President Donald Trump tested a new 2020 script Monday night during a raucous rally in El Paso, slamming some new Democratic faces and policy proposals to the delight of a rowdy crowd.
But that doesn’t mean familiar targets and chant-encouraging lines were missing from the campaigner in chief’s roughly 80 minutes on stage in the West Texas border city. The president appeared to be field-testing which 2016 campaign lines to keep in his arsenal and which new ones might keep the conservative base energized — and angry at Democrats.
In some ways, the rally could have been held in 2015 or 2016.
At one point, the El Paso County Coliseum sounded like it was hosting 35,000 people, as Trump claimed, even though local officials told El Paso media outlets only 6,500 people were allowed to enter. The president had whipped his supporters into a frenzy, slamming the Justice Department’s Russia election meddling probe when he brought up his 2016 general election foe, Hillary Clinton.
“The fact is that the real collusion was between Hillary and the Democrats and the other side with Russia. That’s where the collusion that’s starting, to make a lot more sense. But that’s where the collusion is with the Democrats and with Russia and with others,” Trump said to cheers and jeers for the former secretary of State.
Those jeers soon became a noticeably roaring incarnation of the familiar “lock her up!” chant and a presidential smirk, followed by a remark that suggested conservative crowds will be endorsing Clinton’s imprisonment well into 2020 — and perhaps beyond. “That’s starting to make a lot more sense, but that’s where the collusion is,” the president shot back to applause.
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Trump refrained from hitting the campaign trail during the 35-day partial government shutdown in December and January. But his return Monday night signaled a loud and contentious 2020 cycle ahead, with the president on the road regularly.
There were also the typical boasts about the health of the economy, something aides say the president is banking on remaining strong and becoming a main selling point on the campaign trail.
“We are in the midst of an economic miracle. That’s what’s happened,” Trump told his supporters, praising his own tariffs on Chinese goods that he contends has Beijing feeling pressure “to make a deal very badly.”
But the former reality television star and executive producer also took a few new rally lines for test drives as he hones in on his re-election message.
As a new wave of liberal freshman House Democrats keep settling in, Trump seems intent on making their policy proposals a big part of that message.
He went after fellow New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a new top target of scorn from the conservative media outlets and personalities that have sway over him — over the “New Green Deal” she and others introduced last week. “You’re not allowed to own cows anymore,” he falsely claimed, adding erroneously that the proposal would “shut down American energy” and put a stop to “a little thing called air travel.”
The crowd booed. Right on cue.
“Let’s spend $100 trillion. Let’s rip down every building in New York City and rebuild it environmentally slightly better to pave the way for socialism,” Trump said.
The Green New Deal spiel linked to another new attack line on Democrats.
“There are those trying to implement socialism right here in the United States. So I again say to you — and I say it for the world to hear — America will never be a socialist country,” he said to applause.
The 2020 connections were made clear by the counter-rally not far from the El Paso County Coliseum headlined by former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is contemplating a presidential bid himself.
Trump and Beto O'Rourke strike contrasting messages in dueling Texas rallies
Top Democrats on Capitol Hill on Tuesday sent their own messages to the president as they and Republicans tried to press him on a border security spending measure he needs to sign by late Friday night to avert another partial government shutdown.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey of New York told MSNBC that a compromise bill hammered out by a House-Senate panel is “good but not perfect.”
“It’s a bipartisan bill and we have to govern,” she said. “We have to stop politicking every minute of the day and start governing, and that’s what this bill is all about.”
Trump took a few early shots at O’Rourke on Monday. And on Tuesday, he tried to put pre-emptive blame on Democrats should a quarter of the federal government close over his proposed southern border wall and a spat over migrant detention beds — even though Republicans and Democrats announced the border security deal and Trump is the only principal wavering in support of it.
The president made clear he is unlikely to be chased off future rallies if O’Rourke’s party mates follow suit.
“Is there any place that’s more fun to be than a Trump rally?” he said in “The Sun City,” with a grin. “They all said, ‘Mr. President, we loved the tone of your State of the Union speech.’ … Some people said, ‘Really great speech,’ I said, ‘But if I ever did that in El Paso, Texas, it wouldn’t work here.”
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Camila DeChalus contributed to this report.