Trump promises 2020 election ‘backlash’ against impeachment
President rallies supporters at Minneapolis rally insulting opponents and vowing to win in 2020.
An angry, energised United States President Donald Trump whipped his supporters into a frenzy on Thursday at a rally in Minneapolis as he sought to use the Democrats’ two-week-old impeachment inquiry as a campaign weapon, and predicted a 2020 election “backlash” against any attempt to unseat him.
Democrats in the House of Representatives are investigating Trump for possible impeachment over his alleged bid to pressure Ukraine into digging up dirt on election rival Joe Biden, who is currently one of the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination.
In a speech lasting one hour and 40 minutes, Trump bathed in supporters’ adulation, homing in on his favourite talking points with a mix of jokes, insults and populist exaggeration.
The performance revealed a strategy largely detached from the allegations he faces.
The president spent little time defending his attempt to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens. Instead, he cast the impeachment fight in more basic terms – a battle between him and what he calls the “swamp” in Washington, DC.
“They want to erase your vote like it never existed,” Trump told the capacity crowd.
“They want to erase your voice, and they want to erase your future.”
What the Republican described as an “insane impeachment witch-hunt” was doomed to failure, he said, and would “produce a backlash at the ballot box the likes of which they have never ever seen before”.
Insults and anger
In the American heartland, the Minnesota city is represented by Democrat Ilhan Omar, an American of Somali descent.
Trump tore into Omar and other political opponents, calling the congresswoman “a disgrace” and an “America-hating socialist”.
He said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was “really stupid” and insulted Biden.
At his rally just now, Trump called me an “America-hating socialist” and a “disgrace.” He shouted xenophobic conspiracy theories about me. He scolded my district for voting for me.
His hate is no match for our movement. Stand with me by donating now: https://t.co/QdUrT9zJsr pic.twitter.com/Ik8I9zlRTf
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) October 11, 2019
Trump turned his cuts to the nation’s refugee resettlement programmes into an applause line and defended his decision to “bring our soldiers back home” from Syria despite criticisms even from within his own party that it left the US’s Kurdish allies open to attack.
Protesters converged on Target Center, Minneapolis’ basketball arena, hours before Trump’s appearance, eventually packing the streets surrounding it.
Many blew brightly-coloured whistles handed out by fellow protesters, adding to the din of frequent chants like, “Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up!” in reference to Trump himself.
Some brought helium-filled balloons depicting Trump as a baby, similar to the giant Baby Trump balloon that flew above a nearby building.
Lora Torgerson 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, 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 and claiming the Democrats were pressing for impeachment because they did not have a “good candidate”.
While the president has pushed back against the inquiry, refusing to cooperate and seeking to turn the entire scandal into a boost for his re-election campaign, public support for impeachment appears to be growing.
A new poll from Fox News – a channel favoured by US conservatives – showing 51 percent now back his removal from office.
With control of the lower house of Congress, Democrats are likely to impeach in the coming months, even if few believe the Republican-led Senate will actually convict Trump and force him from office.
Trump argues that his call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky did not feature any kind of pressure, but was an innocent proposal for pursuing corruption.
He got a boost on Thursday when Zelensky backed his version of events, telling journalists “there was no blackmail”.
Democrats say that given the vast power differential between the two leaders, Trump did not need to make explicit threats and that his request to Zelensky for “a favour” was enough.
On Wednesday, Biden gave a blistering speech in which he called for impeachment, accusing Trump of “shooting holes in the constitution”.
On Thursday, two Florida-based businessmen linked to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani – who is at the heart of the controversy – were arrested over alleged campaign finance violations.
The pair, Americans born in Ukraine and Belarus, were accused of funnelling foreign funds to US political campaigns, including $325,000 which went to a fundraising committee for Trump’s 2020 re-election.
Trump, who has been photographed with both men, said he had no idea who they were. “I don’t know about them. I don’t know what they do. I don’t know,” he told reporters.