ANALYSIS — Donald Trump was in a mood Thursday night when he stepped on stage in Minneapolis, the first time he had campaigned since facing his own possible impeachment. What played out was a plethora of presidential profanities and personal attacks.
As Trump veered from topic to topic at the Target Center, he hit the usual themes of a thriving economy and his get-tough trade talks with China. He vowed to win Minnesota, a state he lost to Hillary Clinton by only 1.5 percentage points in 2016. And he accused House Democrats of engaging in an impeachment “crusade” to block what he often describes in so many words as a second term to which he’s somehow entitled because they know — deep down — they can’t defeat him at the ballot box.
To be sure, the embattled president spent around 90 minutes on stage in what amounted to a very public therapy session. At times, it seemed he might remain behind his blue lectern with the presidential seal and blow off impeachment-related steam all night.
From the start of his remarks — to call his rally performances “speeches” misses the point, as he showed when he drew roars Thursday night by asking the crowd if they wanted him to “go off-script” — there were clues he came to the Twin Cities with scores to settle and political points to rack up. He did just that, referencing “Barack Obama’s ass” and himself as a “son of a bitch.”
His voice was amplified early on, with glistening sweat on his upper lip forming by the half-hour mark, as he railed against “the failed ruling class in Washington,” whom he dubbed “corrupt politicians.” His hands moved from the lectern to the air as he gesticulated every rhetorical shot, saying at one point “the radical left got rich bleeding America dry,” and that they panicked when he won in 2016 from fears his presidency “would finally end their pillaging and looting of our country.”
He was only getting started. Here are three takeaways from Trump’s raucous Minneapolis rally.
‘You’re a loser’
Former Vice President Joe Biden appears, according to polls in early Democratic primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, to have plenty of work to do to fight off Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. But Trump and his surrogates sure were treating him like the presumptive Democratic nominee on Thursday evening.
“While America got robbed — that’s what happened — ‘Sleepy Joe’ and his friends sold out America,” the president said, using his preferred derisive nickname for the former vice president. “You know what, I’d love to run against him. To be honest, anybody like that, if you can’t beat him in a debate, you’ve got a big problem. Folks, if you can’t beat him in a debate you can’t be president.”
Trump clearly views Biden as his biggest Democratic threat. He did not mention any of the other Democratic presidential candidates in Minnesota, a state he is trying win for the first time since then-President Richard Nixon in 1972.
Trump is so focused on Biden that he requested Ukraine’s new president “do us a favor” by investigating him and son Hunter Biden over alleged corruption involving a nefarious prosecutor then-VP Biden was trying to push out and an energy firm that employed Hunter Biden. He is so focused on Biden that he went right after Hunter Biden — whom he dubbed “a loser” — knowing Joe Biden wants to protect a family that has suffered over the years.
“Whatever happened to Hunter? Where the hell is he?” the president said mockingly as the Target Center filled with equally mocking laughter. “I have an idea for a new T-shirt.” One could see the marketer in chief at work as he told his staff and the audience he wants the new gear to feature these words: “Where’s Hunter?”
Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said Friday morning that Trump realizes “he is under serious investigation and his presidency faces real peril.”
“He knows that he has to come out swinging and fighting, and that’s clearly what he did last night,” Martin said, calling the brash tactics a “distraction from his broken promises to the American people.”
Trump’s Minneapolis rally was testosterone personified. Martin says that’s not a coincidence because Trump is trying to “expand the electorate” there. His campaign has a larger and more professional ground operation already, and is targeting non-college educated white males, he said.
Hunter Biden was not the only target of Trump’s brazen personal attacks Thursday night. Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents part of Minneapolis, also got the brunt of his words.
After mocking Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer as “two beauties,” he accused them of having “given control of the Democrat Party entirely over to the radical left, including Minnesota’s own Representative Omar.”
“How the hell did that ever happen? How did it happen? How did it happen?” he said, mocking her election to the House in 2016. “Congresswoman Omar is an America-hating socialist. She minimized the Sept. 11 attack on our homeland.”
Omar has brushed off Trump’s personal attacks, often hitting him back on Twitter, as she did Thursday before he even arrived there. What was notable — and a likely 2020 campaign-trail preview — was how he used her to transition into an anti-refugee, anti-immigration rant.
“Leaders in Washington brought large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers,” he said, drawing some boos from the crowd. Several female rally attendees on a riser behind him, however, stood still with neutral expressions on their faces as other laughed or booed; some polls show Trump losing support among suburban white women.
Trump and his team are looking to flip a state he lost last time, and Minnesota — on paper — looks gettable. After all, he lost it only by around 45,000 votes last time.
“It’s smart to test Minnesota and assess his reception and how his messaging resonates,” GOP pollster Neil Newhouse told CQ Roll Call Thursday. “But, the bottom line is that we’re not going to really know more about his 2020 election prospects until the Democrats decide on their candidate and voters have a choice between two candidates.”
Martin, the state Democratic chair, called Trump and his 2020 campaign chairman, Brad Parscale “completely obsessed with Minnesota.”
“Donald Trump seems to really value trophies. And for a Republican president, Minnesota is the ultimate trophy,” he said. “No Republican has won a presidential race here since Richard Nixon in 1972. That’s a pretty big trophy.”
But Martin sees an uphill climb.
“What we are seeing in our polling data is that independent voters are moving far away from Donald Trump, and that was one of his biggest blocks of support in Minnesota in 2016,” he said. “I don’t see the math for him to make up that 45,000 votes. … The only way they can win here is if they’re able to change the electorate. That’s what they’re trying to do.”
The president made clear Thursday night he sees Omar — and her “squad” cohorts, the four minority House freshwomen who have drawn so much attention for their progressive policy stances — as helping him rile up conservatives.
“She is a disgrace to our country and she is one of the big reasons that I’m going to win, and the Republican Party is going to win Minnesota in 13 months,” he said, making clear his strategy is largely a numbers game. “I think we’re going to have a turnout the likes of which we’ve never seen in the history of our country.”
Then again, if the president is so confident in a big conservative turnout across the country, he won’t need to flip the Gopher State.