SUNRISE, Florida: President Donald Trump on Tuesday raged against the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, lobbed attacks at his adversaries in the Washington establishment and angrily defended his health during an unfettered, raucous rally that marked his return to Florida as a formal resident.
Hours after the House invited the administration to present its defence next week in the impeachment investigation, the president railed against House investigators for being “very sick and corrupt people” unwilling to give him a fair chance to defend himself.
“The failed Washington establishment is trying to stop me because I’m fighting for you,” he told the roaring crowd, offering a key election battleground a fiery preview of what is probably going to be his foremost defence after a series of career officials testified that he had engaged in a pressure campaign to force Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. “They’re attacking me because I’m exposing a rigged system.”
Trump also defended his decision this month to absolve three service members of war crimes, arguing that he had “stuck up for three great warriors against the deep state”.
He reserved the brunt of his verbal assault for a few regular punching bags: Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat-California, who led the public impeachment hearings (‘Shifty Schiff’); former Vice-President Joe Biden (‘Slow, Sleepy Joe’) and his son Hunter Biden (‘Where’s Hunter?’); and the news media (in one example, “stupid, horrible, corrupt CNN”).
And he took particular offence with coverage of his recent visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre and speculation about his health, describing unverified reports that he had “a massive, unbelievable heart attack.” He described at length the process of getting examined by doctors and being asked to “take off your shirt, sir, and show us that gorgeous chest.” (Previous medical examinations have found that the president was in good health, but should also watch his weight and cholesterol levels.)
“Hey, if I wasn’t feeling great, I wouldn’t be ranting and raving to 21,000, 22,000 people,” he told the crowd, which broke into boisterous applause. Buoyed by a deafening soundtrack, the crowd frequently bellowed “four more years” and waved “Keep America Great!” signs. At one point, unprompted, the crowd chanted “I want nothing — no quid pro quo” as Trump recalled his conversation with Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union.
The event was billed as a “homecoming rally” for Trump, a lifelong New Yorker who recently changed his residency to Palm Beach, Florida. (At least a couple of Floridians in attendance said that Trump’s announcement caught them off-guard: Between his Doral golf club outside Miami and Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, they assumed he was already a Floridian.)
Ahead of his customary Thanksgiving week at Mar-a-Lago, Trump reserved multiple nods for his new home and the weight it will bear on his push to win re-election. He highlighted efforts by his administration and its Republican allies in Florida to repair military bases devastated by hurricanes and to protect the state’s beaches from an infestation of poisonous algae known as red tide. He also showered the state’s Republicans with praise. (Introducing Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump observed that “I always thought Ron was a little bit heavy,” but after seeing DeSantis shirtless, decided that “this guy is strong.” The governor’s office clarified that Trump had seen DeSantis jacketless, not shirtless.)
The president also vowed to “oppose the horrors of socialism in America,” a message intended to resonate in a community built in part by those who fled communist governments in Latin America and one that brought the crowd to its feet.
During the nearly 90-minute speech, Trump frequently toggled between promoting his administration’s accomplishments and airing his grievances with his Washington adversaries. Tossing a few “Make America Great Again” hats into the crowd at the beginning of the rally, he treated the attendees as confidants. Trump wrapped them into the “fight to take our country back” and waxed nostalgic about his 2016 victory, his inaugural parade and the days when the news media did not scrutinise his every move.
‘Perfect phone call’
“Can I be honest, in front of these fakers back there?” Trump asked the crowd, which responded with a variety of gestures in the direction of the media pen. He painted a world in which he and the audience united once more in 2020 to fight back against a number of adversaries, including those who wanted to stop saying “Happy Thanksgiving.” (It was unclear who those people were and what they wanted to say instead.)
Even as he reminisced about his victories over the Bush and Clinton dynasties, he would pivot mid thought to lament the distortion of his “perfect phone call” with Ukraine’s president and the “very sick and corrupt people” investigating his administration. But, he assured the crowd, they would ultimately be unsuccessful.
“A lot of bad things are happening to them — you see what’s happening in the polls?” he said.
Ultimately, Trump returned to what was ostensibly his core reason for being in Florida: cajoling the cheering crowd into turning out to vote next November and solidifying enough Republican support in the state’s electorate to earn a second term.
“We have the greatest base in the history of politics,” he told the crowd. “You went to great colleges, you people are successful as hell, you’re better looking.”
“If they’re elite,” he added, “then we’re the superelite.”