ANALYSIS — President Donald Trump showed again Tuesday evening why he is as much the disruptor in chief as he is the commander in chief, jetting to Florida to weigh in on the Sunshine State’s Republican gubernatorial primary.
Trump called the candidate he has endorsed, Rep. Ron DeSantis, onstage early at a rally in Tampa, even branding him with a compliment he reserves for a select few — a “tough cookie.” Presidents typically have avoided getting involved in primaries for state and and congressional races. But not Trump, who is eager to put candidates who share his nationalist and conservative bona fides into elected office at all levels.
And DeSantis showed that’s just why Trump decided to back him instead of Florida Agriculture Commissioner (and former congressman) Adam H. Putnam when the president asked him to address the audience.
“Under the president’s leadership, we are standing against socialist dictatorships in Latin America, like Cuba and Venezuela and Nicaragua. Florida is going in the right direction. … We can’t go back to the days of Charlie Crist, where the good ol’ boys run the show. We can make our state without peer for economic opportunity if we continue … conservative policies.”
DeSantis whipped the crowd into a frenzy as he dropped a line that Trump, standing to his left, followed with two thumbs up, a grin and nodding: “We can fight illegal immigration.” But the gubernatorial candidate soon departed the familiar blue podium with the presidential seal. Then, like with all political rallies headlined by him, Trump’s message was all about Trump.
As always, the president’s rally and an event before that at the Tampa Bay Technical High School, had plenty of eyebrow-raising moments. Here are 11 choice cuts.
“I love Florida. We had a great victory in Florida,” Trump said within minutes of beginning his remarks at his first stop at the high school. The president may never stop reminding supporters, critics and the media about his improbable 2016 victory. But Trump’s fixation with that victory — and the rhetoric and tactics he used two years ago — might not carry over to November’s midterms or his 2020 re-election campaign. Polls show white women fleeing to Democratic candidates, but the president continues to play to his conservative base.
“Bill Nelson puts criminal aliens before American citizens, and that’s why it’s time to vote Bill Nelson out of office. That’s what’s going to happen,” Trump said of the state’s Democratic senior senator. Florida voters just might prove the president correct. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up. It is likely Trump will make a return trip to Florida on behalf of Nelson’s opponent, popular GOP Gov. Rick Scott, whom Trump praised at the rally.
“We set up for the first time a gigantic movie screen [outside] because we have thousands and thousands of people outside that couldn’t get it.” Crowd size. Again. Like television ratings, this seems to really — really — matter to the former reality television star.
“You ever watch this guy on television? He’s a machine,” the president said at Tampa Bay Tech of Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz. Trump sometimes publicly denies watching as much cable news coverage as has been reported by outlets citing multiple sources in his inner circle. But he just as often contradicts this by commenting on something or someone he saw on the magic box.
“I hear we’re more popular than ever with the evangelicals. … We had a great turnout in the election,” he said at the high school about this key component of his political base. 2016, again. Indeed, evangelicals, according to multiple polls, show few signs of abandoning Trump. But if other parts of his 2016 coalition do, he could face a tough re-election bid — after possibly losing one or both chambers of Congress in November. But, political experts say, evangelicals and other conservatives give him a solid 40 percent slice of electorate as a starting point, making him a tough out in 2020.
“Mr. President, I want to thank you so much. … My 401(k) is up 44 percent, and my wife, for the first time, thinks I’m a financial genius,” he recalled for the rally crowd a chat with a police officer in New York. This is story that has made it into the Trump rotation at rallies and official economic-themed events. It shows just how much the president is banking that the state of the economy, which just posted a 4.1 percent growth quarter, will influence voters in November. But Democrats and experts warn that wages are not growing as quickly. Still, Trump told the rally crowd if their retirement accounts swelled, too, “I have your vote. I guarantee it.”
“They just came out with a poll. Did you hear? The most popular person in the history of the Republican Party is Trump,” he declared, referring to himself, as he often does, in the third person. That includes Abraham Lincoln. But there's no evidence the American Telegraph Company and (New York) Herald and Tribune teamed up to conduct a survey during those communications-challenged times.
Wow, highest Poll Numbers in the history of the Republican Party. That includes Honest Abe Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. There must be something wrong, please recheck that poll!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2018
“Worst of all, Democrats want to open our borders, they want to let tremendous crime into our country,” he contended at the rally, drawing loud boos. The president intends to hit this immigration attack line hard as he steps up his campaigning for Republican candidates. He is selling, as he put it Tuesday night, “maximum border security.”
“That’s why the time has come for voter ID,” Trump said. See above. GOP candidates in close races for House and Senate seats will have to consider whether they want Trump campaigning on their behalf as he’s making clear that hard-line immigration rhetoric will be part of his stump remarks.
“You know if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card. You need ID,” he said. This, simply put, is a false statement.
“If you want to have a country, then you need to go out and vote Republican,” he said of his border security proposals. See two quotes above. Then see above one more time. Immigration will be a major part of his midterm sales pitch. But could it backfire?
Watch: Standing Next to Conte, Trumps Says He’ll ‘Consider’ Shutdown Over Border Policy