President Donald Trump descended into the heart of politically liberal Minneapolis on Thursday night, delivering a sprawling and at times vulgarity-laced campaign speech that attacked political opponents in withering terms, mocked Democrats for trying to impeach him, and predicted he’d carry Minnesota on his way to a second term next year.
The marathon, 102-minute speech capped a boisterous rally of cheering supporters who filled the 19,356-seat Target Center, surrounded by thousands more anti-Trump protesters, some of whom clashed with police as tensions rose amid a rainy chill.
“For the next 13 months, we are going to fight with all of our heart and soul and we are going to win the great state of Minnesota in 2020,” Trump said at the top of his speech.
Besides repeatedly bashing the impeachment inquiry — he at one point called it “a brazen attempt to overthrow our government” — Trump took aim at other targets. He called U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis an “America-hating socialist” and labeled Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey “rotten.” He mounted several lengthy rants against former Vice President Joe Biden, whom he said “was a good vice president because he knew how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass.”
The Republican president’s highly anticipated rally, in the heart of a longtime Democratic stronghold, led to clashes in recent days with Frey, who objected to the $530,000 security bill for the event. Seemingly in response, Trump repeatedly praised police officers, brought a group on stage at one point and briefly turned the microphone over to Minneapolis Police Federation President Bob Kroll.
“There’s a lot of beautiful T-shirts in the audience and I’ll tell you why. Cops love Trump, Trump loves cops,” Trump said. In his turn at the mike, Kroll called Trump “a wonderful president.”
With Vice President Mike Pence and leading Minnesota Republicans on hand, Trump’s re-election rally served as the clearest evidence yet of the state’s importance to next year’s presidential election. It’s shaping up as the most concerted Republican effort in years to carry Minnesota in a presidential race, which hasn’t happened since 1972.
Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, characterized Trump’s speech as “demeaning political rivals, attacking the media, gross vulgarity, an immaturity that would make my two teenage sons look like reasoned adults.” But, he added, Democrats must take seriously Trump’s major push to take Minnesota for Republicans.
The rally was Trump’s first since House Democrats accelerated their push for impeachment over concerns raised by an intelligence community whistleblower that the president has pressured foreign governments to investigate a domestic political rival in Biden.
“The do-nothing Democrat con artists and scammers are getting desperate,” Trump said. “They know they can’t win so they’re pursuing their insane impeachment witch hunt. I’ve been going through it now for more time than I’ve been in office.”
Going on at length about impeachment, Trump called the media dishonest and predicted that Democrats would “produce a backlash at the ballot box the likes of which we’ve never before seen in this country.” He called his phone call with the president of Ukraine, in which he urged an investigation of Biden, “beautiful.”
Biden called for Trump’s impeachment for the first time this week. Earlier in the day the former vice president issued a statement calling Trump out “for his relentless attacks on the Affordable Care Act that have threatened the health care of millions of Minnesotans.”
Trump took time at the rally to hit back. “You know what, I’d love to run against him, to be honest,” Trump said. “If you can’t beat him in a debate, you’ve got a big problem, folks.”
It was Trump’s fourth visit to Minnesota since he became president, following rallies for Republican congressional candidates in Rochester and Duluth last year, and a White House-hosted business roundtable in Burnsville earlier this year. But it was his first political rally in Minnesota’s largest city.
In 2016, Trump got just 18% of the vote in Minneapolis’ Fifth Congressional District. It’s the political home of Omar, the first-term Somali-American congresswoman, who has in recent months been subject to Trump’s frequent Twitter insults.
Trump launched into an extended critique of Omar about 40 minutes into his speech, raising several controversies that have ensnared her in recent months. “How do you have such a person representing you in Minnesota? She is a disgrace to our country and she is one of the big reasons I am going to win.”
Omar quickly tweeted back at Trump. “He shouted xenophobic conspiracy theories about me. He scolded my district for voting for me,” she tweeted, encouraging her supporters to back her with a campaign donation.
Omar’s office said she would not be in Minnesota for Trump’s visit and would not disclose her location. Omar has previously accused Trump of endangering her life with his comments about her.
At the rally, Trump also criticized refugee resettlement policies that led to Minnesota’s large population of Somali immigrants, drawing boos from the crowd. He said as president he is giving individual communities more say in whether refugees get resettled there.
While Trump has little hope of carrying Minneapolis or Omar’s district in next year’s election, his campaign is poised to invest tens of millions of dollars in turning out voters in the 78 out of 87 counties he carried in 2016. Despite the geographic breadth of Trump’s win, Democrat Hillary Clinton notched a narrow win thanks to a lopsided advantage in the state’s largest cities and most populous suburbs.
Most of Trump’s remarks focused on impeachment and criticisms of political enemies. He did take time to tout the strength of the U.S. economy, and toward the end of the long speech he turned somber as he defended his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria — which has led to criticism even from many fellow Republicans that he has abandoned the Kurds, important U.S. allies.
“We’re going to pull them out,” Trump said of U.S. soldiers. “We’re trying to pull people out and make good deals and bring our soldiers back home.”
Gloomy skies hung over downtown Minneapolis in the hours before the president’s appearance, though that didn’t dispel protest crowds that swelled as night fell.
“This president doesn’t represent what I really feel that America is all about — caring for other people,” said Melissa Meyer-Thompson, 54, of Cannon Falls. She held a handmade sign that read, “Trump is not Minnesota Nice.”
As the arena filled, early-comers listened to remarks by Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, as well as Kroll. Outside, protesters chanted and blew whistles. A few hecklers got inside the arena. A balloon portraying Trump as a diapered infant floated overhead.
Penny and Craig Siewert, retirees from Cottage Grove, threaded through a gantlet of protesters to head inside for the rally. Penny said protesters had a right to be there but she felt they should have been a little more respectful.
Why do they support Trump? “He stands for most of the values I support,” Craig Siewert said.
Staff writers Stephen Montemayor, Shannon Prather, Maya Rao, Chao Xiong and J. Patrick Coolican contributed to this report.