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Trump again vows to be a day-one ‘dictator’ in Iowa town hall

Former president Donald Trump on Wednesday again vowed to seize dictatorial powers if elected to the nation’s highest office once more but attempted to walk back his frequently made promise to exact retribution on his political enemies during a second term in the White House.

The disgraced former president, who is currently facing more than 90 felony charges in four separate jurisdictions and is scheduled to go on trial in March for attempting a coup to keep himself in office after losing the 2020 election, promised to spend his first day of a second term ruling as an autocrat during a town hall broadcast on Fox News ahead of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

Asked by a voter in the Hawkeye State – where temperatures have dropped below freezing – how he’d respond to critics who argue that restoring to him to power would unleash untold chaos upon the country, Mr Trump replied that the chaos of his first term was the fault of Democrats in the House of Representatives and law enforcement officials who conducted investigations into his conduct.

He also attempted to turn back Democratic criticism of his intention to be an autocrat by describing reporting of his pledge to rule as a dictator “on day one” as a “new narrative” meant to paper over a poor governance record by President Joe Biden, his successor and likely general election opponent.

“I think that he's using this is just a political ploy — ‘Trump is a dictator, he wants to be a dictator,’” he said before launching into a long-winded explanation of how he had pledged to be a dictator on his first day in office during a friendly interview with Fox host Sean Hannity.

“I said, I'm going to be a dictator for one day,” he recalled, adding that in his telling he’d meant that he’d use his dictatorial powers to seal the US-Mexico border and somehow order increases in fossil fuel production on his first day back in the White House.

The ex-president again complained about press coverage of his prior remarks, accusing media outlets of failing to report that he’d limited his dictatorial ambitions to his first day in office.

Mr Trump, who has spent the last year and a half pledging to his supporters that he’d be their “retribution” against perceived political enemies and has recently suggested that he would order the arrest and prosecution of Mr Biden and other top Democrats, also told the assembled Iowa voters that he’d assemble a “deportation force” to remove more than 7,000,000 migrants from the country without due process.

Asked how he’d fulfill his promise to “take care of the border” in just 24 hours, Mr Trump said he would oversee what he called “the largest deportation effort in the history of our country”.

“We're bringing everybody back to where they came from. We have no choice,” he said, adding later that he believes there are upwards of 15,000,000 people in the US who are not legally present, and predicted that that number would rise by another three million by the time Mr Biden’s term ends.

Continuing, Mr Trump repeated an oft-told lie about the origin of the migrants coming to the US, claiming that “many” of them “come from jails and prisons” and “from mental institutions and insane asylums,” with “many” migrants allegedly being “terrorists”.

The ex-president offered no evidence to support his allegations, and after he also told the nearly all-white crowd of Iowans that “no” terrorists entered the US during his term, he provided none to support that boastful claim, either.

Mr Trump’s participation in the Fox News town hall comes just days before he expected to win the Iowa caucus, which he lost to Texas Senator Ted Cruz during his first run for the White House in 2016.

And despite his frequent promises from the stump to turn the machinery of law enforcement against top Democrats, he told the television audience that he wasn’t planning on weaponising the government to punish his enemies, though he also said “a lot of people” would say doing just that is “not so bad”.

“A lot of people would say, that [using government as an instrument of revenge] is probably quite normal,” he said.

But he quickly pivoted, adding that he is “not going to have time for retribution”.