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After ‘Lock him up’ chant, Trump describes Democrats’ impeachment probe as ‘crusade’

President rallies supporters in Minnesota, a state his campaign sees as winnable in 2020

President Donald Trump takes the podium before speaking during a Keep America Great rally on July 17, 2019, in Greenville, North Carolina. Trump attempted to distance himself from a crowd’s chant of “send her back” after he criticized Ilhan Omar. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump takes the podium before speaking during a Keep America Great rally on July 17, 2019, in Greenville, North Carolina. Trump attempted to distance himself from a crowd’s chant of “send her back” after he criticized Ilhan Omar. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Thursday night painted House Democrats as “desperate” and cashing in an “insurance policy” by launching an impeachment inquiry in a last-ditch effort to block him from securing a second term.

“Democrats are on a crusade to destroy our democracy,” the president said to boos from an arena crowd in Minneapolis. “We will never let that happen. We will defeat them.”

Referring to the impeachment probe, he predicted Democrats’ “brazen attempt to overthrow our government will produce a backlash at the ballot box, the likes of which they have never, ever seen before in the history of this country.”

“These are bad people,” Trump told his supporters minutes after suggesting he is leading his Democratic rivals in the polls, even though a slew of recent surveys show him trailing the five leading Democrats — both nationally and in many key swing states.

“They want to impeach our president. I don’t think so,” Trump said. “I think we’re going to have a turnout the likes of which we’ve never seen in the history of our country.”

Political strategists and pollsters on both sides of the aisle agree that next year’s election will likely come down to which general election candidate can bring out base voters to the polls in the six or seven battleground states expected to decide the Electoral College. Trump and his campaign are increasingly zeroing in on House Democrats and former Vice President Joe Biden, one of his party’s 2020 front-runners.

[Former ethics czar warns impeachment letter ‘mistakes Trump for a king’]

The Trump team has alleged Biden and son Hunter engaged in “embezzlement” and “corruption” in Ukraine even though neither has ever faced as much as a probe about their actions there while the senior Biden was vice president.

Trump spent several minutes Thursday night mocking Hunter Biden before turning to his father. “He was never considered a good senator. … And he was only considered a good vice president because he knew how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass,” the president said to roars from the crowd followed by a “U-S-A, U-S-A” chant. 

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Eric Trump, a few minutes before his father hit the stage, led a “Lock him chant” about the Bidens, before adding, “We don’t need to lock him up. We’re just going to beat the hell out of him. We’re going to win.”

In 2016, Trump’s crowds chanted, “Lock her up,” at Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over her use of a personal email server while serving as secretary of State.

Trump also took aim at a familiar target Thursday night: Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents Minneapolis in Congress. He called the Minnesota Democrat an “America-hating socialist” and again suggested she mocked the 9/11 attacks and spoke empathetically about its al-Qaida planners and perpetrators. He also painted her as anti-Semitic.

“She is a disgrace to our country, and she is a big reason I am going to win … Minnesota in 14 months,” Trump said. The crowd answered, almost on cue, with a “Four more years” chant.

Omar is one of four minority freshman lawmakers collectively known as “the squad.” At a Trump rally in Greenville, North Carolina, earlier this year, the crowds chanted, “Send her back” in reference to Omar, who was born in Somalia but is an American citizen.

Key state

Trump returned to the campaign trail for the first time since a Sept. 16 rally in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, eight days before Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry over his July 25 request that Ukraine’s new president “do us a favor” by investigating Joe and Hunter Biden over alleged corruption charges in that country. (Neither has ever been charged.)

His address to Gopher State supporters comes as public opinion continues to turn against him on whether he should be impeached by the House — and even removed by the Senate. A Fox News survey released Wednesday showed 51 percent of Americans support impeachment and removal, with another 4 percent backing impeachment without removing him from office. In June, only 42 percent supported impeachment and removal.

The Fox poll, which Trump angrily dismissed in a Thursday morning tweet, was chock full of bad news for the president and his reelection team. On support for impeachment, it found increases since July among Democrats (11 points), rural whites (10 points), white men lacking college degrees (8 points), Republicans (5 points), white evangelicals (5 points) and independents (3 points).

When Trump emerged from behind a curtain at the Target Center, home to the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, he was continuing an early-stage reelection strategy of trying to flip a handful of states he lost in 2016.

His campaign aides acknowledge they are looking for an Electoral College insurance policy in case the president is unable to win the same swing states that backed him three years ago. The new targets also include New Mexico and New Hampshire, where he has already held reelection rallies.

Trump lost Minnesota — a state he barely visited during the 2016 campaign — by just less than 2 points to Hillary Clinton. But during an event at a trucking company earlier this year in Duluth, he signaled to Minnesotans he views their state as winnable.

“I think we can win,” he told reporters Thursday as he left the White House. “It’s been a long time since a Republican won.” (Minnesota has backed the Democratic presidential nominee in every election going back to 1976, the party’s current longest winning streak.)

“This has been a very special state,” he said in Rochester, Minnesota, in April. “And we almost won it. One more speech. One more speech.” 

[Bashful base: Pollsters say Trump closer to Dems than early 2020 surveys suggest]

GOP pollster Neil Newhouse said Thursday that it was “way too early to assess if the president can win Minnesota, but the campaign is doing what it can in a few states to expand the playing field and test the market.”

“Based on the president’s narrow wins in Michigan and Wisconsin in 2016, it’s certainly worth a shot to try to move numbers in Minnesota,” added Newhouse, the leading pollster for Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid. “While Minnesota voters don’t have a recent track record of electing GOP candidates to statewide federal office, they have voted GOP at the state level — for governor, for example.”

Down ballot

Minnesota was a down-ballot battleground during the midterms and will be again next fall. The state’s congressional districts typify the partisan realignment happening along rural and suburban lines that Trump’s presidency has only sped up.

Democrats picked up two House seats outside the Twin Cities last fall, with Angie Craig defeating GOP Rep. Jason Lewis in a district Trump narrowly carried, and Dean Phillips unseating Republican Erik Paulsen in an affluent, well-educated district that backed Clinton. Lewis, sometimes called a Trump “mini me” because of offensive comments he’s made about women, is now running for Senate against Democratic-Farmer-Labor Sen. Tina Smith. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates that race Solid Democratic.

But the Gopher State was also home to two of the three Democrat-held seats that the GOP flipped last fall. Pete Stauber won the 8th District and Jim Hagedorn took the 1st District, two ancestrally Democratic seats that were open last cycle.

Former President Barack Obama carried both districts before they swung to Trump in 2016, but the DFL’s 2018 nominees were unable to win back the districts’ working-class, rural voters. Iraq War veteran Dan Feehan, who lost to Hagedorn by less than half a point, has already announced a rematch against the freshman in the 1st District.

Simone Pathé contributed to this report.

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