President Donald Trump met Democrats on their turf Tuesday, making the case to a Milwaukee crowd he was the president to keep them safe and ease their frustrations.
To a rally of thousands, Trump fixated on security: telling his supporters he killed Iran’s top military officer to prevent American deaths and won’t let the government take away incandescent bulbs or force anyone to buy energy-efficient dishwashers and faucets.
“Bernie and the radical left cannot protect your family nor can they protect our country,” Trump said about one potential challenger, Vermont. Sen. Bernie Sanders, during a 90-minute speech at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
“Your dishes will be beautiful,” he added later.\
Trump held his rally just feet away from the spot where Democrats will nominate his opponent in July and as candidates seeking to compete against him held their last debate before the Iowa caucuses.
His message was meant to remind voters in this battleground state of his effort to be a problem-solver, whether it’s terrorism or water pressure.
But he touched just briefly on some of the most significant problems facing the state, like its signature industry of dairy farming at risk of decimation and the nation’s poorest outcomes for black residents.
Instead, Trump focused on his judicial appointments, took partial credit for the state’s unemployment rate hitting the lowest level in 10 years during his term, and accused leaders of liberal strongholds of Milwaukee and Madison of being unconcerned about people who are here illegally.
He also took aim at the Democrats who were debating in Iowa as he was stumping over their reaction to the killing of Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
“The Democrats are outraged that we killed this terrorist monster even though this monster was behind hundreds and hundreds of deaths,” Trump said. “Great percentages of people don’t have legs or arms because of this son of a bitch.”
He also blasted Democrats’ efforts to impeach him over holding up military aid from Ukraine until its leaders investigated his political rivals. Trump again characterized the July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “perfect” and said other presidents like Lyndon Johnson held tougher phone calls.
Trump then suggested the Democratic president might be in hell.
“He’s probably looking down or looking up and he’s probably saying, ‘These people are going crazy. That’s the nicest call I’ve ever (heard),'” Trump said.
The decision to rally support in Milwaukee sends a message from the Republican president to Democrats as they seek to remove him from office. Democrats in Milwaukee are making a different case, however.
“It’s all part of a psychological warfare because his platform is entirely based on emotion,” U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore of Milwaukee said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel about Trump choosing a city important to Democrats to hold a rally for his re-election campaign.
“Keeping people angry, keeping people upset, keeping people separated — all of this is all part of that strategy and of course to draw attention away from our debate,” she said. “What do animals do? They just kind of pee on your carpet.”
But Trump also took advantage of the Milwaukee media market, which airs in Milwaukee’s suburbs — a conservative stronghold where he fell short of his Republican colleagues in 2016.
Trump’s rally Tuesday took place in one of the bluest cities he has visited on the campaign trail.
The closest political parallel to Milwaukee as a recent campaign venue for Trump would be Minneapolis, where Trump held a rally last October, and which is another very Democratic city in a state that was closely decided in 2016.
Trump lost Milwaukee by 58 points to Hillary Clinton (76.6% to 18.4%).
“We’re not really afraid to come into a blue city like this, because this is our opportunity to get more voters who we can contact to show up and be volunteers — be part of the team,” said Erin Perrine, a spokeswoman for the national Trump campaign.
The Milwaukee visit is also an opportunity to mobilize voters in the much redder communities on the periphery of Milwaukee, suburban areas where Trump did not do as well as previous GOP nominees and where he hopes to remedy that performance in 2020.
But the political symbolism is clear — a Republican foray into the home of the 2020 Democratic National Convention and the biggest Democratic city in battleground Wisconsin.
Sean Knight and Jeff Tolbert were two of thousands of supporters who attended the rally, driving about 90 miles to see the president.
“I would’ve flown to the moon if I had to,” Knight said.
Knight and Tolbert said they believed Trump had kept the promises he made. They listed low unemployment, effort to secure borders, adding money to the U.S. military budget, nixing regulations and expanding tax cuts.
“Everything he said he was going to do, whether you like it or not, he’s trying to do it, or he’s done it,” Tolbert said. “I just want politicians to do what they say.”
Tolbert liked that Trump doesn’t care about others’ opinions as he pushes for certain issues, even if it’s something unpopular.
“He said, that’s what I ran on. I’m going to do what you guys voted me in for, whether you like me or not,” Tolbert said.
In Wisconsin, the president has pledged to transform the state’s economy through a multibillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded deal to bring Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn’s first U.S. manufacturing facility here — which Trump didn’t mention Tuesday.
Trump also has assured struggling dairy farmers his tariffs will create more fair markets and promised to replace Obamacare. He also said he would appoint judges that adhere to a textualist judicial philosophy like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Some of those promises have so far gone unfulfilled. Trump once hailed the Foxconn project as the “eighth wonder of the world,” but the project — while massive in size — has changed.
The company is building what it says will be a “Generation 6” flat-screen factory rather than the larger, costlier “Generation 10.5” plant specified in its state and local contracts.
Farmers also continue to struggle in Wisconsin. Five years ago, Wisconsin had more than 10,000 farms. Since then, more than 2,700 dairy farms have shut down as years of low milk prices and Trump’s tariffs put the state’s signature industry at risk.
On other promises, Trump has shown more progress. He has made two appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court that have pleased conservatives — Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
He also adopted a foreign policy approach that seeks to avoid or end so-called forever wars. While Trump has not entered into a full-scale military conflict against a regime, he has made decisions that have confused this foreign policy attitude including using military force to kill Soleimani.
Tuesday’s rally in Milwaukee comes on the eve of a House vote to send articles of impeachment to the U.S. Senate for a trial over whether Trump should be removed from office.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Oshkosh, will be a juror in the Senate trial. Even so, Johnson didn’t hide his support for the president — telling the crowd to reelect him.
Wisconsin Democrats aren’t focusing on that — instead staying focused on an issue that won them statewide races in 2018.
Moore told reporters in a call before Trump’s rally she blames Trump for inaction on a House bill that would make prescription drugs more affordable.
And Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Ben Wikler and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Trump’s health care plans put people with pre-existing conditions in peril.
“Donald Trump is the number one threat to pre-existing condition protections in the United States of America,” Wikler said at a morning news conference.”And he is lying about it.”
Trump, a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act, promised as a candidate in 2016 that he would repeal and replace the law with something “much less expensive and much better.”
The law required insurers to cover people with pre-existing health conditions.
After taking office, Trump quickly took aim at the Affordable Care Act, and his administration has been arguing in federal court that the entire law is unconstitutional and should be struck down.
Overturning the Affordable Care Act could mean millions of people with pre-existing conditions could lose their health insurance coverage.
But that didn’t stop Trump from tweeting on Monday that he was “the person who saved pre-existing conditions.”
That tweet was quickly challenged by fact-checkers.
The law has expanded coverage for more than 20 million people as of March 2019.
But it also has increased costs for middle-class individuals and families who buy insurance on their own and are not eligible for federal subsidies available through the law, in part because of the cost of covering people with pre-existing health conditions.
Sophie Carson and Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report