Taunting Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., with a refusal to apologize for calling her “Pocahontas,” Trump imagined a debate during which he would gently throw an ancestry testing kit at Warren to make her prove the Native American heritage she has controversially claimed.
“We are going to do it gently because we’re the #MeToo generation, so we have to be very careful,” the president said to scattered laughter, adding that he would donate $1 million to charity if Warren followed through. Trump, who has faced accusations of sexual assault and harassment, announced earlier in the day that Bill Shine, who was ousted from Fox News over his handling of the network’s harassment scandals, would take a position on his administration’s communications staff.
Trump was in Montana, he unabashedly told the crowd, to settle a political score with Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat who is tangled in a tough re-election campaign with Matt Rosendale, the state auditor. The president blamed Tester for the failed nomination of Dr. Ronny L. Jackson as head of the Veterans Affairs Department because he raised concerns about Jackson’s professional conduct.
“Jon Tester said things that were horrible and that weren’t true,” Trump said, even as he conceded that he had pushed a reluctant Jackson to accept the nomination and endure the confirmation process. “That’s probably why I’m here. I won Montana by so many points, I don’t have to come here.”
The president criticized Tester’s voting record, which included opposition to the Republican tax overhaul and Trump’s judicial nominees, a critique later offset by his praise of “landmark” veterans legislation that Tester pushed for. But Trump eventually broadened his verbal assault to include a number of familiar Washington opponents: the news media (“75 percent of those people are downright dishonest”), his own Justice Department (Hillary Clinton “gets special treatment”) and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. (a “low IQ individual”).
“Democrats want anarchy, they really do,” Trump said, adding that he intentionally called the party “the Democrat Party” because “Democratic Party sounds too good.”
“And they don’t know who they’re playing with, folks,” he added.
As the crowd cheered and pounded on the bleachers during the roughly 70-minute speech at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls, Trump embellished on his favorite exaggerations and falsehoods, including his margin of victory in the Electoral College, the country’s trade deficits and crowd size. He teased the announcement of his Supreme Court pick and a possible slogan for his 2020 campaign. He complained about negative coverage of his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, claiming that President Barack Obama “would have loved” to have had a meeting with Kim.
And he slammed critics who suggested that he was not prepared for his coming meeting with Putin in Finland, dismissing Putin’s background as a head of Russia’s intelligence service.
“Putin’s fine,” Trump said. “He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people. Will I be prepared? Totally prepared. I’ve been preparing for this stuff my whole life.”
“Getting along with Russia, and getting along with China and getting along with other countries, is a good thing,” he added, “not a bad thing.”
The notion that the United States should get along with other countries did not appear, however, to extend to NATO, as Trump vowed to demand more payment from the countries in the alliance during a summit meeting next week.
“We’re the schmucks that are paying for the whole thing,” he said. “I’ll see NATO and I’ll tell NATO, ‘You’ve got to start paying your bills.'”
Without mentioning either man by name, Trump also disparaged Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and President George H.W. Bush, who are both in poor health: McCain for his vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and Bush for his campaign slogan “a thousand points of light,” one that Trump said he “never quite got.”
There were notable caveats to Trump’s riffs: He hailed his administration’s deregulation push but made no mention of his pre-rally announcement that Scott Pruitt would resign as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. And while the president continued his public defense of his administration’s immigration crackdown, he did not address the outcry surrounding the separation of migrant families at the southwestern border — something Warren pointed out on Twitter.
“While you obsess over my genes, your Admin is conducting DNA tests on little kids because you ripped them from their mamas & you are too incompetent to reunite them in time to meet a court order,” she wrote. “Maybe you should focus on fixing the lives you’re destroying.”
Late in the rally, Trump pivoted to a condemnation of the National Football League’s new national anthem policy — which requires players to stand or remain in the locker room (“that’s worse than not standing”) — before eventually returning to the reason for the rally: campaigning against an embattled Democrat in a state he won by a sizable margin.
“Get your ass out to vote,” he said to the roaring crowd. “We will never, ever surrender. We will never, ever quit. We go forward to victory.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Emily Cochrane © 2018 The New York Times