A large group of young African-American leaders gathered Friday in the East Room of the White House to hear from President Donald Trump, and they were treated to a campaign rally in miniature.
If White House observers closed their eyes around midday, the president could have been speaking to supporters inside an airport hangar in Wisconsin or a basketball arena in Texas or a 63-year-old minor league hockey arena in North Carolina.
Trump touted his polls numbers. He boasted about the state of the U.S. economy under his watch. He also thanked rapper Kanye West for his support.
And the crowd — in town for the Young Black Leadership Summit organized by Turning Point USA, a group for pro-Trump students — played the role typically reserved for the campaign trail, turning the East Room into a rally site with chants about Trump’s proposed southern border wall and catcalls about “fake news.”
Watch: Young Black Conservatives Show Support for Trump at White House
When he mentioned “globalists,” someone in the crowd yelled, “Lock them up.”
The president chuckled.
He was flanked by several carefully displayed American flags. He could have just as easily been standing before the large “Promises Made. Promises Kept.” signs typically displayed at his rallies by his campaign organization.
“The Democrats are very nervous. They do nothing for you, and that was supposed to be automatic,” he said, bringing back his 2016 campaign message that African-Americans had “nothing to lose” by voting for him.
Trump slammed “fake polls.” One audience member shouted, “Fake news.”
“We all get attacked. … Who gets attacked more than me?” he said. “I can do the greatest thing for our country, and on the networks, it will play bad.”
“Fake news,” another audience member said before Trump suggested he should get positive media coverage after law enforcement officials arrested a 56-year-old Florida man in connection to a number of mail bombs sent to prominent Democratic officials and CNN.
The event highlighted how the president’s official events more and more resemble his campaign rallies.
For instance, when he visited the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday, classic rock music played before he took the stage. Like before the rallies, Elton John’s “Rocket Man” could be heard just minutes before Trump began his remarks. Several recent official White House events recently have concluded with Trump’s campaign-trail walk-off song, the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
At one point Friday, Trump used another campaign line, railing against the U.S. defending countries and footing the bill even though “they don’t vote for us at the [United Nations].”
From there, despite the African-American focus of the event, the president was off on a stream-of-consciousness rant about Israel and warning other countries to support Israel when the global body votes
“We are watching you, and we are watching you vote today on Israel. … And we don’t like what we’ve been seeing,” he said. “We said, ‘Aid. … maybe you’re not going to get it.”
The crowd jeered when Trump slammed critics who have suggested his nationalistic “America First” governing philosophy stems from far-right thinking that has included coded racial messages.
“Racist? How can that be racist,” Trump said, shrugging as a “U-S-A” chant broke out.
Trump is scheduled to fly to Charlotte, North Carolina, for a Friday night campaign rally at the Bojangles Coliseum. In a way, it will be his second stop of the day on his 2018 midterms road show.
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