Sen. Joe Manchin III received only a light verbal flogging Thursday from Donald Trump. Instead, the president delivered freewheeling remarks in West Virginia on a wide range of issues.
The president traveled to the Mountain State for the fourth time since he took office to tout the GOP tax law. It gave him an opportunity to ding Manchin as he awaits a general election challenger following a three-way May 8 Republican primary.
The president in recent weeks has urged Republican voters to turn out in big numbers in November’s congressional elections to ensure the party holds the House and Senate. His go-to line is telling supporters he needs them to send more Republicans to Congress to help pass more “America first” laws.
Trump Throws Out Notes at West Virginia Event
Yet Manchin, with whom the president appears to have a personal rapport, did not draw harsh scorn from Trump.
The president did criticize Manchin’s votes against the GOP tax package and Republican-crafted health care bills. But Trump did not deliver the kind of personal attack he used to great effect during the 2016 campaign. Nor did he label Manchin with the kind of derisive nickname he has bestowed upon others, such as 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, GOP Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Ted Cruz of Texas, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
“And he does other things that I don’t like, I’ll be honest with you,” the president said of Manchin. “You’re going to have a chance to get a senator that’s going to vote our program.”
The tax-themed event in White Sulphur Springs was not about Manchin. It was mostly about the tax law and ongoing White House and GOP attempts to frame it as a positive for families, businesses and the economy going into the heart of the midterm campaign season — though Trump used his lengthy opening statement to cover much more ground.
He veered from topic to topic, hitting on everything from nixed regulations, MS-13 and securing the southern border to the economy and what he called “clean coal” technology. Trump ended his opening comments when he held up some white paper, what his staff had intended to be his opening remarks. He threw them over his shoulder. “That would’ve been a little boring,” he said, as the audience roared with laughter.
From there the scene was much like a March 14 event in Hazelwood, Missouri. That’s because after Trump’s opening remarks, both roundtable-format events became mostly about another topic: Donald Trump. Like that day in the Show Me State, an audience member cried while thanking the president for slashing her family’s taxes.
Had an observer closed their eyes and ignored the West Virginia drawls of some who spoke Thursday, the event was a near mirror image of the Missouri event.
Hugh Hitchcock, president of a West Virginia-based community bank, declared Trump is “turning things around” across the country. “Mr. President, I urge you to stay the course,” he said. “What you have done for our country, you have helped turned things around in a big way.”
Republican Gov. Jim Justice told the audience Trump “genuinely in his heart cares about West Virginia.”
Justice then told a story about a previous Trump visit during which the president signed a copy of his speech for a group of ladies the governor had talked to that morning at a Hardee’s restaurant. “That’s what kind of man we have in this office,” Justice said. “I love him to death and I’ll support him to the death.” The audience responded with a standing ovation.
West Virginia Rep. Evan Jenkins, running for the state’s GOP nomination to face off against Manchin, lavished praise on the president, saying Trump’s policies have essentially “paid the mortgage for a family in West Virginia for three months.”
“Thanks for keeping your promise,” Jenkins said. “You’re welcome to come back anytime.”
The state’s GOP attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, also running to face Manchin, told Trump: “Your policies really have made an incredible difference in our state.”
(Near the event’s end, Trump asked the crowd to do a verbal poll, asking them to cheer if they plan to vote for Jenkins or for Morrisey. “It was very close,” he said.)
Where President Barack Obama allegedly “stonewalled” West Virginia officials on combating opioid addiction, Morrisey told Trump his administration “is delivering.”
(The Obama administration did take steps, but officials who worked for the 44th president routinely criticized Republicans in Congress for blocking their attempts to get more federal funding to fight the epidemic.)
Trump got in on the act too, criticizing Democrats for preventing him from doing more.
“We are very big supporters of yours … in our company. And we are so grateful for the work you’ve done, and you’ve only just started. So thank you for everything,” said Mary Beth Hartman, owner of a Springfield-based construction company.
The president responded with a leading question: “That’s very nice. And you had your best year?” Hartman shot back: “My best year in 17 years.”
Trump obliged: “A lot of people are saying it. They’ve had the best year by far that they’ve ever had.”
Watch: Trump’s Tweets Won’t Help Score a Border Security Deal With Congress