot coordinate with the super PACs. So consultants can take advantage of a candidate’s campaign through the super PAC arrangement. And, of course, since Trump is self-funding and already well known, he has no need for a super PAC. Trump asserts that the super PAC system “makes honest people dishonest.” See, for example, CNBC report.

He took nine questions from the crowd. The second one came from a wounded warrior. He was introduced before the speech as a person the local business community had helped retrofit his house because he is confined to a wheelchair. He was in the 101st Airborne and was injured by 13 IEDs (that’s what I heard) in Afghanistan.

Trump came down from the stage and asked his wife how the VA was treating him. She said he needs a new treatment. She said that he could not get it at the VA hospital and that waits were longer than ever. Trump said his administration would move much treatment for vets to private hospitals and doctors. Trump took the man’s information and promised to make calls. This entire exchange with the vet produced one of the loudest cheers from the crowd.

There were also huge cheers when Trump said he would revoke Obama’s executive orders of his first day in office.

Although advice columnists Ann Landers and Dear Abby (the Lederer sisters) were natives of Sioux City, the town does not have a large Jewish population. But when Trump said he will “support Israel 1,000 percent” he received huge cheers.

In this campaign I am like Curly in the movie City Slickers. I know one thing. And that one thing is that Hillary Clinton must not be President. The question for primary voters should be the identity of the candidate to defeat her.

Trump has high negatives. For primary voters or caucus goers Trump’s ability to overcome those negatives in a general election (or not) should be an important issue. In other words, the Buckley Rule: support the most conservative candidate who can win the general election.

Hillary’s opposition research team is holding its fire. Mark Halperin recently reported for Bloomberg News that her team is playing the “long game” and “holding back powerful tidbits until the late spring or summer…when the eventual Republican nominee will be most vulnerable…”

Tune into CNBC tonight for fireworks!