“Trump is the only one that can save this country at this point,” said Traci Walters, a 52-year-old accountant from Cedar Rapids. “We know that he can do it. And you know, other people, maybe they can, maybe they can’t. We don’t know.”

The former president’s biggest applause lines came when he talked about hot-button social issues, such as banning critical race theory from schools and transgender athletes from women’s sports.

But, as he rolled out the education plank of his platform, he also showed that he’s paying attention to the way DeSantis has used the federal Covid-19 response to appeal to GOP voters.

Trump, who pushed hard for the development of vaccines as president, echoed the rhetoric of DeSantis — who signed a ban on vaccine mandates last year.

“I will not give a penny to any school that has a vaccine mandate,” Trump declared Monday. He also promised to push other states to adopt school-voucher systems similar to the one signed into law by Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and for the direct election of school principals. In an area where the president has a more obvious role in policy, he said it is a “short-term goal” to break up the Department of Education.

Despite the event being billed by his campaign as education-focused, Trump leaned hard into agriculture and trade.

Iowa is one of the country’s top-producing farm states, and Trump trumpeted his record on the issue. He recounted providing payments to farmers to offset the costs of a trade war with China, reminded voters that he rolled back a recently revived Obama-era regulation that specifies which waterways are subject to Clean Water Act standards, and promised to do more.

“Within hours of my inauguration, I will cancel every Biden policy that is brutalizing our farmers,” Trump said, prompting a standing ovation and a chant of “U-S-A” with his call to repeal Biden’s agriculture agenda. Then he vowed to make fertilizer cheaper and to export more ethanol.

Reynolds, who appeared twice with DeSantis on Friday, introduced Trump and praised his work for the state as president.

“In short,” she said, “he fought for Iowans.”

In an interview with NBC News Friday, Reynolds, who has not endorsed a candidate, deflected when asked about possible interest in being a vice presidential running mate for the eventual nominee.

“We’re focused on Iowa right now,” she said. “We’re going to be spending a lot of time here.”

Trump, who spoke to a crowd noticeably larger than those at two DeSantis events last week, said he chose the indoor venue because it was too cold outside for one of his trademark rallies. The manager of the theater said there were more than 2,000 people in attendance. Jason Miller, a top Trump adviser, said the audience included people from 77 of the state’s 99 counties.

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