BALTIMORE ― In disjointed, jumbled remarks delivered in a city that he proclaimed in July was “a disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess,” President Donald Trump addressed House Republicans at their annual retreat Thursday night and delivered a preview of his central re-election message: “You have no choice.”
Speaking from the stage of a grandiose hotel ballroom in downtown Baltimore, Trump largely ignored the Twitter feud he started with the city earlier this summer, saying only he would fix its “failed and corrupt rule” ― without providing any details. Instead, he chose to speak on just about anything else that crossed his mind for an hour and 10 minutes.
Trump took the stage clapping along with his excited GOP audience, and he really never stopped praising himself. He cheered his administration’s repeal on Thursday of clean water regulations, while also congratulating himself for what he claimed is the nation’s cleanest water and air in the last 25 years. He cheered the Senate’s confirmation Thursday of his 150th nominee to federal courts. And he lauded the economy that has produced low unemployment rates for minorities.
But far from running through a scripted checklist of accomplishments, Trump delivered a largely extemporaneous ― often bizarre ― speech about, among many other topics, the Democratic presidential candidates, immigration, the 2020 campaign, the 2016 election, the border wall, even cowboy hats.
Trump also told a story about an old business rival that he used to hate and, he said, who used to hate him. He noted that the old rival — who he did not name — was now working to get Trump re-elected. He ended the story by remarking that, with the crop of Democrats vying to win the nomination, this old enemy didn’t have a choice but to support him.
“Our country will go to hell if any of these people” win the White House, Trump told the Republicans.
Trump dinged Democrats for their immigration policies ― and spent a considerable amount of time joking about the name of one of the party’s presidential candidates, Pete Buttigieg. But he also praised Democrats for their unity. “We have to stick together like they do,” Trump said.
If the president had any concerns that Republican House members ― who lost their majority in last year’s midterm in a voter rebuke of Trump ― might bail on him, his audience was there to assure him there was no reason to be worried.
As Trump departed the stage to his usual campaign sign-off song, The Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stopped the music to deliver a message. “We’re with you, we’ll never get tired of winning, and we’ll always put America first,” the Californian said.
Mind you: Trump had cracked minutes before that the husky McCarthy was somewhat bovine. The joke came as Trump claimed, falsely, that the Green New Deal pushed by some progressive lawmakers would result in “no more cows, no more planes, I guess no more people.”
“Because Kevin is just like a cow, just smaller,” Trump continued. He added that he couldn’t resist the attempt at humor and he picked McCarthy because he saw his “beautiful” face smiling at him.
Trump also referred to the Green New Deal as “the greatest line of crap anybody’s ever had in the history of politics.” And, apropos of who knows what concerning the ambitious proposal, he said, “Sometimes delivery is more important than what you say.”
Seemingly proving that concept, one of Trump’s best-received tangents was about his hair and cowboy hats. Riffing about Texas during the 2016 election and how he never doubted he would carry it, he said that if he were from the Lone Star State, he’d wear a cowboy hat all the time.
“I’d never take it off,” Trump joked. “I don’t have to worry about hairspray. I don’t have to worry about my hair blowing, beautifully blowing in the wind.”
On more substantive notes, Trump said his administration was planning to offer a tax cut for the middle class that would be “very, very inspirational.” He also claimed that by the end of the year 500 miles of new wall would be built on the U.S. border with Mexico ― a highly improbable scenario, given that congressional Democrats have blocked all but 55 miles of such new barricades and given that so far Trump’s emergency declaration gambit hasn’t produced any new stretches of his pet project.
Of course, no Trump stump speech would be complete without him taking aim at perhaps his favorite enemy: the media.
He insisted that journalists and Democrats were “colluding” ― without, as usual, offering any support for the false claim. And he said that media outlets ― which almost across the board have endured rounds of layoffs as reading habits change ― wanted a recession “so badly.”
On the economic front, he took no ownership of the havoc his trade war has caused in the stock market.
Trump had targeted Baltimore for insults starting in late July as part of an attack on Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who as head of the House Oversight and Reform Committee has been a thorn in the president’s side. Cummings’ district includes part of Baltimore, and Trump claimed it was a place where “no human being would want to live.”
More than 100 protesters greeted Trump’s motorcade on Thursday, with scores of signs harking back to Trump’s slams of Baltimore. The demonstrators carried signs calling Trump and his fellow Republicans “the real rats.” To drive home their point, they paraded a large inflatable rat with Trump’s signature hairdo into the protest zone, along with another inflatable, this one shaped like a human in a Hazmat suit with “corruption cleanup” emblazoned across its chest.
Trump reportedly waved at the protesters as his motorcade drove past.