Trump steps up attack on congresswomen, to roars of supporters

  • >>Michael Crowley, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-07-18 11:41:13 BdST

US President Donald Trump speaks at a "Keep America Great" campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, US, Jul 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

President Donald Trump road-tested his attacks on four Democratic congresswomen Wednesday, casting them as avatars of anti-American radicalism and reiterating his call for them to leave the country, in a preview of a slash-and-burn reelection strategy that depicts Trump as a bulwark against a “dangerous, militant hard left.”

“These left-wing ideologues see our nation as a force for evil,” Trump told a packed arena here.

To roaring applause, the president lit into what he called “hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down.”

“They don’t love our country,” he said. “I think, in some cases, they hate our country. You know what? If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it.”

In recent days, similar comments by Trump have been met with repugnance across the country. But the capacity crowd here in an arena at East Carolina University seemed to savor them.

It was the latest sign that the president hopes to win a second term in office by playing to racial and nationalist themes that shock the consciences of many Americans, but seem only to delight his most ardent supporters.

Trump doubled down with relish on his previous calls for the four congresswomen — Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S Pressley of Massachusetts — to “go back” to their countries of origin, even though all but one were born in the United States and all four are citizens. It left no doubt that he was undaunted by furious condemnations of his remarks as racist, including a Tuesday vote by the House.

After Trump reeled off several controversial comments made by Omar, including ones that he depicted as sympathetic to al-Qaida, the crowd started up a rousing chant of “Send her back!”

Wednesday night’s event was billed as a “Keep America Great” rally — a boastful variant of Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

“Big Rally tonight in Greenville, North Carolina,” the president tweeted early Wednesday, saying he would play up economic growth and the booming stock market in a state that has narrowly tilted right in the past two presidential contests.

Many Republicans, including some of Trump’s advisers, wish he would stick to those themes, saying they think that he is overshadowing an economic success story by engaging in name-calling and divisive cultural clashes.

But while the president did devote time to the recent positive economic growth, and took credit for data showing that China’s gross domestic product is growing at its slowest rate in 27 years, he was most animated when attacking his Democratic rivals, particularly Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley, who are collectively known as “the squad.”

Trump denounced Ocasio-Cortez for branding federal migrant detention centers along the southwestern border “concentration camps,” saying she had, in effect, called border agents Nazis. And he recalled the way Tlaib had used what he called a “vicious” expletive when she vowed in January that Trump would be impeached.

“That’s not somebody that loves our country,” the president said.

Trump also ridiculed the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, like mocking the name of Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and saying that former Vice President Joe Biden had “choked” in the last Democratic primary debate after Sen Kamala Harris of California challenged him on the issue of busing.

Depicting the 2020 Democrats as a hapless and left-wing lot, Trump delivered what may have been his core pitch: “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country. A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American Dream — frankly, the destruction of our country.”

Trump also boasted about an afternoon vote in the House on a resolution to impeach him that had been introduced by Rep Al Green, D-Texas. The measure, opposed by House Democratic leaders wary of a potential backlash, failed 332-95.

“We just received an overwhelming vote against impeachment, and that is the end of it,” Trump said after his arrival to the rally. “Let the Democrats now go back to work.” The vote did not preclude the possibility of future impeachment action.

Trump first announced the rally shortly after House Democrats set Wednesday as the date for former special counsel Robert Mueller to testify about his report on Russian election interference. That was widely seen as an effort by the president to counterprogram that testimony, which has since been delayed.

During his speech Wednesday, he only briefly mentioned the investigation, denouncing it as “a hoax,” and never mentioned Mueller.

Trump carried North Carolina in 2016 with 49.8% of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 46.2%. The state also voted Republican, for Mitt Romney, in 2012, after Barack Obama won it narrowly in 2008.

In his remarks before leaving Washington, the president responded to a question about Omar, who has faced scrutiny for filing tax records with her first husband, her brother, while legally married to her second.

An investigation of public records and state documents by The Minnesota Star Tribune last month could not conclude whether Omar had married her brother for immigration benefits, a rumour that has run rampant in the conservative blogosphere. Omar has denied that claim. Trump accepted the opportunity to weigh in on the subject.

“There’s a lot of talk about the fact that she was married to her brother,” the president said. “I know nothing about it,” he said, adding that “I’m sure that somebody would be looking at that.”

© 2019 New York Times News Service