Trump sounds off on the Civil War, again goes after John McCain and criticizes magnets

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(WASHINGTON) — Donald Trump had much to say — about the Civil War, about a recent school shooting, about magnets — in his return this past weekend to campaign in Iowa with just days before voting starts in the 2024 primary race.

The former president also sparked backlash for his comments about whether Abraham Lincoln could have negotiated an end to the Civil War, about the late Sen. John McCain (a frequent foe) and as he once again labeled people prosecuted in connection with Jan. 6 as “hostages” — echoing how he is focusing on his own legal troubles and retribution in his closing message to Iowans.

While giving remarks in Newton, Iowa, on Saturday, Trump said the Civil War was “so horrible, but so fascinating,” going on to suggest that the conflict, which was fought over the issue of slavery, could have been negotiated.

“See, there was something I think could’ve been negotiated, to be honest with you. I think you could’ve negotiated that. All the people died, so many people died,” he said.

Trump’s comments came in the wake of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley stirring her own controversy for not initially citing slavery as the cause of the Civil War in response to a question while on the campaign trail late last month. Trump, who said he would’ve cited slavery had he been asked that question, on Saturday went on to say that President Lincoln wouldn’t have been as famous if he did negotiate to end the war.

“If he negotiated it, you probably wouldn’t even know who Abraham Lincoln was,” Trump said. “He would have been president, but he would have been president and would have been — he wouldn’t have been the Abraham Lincoln.”

Some Republican critics soon seized on Trump’s unusual comments, questioning what the former president was trying to say.

“I don’t even know what he’s talking about,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2024 candidate, told ABC News’ Rachel Scott. “I mean, Lincoln did what he had to do. He ended up ushering in the abolition of slavery and he saved the Union. That’s a huge victory for the Republican Party.”

“So, I don’t know. Relitigating that doesn’t make much sense to me,” DeSantis added.

Former Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, who was a member of her party’s leadership in Congress before denouncing Trump’s behavior, reacted to his Civil War remarks on X.

“Which part of the Civil War ‘could have been negotiated’ The slavery part? The secession part?” she wrote.

In response, the Trump campaign didn’t elaborate on what he meant, instead slamming “elitists” who “spew their hatred.”

In Mason City one day before his Newton speech, Trump capitalized on Haley’s other recent comment that drew outcry — when she indicated that New Hampshire voters could “correct” the results of the Iowa caucuses — by saying, “She’s the one who needs to be corrected. You don’t have to be corrected.”

And though Trump continues to criticize Democratic rival Joe Biden for his age and stumbles, Trump also makes odd comments. On Friday, he falsely claimed during a rant about magnetic elevators that magnets don’t work underwater.

“When the magnetic elevators — think of it — magnets. Now, all I know about magnets is this: Give me a glass of water, let me drop it on the magnets, that’s the end of the magnets,” Trump said at his rally in Mason City.

DeSantis, who notably trails Trump in primary polling, pointed to that as an example of how Trump “has lost some zip.”

Trump marks Jan. 6 by calling for release of suspects

Trump’s campaign events on Saturday also coincided with the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, when Congress had gathered to certify his loss to Biden.

He used the day to slam the election subversion charges he faces, in part due to the events of that day, and to attack the Republican members of the House committee that investigated Jan. 6 while pushing for Biden to “release” those detained in connection with the attack. (Trump has denied all wrongdoing.)

“Some people call them prisoners. I call them hostages. Release the J6 hostages, Joe. Release them, Joe. You can do it real easy, Joe,” Trump said.

For weeks on the campaign trail, Trump has expressed sympathy toward those prosecuted over Jan. 6, at times by including in his events a song sung by a group of men incarcerated for their own roles in the riot.

Statements about McCain, Perry school shooting

In terms of policy, Trump over the weekend reiterated his campaign promise to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Though Trump has yet to offer a comprehensive alternative to the sweeping health care law, while talking about the issue he made a swipe at the late Sen. McCain’s arm injury, which McCain — who late in life clashed with Trump — had suffered while serving in the Vietnam War.

“You know, without John McCain, we would have had it done. But John McCain, for some reason, couldn’t get his arm up,” Trump said, apparently mocking McCain’s choice in 2017 to vote against a Republican-led bill to repeal Obamacare.

John McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain, who has been vocal in challenging Trump’s criticism of him, responded on social media.

“My dad was an American hero. An icon. A patriot that will be remembered throughout history,” she wrote on X, going on to call Trump an “election denying, huckster.”

During his weekend campaign swing, Trump also reacted to yet another school shooting — this time in Perry, Iowa, at a high school as Republican presidential hopefuls were descending upon the state.

Trump offered his thoughts and prayers to the families affected in the shooting, saying it’s “so surprising” it happened in Iowa but that people “have to move forward.”

An 11-year-old sixth grader was killed and seven people “received wounds or injuries of varying degrees” in the shooting, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Some Trump allies and voters said his long habit of incendiary and even offensive comments were part of his style.

“He knows who he is. He’s confident in who he is. He came down a golden escalator [to first run for president in 2015] because that’s who he is,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, thought to be a possible contender for Trump’s vice-presidential candidate pick, said while stumping for the former president last week.

“He never pretended to be anybody else other than who he is. And he doesn’t think he’s better than any of you,” Noem said.

Supporters, even as they acknowledged his language can be off-putting to others, have said they are not fazed by it.

“Everybody has an issue with the way that he speaks. But me, I don’t like you to beat around the bush,” said Jamila Jones, from Ankeny, Iowa, who volunteered for the Trump campaign at an event last month. “I like you to be direct and assertive. And a lot of people can’t handle that right now. We’re in a day and age where everybody’s so sensitive.”

Bruce Thisted of Kiester, Minnesota, who attended Trump’s rally in Mason City, Iowa, on Friday, said he’s not sure if Trump is guilty of the criminal charges he’s facing. But Thisted said he believes Trump might be “slightly responsible” for instigating rioters on Jan. 6.

“I mean,” Thisted said, “he’s got a mouth on him.”

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