At Florida Rally, Trump Brags About Economy and Takes Aim at Usual Targets

At Florida Rally, Trump Brags About Economy and Takes Aim at Usual Targets
At Florida Rally, Trump Brags About Economy and Takes Aim at Usual Targets

TAMPA, Fla. — President Trump brought a message of a booming economy with him to Central Florida on Tuesday evening. He boasted about his administration’s economic accomplishments at an event at a local high school, where a supporter cheerily praised him as “the best president.” And he signed a piece of work force legislation, holding up a scrawled piece of paper for all to see.

But the tone changed when Mr. Trump traveled to a “Make America Great Again” rally at a fairground auditorium in Tampa.

The president, in a feisty but unfocused mood, stood before a group of supporters, called himself “the most popular person in the history of the Republican Party” — a debunked claim — and took aim at his usual list of piñatas, boogeymen and political targets.

“Those people,” Mr. Trump said of his perceived detractors, “how they have gotten us wrong. And yet on Election Day, people were asking, ‘Where did these people come from?’”

Mr. Trump, a former campaign firebrand, is happiest out on the trail reiterating the divisive messaging that won him the presidency. So on Tuesday, between promoting healthy job numbers and the low unemployment rate, he spent a significant amount of time riling up the crowd by drawing a firm divide between the people who support him and everyone else.

In a freewheeling speech, Mr. Trump defended his hard-line stance on immigration, calling for voter ID laws just before inexplicably bragging about saving “Merry Christmas” as a holiday greeting. And he railed repeatedly at the news media for, among other perceived sins, dinging him for not acting presidential. “I can be more presidential than any president in history except for maybe Abe Lincoln with the big hat,” Mr. Trump said. “I admit it, Abe Lincoln is tough.”

Mr. Trump called the Iran nuclear deal he pulled out of this year a “horror show” and, referring to a comment he made on Monday about meeting with the Iranian president, said he had a “feeling they’ll be talking to us pretty soon, and maybe not, but that’s O.K., too.”

Mr. Trump’s other usual targets included congressional Democrats, who were painted as legislative obstructionists “who will do anything they can to not help the Trump agenda,” including rejecting Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court; the news media, which he repeatedly disparaged as “fake news” on a mélange of topics; and even protesters, including four women who were escorted out, middle fingers raised, for demonstrating against the administration’s immigration policies.

“Too bad,” Mr. Trump said as the women left. He then turned his focus to journalists, who he said would exaggerate the protests as “massive.”

“Wouldn’t you think they’d get tired of these speeches, wouldn’t you?” Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly called journalists “the enemy of the people,” said as he focused on rows of reporters covering the rally in the back of the auditorium. “Look how many they have back there. They just can’t get enough.”

The president, who has found solace in his base of supporters in recent weeks — particularly after a widely criticized news conference with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Helsinki, Finland — brought two of his adult children, Ivanka and Eric, with him to Florida. (He said the first lady, Melania Trump, was watching the rally from home.) Mr. Trump also thanked the former campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, “two fighters” who had traveled with him in the motorcade.

Several Trump loyalists holding office or running for it were also rewarded with kind words, and a ride on Air Force One. Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, who traveled with the president alongside the state’s governor, Rick Scott, was given a shout out at the rally.

Earlier, the president called Mr. Gaetz over to greet supporters just after Air Force One landed in Tampa, and praised his TV presence at the work force development event.

“You ever watch this guy on television?” Mr. Trump asked the crowd at the high school, some of them former students. “He’s like a machine.”

At one point, Mr. Trump introduced Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate for governor, as a “tough cookie.” Mr. DeSantis, facing criticism that he had modeled himself too much in Mr. Trump’s image, that showed him encouraging his young daughter to “build the wall” and reading “The Art of the Deal” to his son at story time.

“I appreciate your support, Mr. President,” Mr. DeSantis said from the stage, “but I appreciate more the leadership you’re showing for our great country.”

Even when it came to his administration’s achievements, Mr. Trump at times struck an inexplicably defiant tone. “Sorry about this, women,” the president said to his female supporters, “but the unemployment rate has reached the lowest unemployment level in only 65 years.”

On an economic misstep, Mr. Trump blamed someone else: He said that the farmers who have been harmed by the administration’s trade policies have actually been targeted by China. Last week, the administration announced that it would provide up to $12 billion in emergency relief for farmers hurt by the trade war.

“Our farmers are true patriots,” Mr. Trump said. “Because China and others have targeted our farmers. You know what our farmers are saying? ‘It’s O.K., we can take it.’”

And for extra measure, Mr. Trump promoted his status as a political outsider, telling the crowd that he had visited Washington only 17 times before running for president — mostly to visit the hotel he was building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I ran for president with no experience and I won,” Mr. Trump said, apparently in a reflective mood. “I didn’t know anybody in Washington, but now I know everybody in Washington.”

The president paused.

“I know the wonderful people,” he added, “and I know the scum.”

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