MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — President Donald Trump was defiant in the face of an impeachment probe Thursday as he sought to convert the threat to his presidency into a weapon on the campaign trail, with biting and unsupported attacks on potential Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
It’s Trump’s first campaign rally since the Democratic-controlled House launched an impeachment inquiry over his dealings with Ukraine. The president denies any wrongdoing and says he won’t cooperate with the investigation unless the rules are fair.
The rally, scheduled before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the impeachment investigation, came at a pivotal moment for Trump. His campaign strategy is focused on motivating his core supporters, rather than trying to win over a diminishing number of undecided voters, and the resonance of his appeal to the faithful may determine his second-term chances.
Trump took the stage to the strains Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The U.S.A.” before telling the crowd that 20,000 people were inside Target Center at that moment they had set a new attendance record, though reporters have pointed out that then-Sen. Barack Obama had drawn 20,000 at a 2008 rally.
Trump predicted that he will win Minnesota in 2020, a state that slipped away from him in the last election. Trump fell about 45,000 votes short of beating Democrat Hillary Clinton statewide in 2016. He has had staff in the state since June building a network to turn out supporters next November.
Trump also took time out to attack some of the targets he often speaks out against, including the media, pointing them out as the crowd booed.
“Look at all that media. They are so dishonest and frankly they are so bad for our country,” Trump said.
He later told the Minneapolis crowd, “You’ve got a rotten mayor. You’ve got to change your mayor. You’ve got a bad mayor.” Later in the evening, he once again attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar, calling her an “America-hating socialist. She minimized the September 11th attack on our homeland.” He then told Minnesotans, “I’m very angry at you people right now.”
Omar responded on Twitter, “His hate is no match for our movement.”
Trump eventually addressed impeachment inquiries, and said that Democrats were pursuing an “insane impeachment witch-hunt” over a “perfect” phone call with the Ukraine president. He said that the “brazen attempt” by Democrats was a move to “overthrow the government” that would result in a political backlash at the ballot box like “has never been seen before.”
“Cops love Trump, Trump loves cops,” Trump said, in reference to the local controversy over police officers being told they were not allowed to attend the rally in uniform. Instead, many wore red shirts to the rally bearing the phrase “Cops for Trump.”
Trump took time out to throw taunts at Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice-President Joe Biden, saying to the group dressed in “Cops for Trump” shirts that there ought to be a shirt reading “Where’s Hunter?”
Trump was by his own admission fired up and off script as he spoke for more than 90 minutes. Few of his political opponents were spared from insults. He said Biden “was only a good vice president because he knew how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass.” He said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was “really stupid.”
Speaking before Trump were his son, Eric Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence.
Eric Trump warmed up the Minneapolis rally crowd for his father Thursday night. He asked the crowd for an assessment of how Hunter Biden is feeling and suggested that the familiar Trump rally chant of “Lock her up” — directed at Hillary Clinton — become “Lock him up.” The crowd then chanted, “Lock him up, lock him up.”
Eric Trump has been pushing baseless claims that Biden and his son Hunter traded on the family name to earn millions from governments in Ukraine and China.
Protesters converged on Target Center, Minneapolis’ basketball arena, hours before Trump’s appearance, eventually packing the streets surrounding it. Many blew brightly colored whistles handed out by fellow protesters, adding to the din of frequent chants like, “Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up!” — referring to Trump himself. Some clutched helium-filled balloons depicting Trump as a baby, similar to the famed Baby Trump balloon that flew above a nearby building.
Lora Torgerson of suburban Inver Grove Heights clutched a sign that read “Liar Liar Diaper on fire.”
“I’m a registered GOP member, and I’ve never been more ashamed of our party,” she said. “I didn’t vote for him.”
Inside the arena, Lori Glass, a longtime Republican from White Bear Lake, a Twin Cities suburb, dismissed the talking of impeachment with one word: “Ridiculous.”
“He’s done so much for the country,” she said, citing the economy as Trump’s top accomplishment. Democrats are pressing for impeachment because “they don’t have a good candidate,” she said.
On Friday, Trump planned a rally in Louisiana against Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. Aides said Trump is not endorsing one of the GOP candidates in the race before Saturday’s election to maximize the chances that Edwards falls below the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
Next week Trump is set to hold a rally in Dallas, a GOP stronghold in a state that has grown more competitive for Democrats in recent cycles.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)