ELKHART, Ind. — After days of high-stakes negotiations with foreign governments, President Donald Trump traveled to a rally here Thursday night, briefly swapping his role as grim-faced statesman for one that comes more naturally to him: campaign trail firebrand.
The president’s message to his voters was clear — because of his efforts, “America is respected again.”
Also clear was his message to the supporters who packed the 7,300-capacity middle school gym here: That progress could disappear if the balance of the Senate tips against Republicans this fall.
In a speech reminiscent of his own time as a candidate, Trump disparaged a litany of opponents, saving much of his ire for Sen. Joe Donnelly, the chamber’s most vulnerable Democrat, who will face Braun in November.
The president referred to Donnelly as “Sleepin’ Joe” and painted him as an “incredible swamp person” emblematic of the establishment his administration has promised to eradicate from Washington.
For added measure, Trump brought Vice President Mike Pence, a former governor of the state, with him to the gymnasium.
The crowd bought the president’s pitch, even if Barack Obama sold that brand of flattery here first.
Elkhart is a manufacturing town where recreational-vehicle assembly has long been the bread and butter of the local economy. A decade ago, when the town had one of the fastest-rising unemployment rates in the United States, Obama made campaign stops here during his primary race against Hillary Clinton.
Taking a chance on Obama’s message of hope in 2008, Indiana swung Democratic for the first time in decades.
Elkhart went from having double-digit unemployment rates to less than 3 percent, with the most drastic improvement happening while Obama was in office. On Thursday, however, the mention of Obama’s name was met with jeers.
After the rally, Donnelly, who was elected to the Senate in 2012 and is considered a centrist in his party, issued a statement responding to the president’s remarks.
“It’s OK that the president and vice president are here today for politics, but problems only get solved when you roll up your sleeves and put in the hard work,” Donnelly said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.