President Donald Trump’s rally on Thursday night in Minneapolis served as a window of sorts into the strategy he hopes will win him a second term in office. The picture that emerged was not a pretty one.
It wasn’t surprising that Trump attacked one of his most regular targets of abuse, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) while rallying in the heart of her district in downtown Minneapolis. But what was jarring was not only how extreme his attacks were, but also the fact that he went out of his way to demonize the Somali community more broadly in a city that has one of the country’s largest Somali populations.
Citing articles from a fringe right-wing Minnesota-based blog, Trump called Omar “a disgrace to our country” and pushed unfounded conspiracy theories about her marital history. He also attacked the community of Somali refugees in Minneapolis of which Omar is a part.
“For many years, leaders in Washington brought large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers,” Trump said, as his mostly white crowd broke out in boos — in effect jeering their neighbors.
Trump’s attacks on Omar and Somalis illustrated how, with an impeachment inquiry underway in the House and the legal net tightening around his associates, the president is doubling down on the sort of barely varnished bigotry that got him there in the first place. But Omar wasn’t the only Democrat who received the Hillary Clinton treatment.
“Maybe ‘lock her up’ goes to ‘lock him up’”
The Bidens served as another major target of Trump’s abuse on Thursday night in Minneapolis. The event began with Eric Trump warming up the crowd by bringing up Hunter Biden and musing that “maybe ‘lock her up’ goes to ‘lock him up’” in remarks that prompted the audience to break out in rabid “lock them up!” chants.
Those chants were especially disquieting coming as they did amid the backdrop of an abuse of power scandal involving the Trump administration’s efforts to leverage diplomacy into making foreign governments investigate the president’s political rivals — a scandal that has prompted impeachment hearings.
“We don’t need to lock him up. We will just beat the hell out of all of them, we are going to win!” — Eric Trump comes dangerously close here to admitting that cajoling Ukraine to investigate the Bidens is all about politics pic.twitter.com/s8wXBIbRxr
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 11, 2019
Trump later brought up Joe Biden and said he “was only a good vice president because he understood how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass.” It was a particularly juvenile attack but also possibly a revealing one, hinting at what Trump prioritizes in members of his own administration.
Trump followed that up with a bizarre comedy routine of sorts in which he mocked Hunter Biden’s intelligence.
That wasn’t the only time Trump waded into dark comedy. At another point, he did a mean-spirited dramatic reading of texts sent to each other by Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, two anti-Trump FBI agents who have been the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation. He smeared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “either really stupid or she’s really lost it.”
Of course, it’s not exactly breaking news at this point that Trump’s brand of politics is all about dividing and conquering, not bringing people together. But if you expected after nearly three years in office that he would campaign for reelection based on his actual record, Thursday’s rally indicated you will be disappointed. As was the case in 2016, Trump’s 2020 campaign is shaping to be all about demonizing the opposition, race-baiting, and warning of dire consequences if he loses.
“Democrats are on a crusade to destroy our democracy,” Trump said at one point on Thursday. “That is what is happening. We will never let it happen. We will defeat them.”
Trump was especially incoherent
Trump’s rally in Minneapolis was also remarkable for just how incoherent it was. The president, who has spent the past couple weeks pretending to be deeply concerned about corruption abroad, at one point made a full-throated defense of his own corruption at home by dismissing the conflicts of interest that result from foreign governments spending money at hotels he still owns and profits from.
“If somebody stays, from let’s say a Middle East country, in one of my hotels, and we charge him $392.53 for staying, and I’ve never heard of the guy and I don’t want to hear about him, they say, ‘Trump is getting rich from our nation,’” Trump said. “If somebody rents a room someplace and they pay me two months in rent or hotel fees — I never heard of the people, I never know who they are — they say, ‘emoluments!’ Nobody ever heard of the word ‘emoluments’ before. ‘Emoluments!’ It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Nobody ever heard of the word ‘emoluments’ before!” Here is Trump, who has spent weeks pretending to care about corruption, making a full-throated defense of his own corruption last night in Minneapolis.pic.twitter.com/GgW3vu0meG
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 11, 2019
A day after Fox News published a new poll showing that a majority of voters support his removal from office, Trump turned reality on its head by claiming Democrats “are not beating us at the polls” and quipped about breaking the law and serving as many as four terms in office. And he didn’t let the dire Fox News polling stop him from lavishing praise on many of the network’s personalities by name during an extended tribute that reflected the symbiotic relationship he has with America’s top-rated cable news network.
On the topic of his widely criticized decision to abandon the Kurds to Turkish attacks in northern Syria, Trump said the move stemmed from his desire to “take a victory” and “bring our troops back home” — but he also touted the military build-up he’s overseen. At another point, he suggested without evidence that his decision to abandon the Kurds stemmed in part from his desire to prevent “blue on green” killings in which “we’re teaching people how to fight and then they turn the gun on our soldiers, and shoot them in the back.” The impression that emerged was one of a president flailing to come up with an explanation for a decision that has received bipartisan condemnation.
The president isn’t changing — and that’s bad news for the country
Trump told a dubious story about Chinese officials calling him earlier in the day to congratulate him on the state of the American economy and raised eyebrows with just how unhinged his dramatic readings of the Strzok-Page texts were.
He made dark insinuations about the Democratic Party and media conspiring to take him down and pushed grotesque distortions about Democrats and abortion — but then expressed indignation about reporters fact-checking the unfounded conspiracy theories he’s been pushing about the Bidens.
None of this was particularly new, but that doesn’t mean it’s not notable. As the walls close in on the president, he’s lashing out and framing the impeachment process that’s enshrined in the Constitution as something akin to an “overthrow.” These are disquieting omens for those holding out hope that the next transition of power in America, whether it happens after an election or Trump’s impeachment and removal from office, will be an orderly one.