Cotton joined the ranks of prospective 2024 Republican presidential candidates to make early visits Tuesday when he appeared at a state GOP event at Jim Dean’s Classic Car Museum in Sioux Center, in Iowa’s northwestern corner.
The stop was punctuated by an only-in-Iowa ending: Cotton and longtime Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley went through Grassley’s workout routine onstage, doing 22 push-ups face-to-face while the state’s other Republican senator, Joni Ernst, counted them off.
“If we put the brakes on the Biden agenda, if we win in 2024, that’s all for the better. If we, however, let the left indoctrinate an entire generation of our kids to hate America, what will we have gained?” Cotton said.
He was the latest in a steady stream of 2024 Republican presidential prospects to visit Iowa. Already, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Florida’s Sen. Rick Scott are among the potential contenders to make stops in the state in 2021.
Former United Nations Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley took top billing at a state GOP event last week.
Still, a Trump decision could be years away. And if he passes, it would leave a wide-open field — which has possible candidates speaking with party leaders and operatives and banking favors early.
Cotton timed his trip to the launch of a new political program called Veterans to Victory, which will align the senator’s political and fundraising muscle behind Republican military veterans running for House and Senate seats in 2022.
Among the first three candidates to receive the backing of Cotton’s initiative is Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an Army veteran who won Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District race in 2020 by just six votes.
Cotton also made a stop Tuesday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota — the home state of a potential 2024 presidential rival in Noem — for a luncheon hosted by the state GOP.
Cotton began by promising he wouldn’t pander to the crowd. “I’m just going to say I’m the only one who loves you so much that I married a girl born in Iowa,” he said, adding that his wife, who grew up in Nebraska, was born in a hospital in Iowa’s nearby Sioux City.
Missing from Cotton’s speech: any mention of Trump, the figure who towers over the GOP’s 2024 race.
He peppered his speech with tough talk on China, saying the country “has been up to no good for a very long time.”
“It’s time, ladies and gentlemen, to lower the boom on China for their decades of lying and cheating and stealing and yes, unleashing a plague on the world,” Cotton said.
He said China “basically ended the traditions of freedom in Hong Kong. … They did it because Hong Kong is a democracy of Chinese citizens on Chinese soil, and they will not tolerate that in the world, just like they cannot tolerate that Taiwan is a democracy of Chinese citizens on Chinese soil.”
“Never forget that China is run by a Marxist, Leninist, communist dictatorship,” Cotton said, comparing China to the Soviet Union and Cuba.
He also gave Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann what he wanted to hear: a commitment to support Iowa’s continued status as the first state to cast votes in the Republican nominating process, even as Democrats reconsider after the state’s 2020 vote-counting debacle.
“Why should there be any change to Republicans’ first-in-the-nation status just because the Democrats can’t run a caucus?” Cotton said.
He said Iowa has played its role as the first state to hold caucuses for decades. “That develops more than just a custom or a habit — it develops a tradition, really, of civic engagement,” Cotton said.