PHOENIX — President Donald Trump took his campaign counterprogramming to a new level Wednesday night at a typically boisterous rally, refusing to cede any news cycle to the Democrats as the 2020 election heats up.
Trump took swings at his potential 2020 opponents, dishing out his own real-time commentary just as Democrats were sparring among themselves at the final Democratic debate before the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.
Now they have a new member of the crew, Mini Mike!” Trump said of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was making his first appearance on the debate stage after a surge in national polling. “I hear he’s getting pounded at the debate!”
“He’s probably not going to get the Democratic nomination,” Trump added later in the rally.
Wednesday night’s campaign event kicked off a three-day, three-rally Western swing for Trump that starts in Arizona, a critical swing state Trump won four years ago that Democrats hope to win back in November. It ends in Las Vegas Friday night on the eve of Democrats’ third nominating contest. Trump will also rally Thursday in Colorado, a state his campaign hopes to put in play.
The barnstorming underscore Trump’s eagerness to challenge every major Democratic primary event. The rally began about 30 minutes after Democrats hit the debate stage a few hundred miles away in Las Vegas, a critical event as the primary field narrows. And he wasn’t shy about offering his thoughts on the Democratic field.
Trump ticked through his well-worn criticisms of several candidates, going after Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has surged to frontrunner status in recent polls and the early primaries, as well as former Vice President Joe Biden, who is hoping for a campaign turn-around after early-state falters.
Trump mocked the crowd sizes at Biden’s recent events and linked Sanders, an independent, to “socialist” policies, saying he would take away Americans’ health care. He then repeated unfounded allegations that the Democratic National Committee was trying to take the nomination away from Sanders.
“How’s he doing tonight?” Trump said derisively of Sanders.
Trump also went after billionaire Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, who failed to qualify for Wednesday’s debate and had focused much of his pre-campaign work on impeaching Trump.
“They have this idiot Steyer,” Trump said. “How did it work out Steyer, you jerk?”
“That’s OK because we don’t care who the hell it is. We’re going to win. We’re going to win. We have to,” Trump crescendoed as the crowd broke into an extended “four more years” chant.
Before Trump’s arrival, his son, Donald Trump Jr., revved up the crowd, dishing out his own extended riffs on the Democratic contenders and warning the crowd not to be complacent.
“What would you do if you woke up on Nov. 4 and Bernie Sanders was your President,” Trump Jr. said to a loud chorus of boos. “What would you do then for a do-over? What would you do then for a mulligan? Well guess what, guys, there are no do-overs. You get one chance to get this right.”
The packed crowd in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, located on the Arizona State Fairgrounds, included the usual sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats and chants of “Build the Wall.” Some rallygoers had lined up the night before to get prime position hours before doors opened.
Arizona represents a critical swing state in November: Trump won here by less than four percentage points in 2016, but Democrats came back in 2018 to win their first Senate race in the state in three decades. The victory has increased the party’s hopes of turning Arizona blue as it eyes a resurgence in the Sun Belt. Arizona is also home to one of the most critical 2020 Senate races in the country, with Democrat Mark Kelly challenging incumbent GOP Sen. Martha McSally, who was appointed to fill the late Sen. John McCain’s seat in 2019 after the previous replacement resigned.
Trump boasted that he’d easily take the state in 2020, and that McSally would take down Kelly.
In making his case, Trump said he had already beaten the odds in the face of a hostile press and Congress, touting the killings of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and Iranian Major Gen. Qassem Soleimani, growth in the stock market and his acquittal by the Senate in his impeachment trial.
“Three years of very unfair and ridiculous witch hunts and partisan Democrat crusades, it was the radical left’s pathetic attempts to nullify your ballots, poison our democracy and overturn our system of government,” Trump said. “But guess what? They failed and our pool numbers are higher today than they’ve ever been before.”
Trump’s bitterness over his impeachment trial didn’t escape Wednesday’s rally. He claimed that were it not for the “negative phony stuff” on “Russia, Russia, Russia,” he would be polling substantially higher. He also went after Sen. Mitt Romney, the lone Republican senator to vote to convict him on one article of impeachment.
“It was 52 and a half,” Trump said of the Senate vote to acquit him. “And you know who the half was. A half-wit.”