At Rally in Nashville, Trump Links Democrats to MS-13
During a raucous rally in Nashville, Trump invoked fears of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants, particularly by the transnational gang MS-13, to argue for stricter border policies, including his long-promised wall, and charged that Democrats were standing in the way.
"They don't want the wall, they want open borders," Trump told the crowd. "They're more interested in taking care of criminals than they are in taking care of you."
He worked his audience of about 1,000 into a frenzy by recalling the term he used this month during a discussion of how difficult it was to target suspected unauthorized immigrants, including criminal gang members, for deportation.
"What was the name?" Trump asked. "Animals!" his cheering supporters screamed back.
"If you want your communities to be safe, if you want your schools to be safe, if you want your country to be safe, then you must go out and get the Democrats the hell out of office," Trump said. "Democrats have opposed every common-sense measure necessary to stop this horrendous scourge of crime, to dismantle MS-13 and to stop illegal immigration."
Trump was in Nashville to boost Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, who is running to succeed Sen. Bob Corker, who is retiring. He savaged Phil Bredesen, the state's former Democratic governor whom Blackburn is expected to face in November, calling him "an absolute, total tool of Chuck Schumer," the Senate Democratic leader, and "of course, the MS-13 lover Nancy Pelosi," he said, referring to the House Democratic leader.
Both criticized Trump after he made the "animals" comment, and Pelosi said, "You have to wonder, does he not believe in the spark of divinity, the dignity and worth of every person?"
Trump's appearance in Nashville was a new phase of heightened campaign activity for the president as he looks toward the midterm elections, keeping an early focus on the deeply conservative states he won handily in 2016 and steering clear of politically competitive areas where his presence could be riskier. Blackburn has tethered herself to Trump in her bid, a vital race for Republicans working to hold off Democratic attempts to seize the majority.
During an hourlong performance before a huge American flag, Trump plainly relished his time in front of the cheering crowd, regaling supporters with stories of what he argued were unmatched successes as president and drifting off script for brash asides.
The president made only glancing mention of the special counsel investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election, an inquiry that he had suggested in a Twitter post earlier in the day itself constituted "MEDDLING" in the midterm contests.
"How do you like the fact they had people infiltrating our campaign," Trump said, referring to a conspiracy theory he has branded "Spygate," in which he argues that Democratic operatives doing the bidding of President Barack Obama spied on him to block his election. "Can you imagine? People infiltrating our campaign."
An FBI informant did contact members of Trump's campaign team after a counterintelligence investigation into possible efforts by Moscow to interfere in the election uncovered that the aides had been communicating with Russians.
He boasted of the booming economy and the large tax cuts he signed into law, arguing that he had succeeded because he had rejected the politician-speak of "tax reform" in favor of calling the reductions "cuts."
He told a richly embellished story claiming to have saved hundreds of millions of dollars on the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, comparing its cost of $200,000 to $300,000 with the estimated $1 billion proposed for a new building. (The building dedicated this month was a converted consular office that is to serve as a temporary space until a new embassy, which will ultimately be more costly, can be constructed in Jerusalem.)
And he took aim at Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has brain cancer, for voting against a Republican proposal last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
"Somebody turned their hand in the wrong direction," Trump said without naming McCain, referring to the senator's thumbs-down gesture indicating his "no" vote. "That cost our country a lot. That was a very terrible thing that happened that night."
They were the president's first public comments about McCain since a communications aide reportedly dismissed his opposition to Trump's pick to be director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, by saying during an internal meeting that the senator was "dying anyway."
At one point, Trump hinted that he would force Mexico to pay for his border wall — which officials there have flatly refused to do — using the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement as leverage.
"I don't want to cause a problem — I don't want to cause it — but in the end, in the end, Mexico's going to pay for the wall," Trump said. "They're going to pay for the wall, and they're going to enjoy it. OK?"
In a tweet not long after Trump finished speaking, President Enrique Pe a Nieto of Mexico shot back: "President @realDonaldTrump: NO. Mexico will NEVER pay for a wall. Not now, not never. Sincerely, Mexico (all of us)."
Still, Trump managed to stick to one element of his script that his aides and Republican strategists pray privately he will not forget to emphasize: a direct plea to core supporters to turn out and buck the well-established pattern whereby the president's party loses seats in midterm contests.
"When you win the presidency, for some reason, you always end up losing the House," Trump said, adding that it "makes absolutely no sense, but I think what happens is you get complacent."
"This election is a very important one," he said. "So you have to get out. We need Marsha Blackburn to win."
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