He singled out Democrat Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, mocking the congressman as a faux bureaucrat who would rather talk about taking out a terrorist than actually doing so. “You little pencil neck,” Trump then said derisively, as if addressing Schiff.
Several demonstrators disrupted the President’s speech, holding up hand-drawn signs saying, “NO WAR,” before being removed by security agents.
Trump’s trip to Ohio was the 15th of his presidency. Awaiting him was an arena full of enthusiastic supporters, many decked out in classic red “Make America Great Again” caps and waving “Keep America Great” placards. Outside the arena were smaller but energised crowds of protesters, many of them waving union signs or handmade banners, like “Dump Trump” and “Dump the Mad King”.
Trump won Ohio by 8 percentage points in 2016, and the state has been the bedrock of every winning Republican presidential candidate going back to the 19th century. Polling in Ohio last northern fall showed Trump trailing some of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates in hypothetical match-ups, including former Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders by 6 percentage points, and Senator Elizabeth Warren by 4 points, but there has been little recent independent public surveying in the state.
In few places will the economic argument be as important for Trump’s chances of winning a second term as in the Midwest, where he vowed to rebuild a manufacturing industry that has struggled in recent decades.
In Ohio, unemployment has fallen to 4.2 per cent but remains higher than the national rate. The state lost 4400 jobs last year through November and shed 2200 manufacturing jobs over the previous year.
Ohio Democrats welcomed the President to the state by attacking his “failed policies”, like the “trade war by tweet,” as David Pepper, the state party chairman, put it. “Donald Trump has broken his promises on jobs, on trade, on healthcare, on education and on so much more,” Pepper told reporters.
Marcy Kaptur, the longtime Democratic congresswoman from Toledo, said that Trump did not understand the struggle that many of her constituents faced. “It is struggle that cannot be understood from behind a podium in an arena, nor a tower in Manhattan, nor a golf course in West Palm Beach,” she wrote in an open letter to Trump.
At one point in the rally, Trump said that he was viewed more positively by Republicans in one poll than Abraham Lincoln.
“Who do you like better, Trump or Abraham Lincoln?” he said, recalling the survey question. Some in the crowd shouted out their answer: “Trump! Trump!” although many others did not join in, perhaps quiet Lincoln admirers.
Trump said he shared the result of the poll with his wife, addressing her by her title. “I said, ‘First Lady, I just beat Abraham Lincoln in a poll’,” he said.
At another point, the president began riffing about the various Democrats running against him before lamenting that they were boring. Watching them, he said, “is like watching death”. Which might explain why he spent time recycling some of his favourite attacks on former congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is no longer even in the presidential nominee race.
Towards the end, after an extended attack on Democrats as corrupt, crime-loving socialists who are “stone-cold crazy”, Trump suddenly stopped and reflected on his own language. “Gee,” he said, “now I sort of understand why they hate me.”
The President will ramp up campaign travel as the year progresses and Democrats begin voting to choose their nominee. He has rallies scheduled in the next few weeks in Milwaukee, to build support in another key Midwest battleground, and Wildwood, New Jersey, to campaign with Jeff Van Drew, who left the Democratic Party over impeachment.
The New York Times