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At a Rally Looking Toward November, Trump Sets His Sights Two Years Beyond

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© Tom Brenner for The New York Times “The Democrats can no longer be trusted with your power,” President Trump said at a rally in Johnson City, Tenn., on Monday.

By MAGGIE HABERMAN, The New York Times
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn.

President Trump trained his sights on three leading Democratic prospects who could face him in his 2020 re-election battle, at a rally Monday evening that was ostensibly aimed at helping Tennessee Republicans facing a tough climate in the midterm elections.

Over 59 minutes, Mr. Trump veered on and off the remarks on his teleprompter as he defended Brett M. Kavanaugh, his embattled Supreme Court nominee, whom he said Democrats were “trying to destroy.” He implored people to vote in the midterm elections in five weeks. He rattled off a list of his accomplishments, before putting the list aside to avoid boring his crowd.

But Mr. Trump, in the first of four campaign rallies he will hold across the country this week, appeared to have his own re-election on his mind.

Mr. Trump, who defeated 17 major candidates in the primaries and the general election in 2016 by savaging them, road-tested a series of aggressive attack lines against some of the top 2020 prospects — former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

“The Democrats can no longer be trusted with your power,” he said, describing them as the party of “crime.”

“They have moved so far left that ‘Pocahontas’ is considered a conservative,” using a moniker he has affixed to Ms. Warren, who has claimed to have Native American heritage. Several Native American groups have denounced Mr. Trump’s term as racist.

“She said she’s considering a run for the presidency,” he said at the rally.

He moved on to Mr. Biden. “We call him ‘one percent Biden,’” Mr. Trump said. “Until Obama took him off the trash heap, he couldn’t do anything.”

He added sarcastically that Mr. Biden is “a real genius,” and mocked him for saying he would like to fight Mr. Trump. “They’ve got some real beauties going.”

“And then you have Cory Booker, who destroyed Newark,” Mr. Trump said at another point, apparently referring to Mr. Booker’s time as Newark mayor. “Seeing some of the things he wrote when he was young about women — take a look, O.K.?”

Mr. Trump saved his harshest language for Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, reprising attacks from earlier in the day. Mr. Blumenthal is among the Senate Judiciary Committee members who have most aggressively criticized Judge Kavanaugh and expressed concern about sexual assault allegations against him, as well as about his honesty and temperament.

Mr. Trump described the senator as “Da Nang Blumenthal,” a Vietnam War reference. Mr. Blumenthal served in the military during the Vietnam era, but not in Vietnam. He has admitted he misrepresented his military service in the past.

“He was never in Vietnam; it was a lie,” Mr. Trump said. “Then he’s up there saying, ‘We want the truth from Judge Kavanaugh.’”

Mr. Trump has been focused on the fate of Judge Kavanaugh, and the topic occupied much of his speech. The F.B.I. is investigating the assault allegations before a confirmation vote planned for later this week.

Mr. Trump will hold three more rallies in the Midwest and South this week ahead of what are expected to be bruising midterm elections for Republicans seeking to maintain control of Congress.

People stood in line for the Tennessee rally for several hours under a baking-hot sun, snaking through an adjacent parking lot and up a street. Many wore the familiar red “Make America Great Again” hats, but others wore shirts with bricks and the message “Build That Wall.” Vendors sold T-shirts asking “Who’s Your Daddy?” next to the Trump logo.

Inside, Mr. Trump offered muted praise for Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Republican locked in a close contest with Phil Bredesen, a Democrat and former Tennessee governor, for the Senate seat held by the retiring Bob Corker, a Republican who has often been critical of Mr. Trump.

“A vote for Marsha is really a vote for me, and everything we stand for,” Mr. Trump said.

“Your vote in this election will decide which party controls the Senate,” he said at another point, adding that Democrats are “going to flood your streets with criminal aliens.”

Mr. Trump unleashed anti-immigrant invective over and over, repeatedly referring to immigrants as “aliens,” whom he portrayed as taking public benefits from “truly needy Americans.” The president’s administration recently put into place a new plan to deny green cards to immigrants who took public benefits.

Mr. Trump also touched on several other issues, including insisting that he favors health insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions, despite his Justice Department backing a lawsuit that could eliminate such protections — a point he never mentioned. He also returned to two of his favorite topics: his 2016 election victory and the news media.

The president recalled in extravagant detail how different states were called for him the night he won in 2016. It was, he said, “one of the greatest evenings in the history of television, all because of you.”

And he employed a favorite tactic twice, egging on the crowd to turn and boo the members of the news media standing behind them.

“Fighting the media is tougher than fighting the Democrats,” he said. “But they’re equal partners.”

Polling reported in the news media, Mr. Trump insisted, should not be trusted, even though he has often cited polls he likes. “It’s called repression!” he said, insisting the news media was deliberately trying to keep people from voting. “They’re phony polls.”

As much as he excoriated the news media, the president also reveled in how much attention he gets.

“You know what it’s called? Earned media,” he said. “And I earned it.”

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Politics - U.S. Daily News: At a Rally Looking Toward November, Trump Sets His Sights Two Years Beyond
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