CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Countless Democratic leaders have urged the party not to spend the 2020 campaign tangling with President Trump over tweets and taunts. But Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts made a novel argument on Sunday for ignoring the president: he could soon be in jail.
Addressing a crowd of several hundred at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Ms. Warren said it was up to Democrats to decide whether they would spend every day parrying “a racist tweet, a hateful tweet, something really dark and ugly” from the president. She said the party should ask: “Are we going to let him use those to divide us?”
“By the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president,” Ms. Warren said. “In fact, he may not even be a free person.”
Prodded by reporters to explain the remark a few hours later in Iowa City, Ms. Warren said she was simply noting the proliferation of probes into the president.
“It’s no longer just the Mueller investigation,” Ms. Warren said. “They’re everywhere and these are serious investigations, so we’ll see what happens.”
In addition to the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russian interference in the 2016 election, there are ongoing investigations spearheaded by federal prosecutors in New York and by the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. Mr. Trump has denied any wrongdoing related to the 2016 campaign and Russia, and there is no indication that the president himself could be indicted or incarcerated before the 2020 election.
Ms. Warren’s remark was an unusually blunt jab at Mr. Trump, from a candidate who has largely declined to spar personally with the president since her entry into the 2020 race. Mr. Trump has repeatedly ridiculed Ms. Warren, often in personal terms and with racist slurs, for having in the past identified herself as having Native American ancestry. Ms. Warren recently apologized to the Cherokee Nation for having done so.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump appeared to invoke the Trail of Tears, the infamously cruel forced relocation of Native Americans in the early 19th century that caused thousands of deaths, when he mocked Ms. Warren on Twitter: “See you on the campaign TRAIL, Liz.” Ms. Warren did not refer explicitly to the tweet on Sunday.
Aside from the imprisonment crack, Ms. Warren spent little time in Iowa discussing Mr. Trump’s legal issues and caustic persona. She downplayed talk of impeachment and stressed to reporters that she was focused on “structural” problems that “were broken long before Donald Trump got here.”
She was not the only Democrat to suggest obliquely in Iowa this weekend that Mr. Trump might meet a swift downfall of some kind. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, in his first trip to Iowa as a presidential candidate, suggested in passing on Saturday that if he won the Democratic nomination, he was not certain he would face Mr. Trump in the general election.
“Should I be our nominee and Trump also be the nominee — I’m not sure if he will be — but if he is the nominee, you will see the toughest, strongest person standing against him,” Mr. Booker said. “Whatever he wants to throw at me, bring it.”