WASHINGTON– For President Donald Trump, this one was personal.
Back in Montana on Saturday afternoon, he slammed Democratic Sen. Jon Tester over his role in sinking former White House physician Ronny Jackson’s nomination to become the secretary of veterans affairs.
Trump lamented the downfall of “Doc Ronny,” who withdrew from consideration back in April amid charges of improper conduct on the job. There is an ongoing Pentagon inspector general probe into the allegations.
“He might be a nice guy,” Trump said of Tester, “except he tried to destroy Adm. Ronny Jackson, who is the most clean-cut, wonderful person that you ever met. He tried to destroy him. And I’ve never forgotten it. And it’s honestly one of the reasons I’ve been here so much.”
The President’s case for Matt Rosendale, Tester’s Republican challenger, was less specific.
“I’m the only one that tells you the facts,” Trump said, after telling falsehoods about GOP efforts to take apart Obamacare and, with it, protection for people with pre-existing medical conditions. He also scorned Democrats and touted his “movement” as a stop on the their agenda, “pushing it way back to where it came from — it came from Hell.”
Like he has during the closing weeks of the campaign, Trump also sought to use the divisions exposed and escalated by the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to motivate Republican rallygoers in Belgrade, baselessly suggesting all of Kavanaugh’s accusers were changing their stories. They are not.
The Democrats make their case
Back east in Massachusetts, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is expected to cruise to re-election next week, echoed former President Barack Obama’s criticism of Trump’s chatter about ending birthright citizenship with the swipe of a pen.
“He can’t do that, he just can’t,” Warren told reporters. “The President does not have the power to erase parts of the Constitution he does not like.”
As the run-up to Election Day gains speed, the days have begun to blend into one. For Democrats in particular, Saturday’s dramas began on Friday evening.
Those who couldn’t watch it live awoke to stories and viral clips of Obama lambasting his successor twice in a six-hour span at rallies for Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in Florida, where he is running for governor, and Stacey Abrams, the former state House minority leader doing the same in Georgia.
At Morehouse College in Atlanta, Obama answered Trump’s jab from earlier in the week, when the Republican President said Abrams — owner of an estimable political résumé — was “not qualified” for the job that she and Georgia’s GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp are at about even odds to win next week.
“Republicans — they keep trying to diminish Stacey’s remarkable accomplishments,” Obama said, without mentioning Trump by name. “She is the most experienced, most qualified candidate in this race. She’s got an incredible track record of fighting for working families.”
But on Friday night and Saturday morning, her campaign was forced to contend with a racist and anti-Semitic robocall targeting Abrams and Oprah Winfrey. The calls, which came from the same neo-Nazi group that previously attacked Gillum in Florida, were denounced by Kemp as “absolutely disgusting.”
“I stand against any person or organization that peddles this type of unbridled hate and unapologetic bigotry,” Kemp said in a statement.
Abrams’ campaign wasn’t impressed, and in a statement Saturday morning suggested Kemp’s harsh words were undermined by his behavior on the trail and his scheduled embrace of Trump at a rally on Sunday.
“It is pathetic that after months of running racist, sexist attacks against Stacey Abrams, Brian Kemp has only now suddenly decided to find a conscience as polls are tightening and Georgia voters are making it clear that they reject the kind of hate he and his allies have been spewing around the state,” spokeswoman Abigail Collazo said. “These automated calls are being sent into homes just days before President Trump arrives, reminding voters exactly who is promoting a political climate that celebrates this kind of vile, poisonous thinking.”
Before Trump touches down in Georgia, he is due on Saturday night in Florida — his second trip there over four days — for a rally in Pensacola, another traditionally Republican stronghold up in the state’s Panhandle, and the next day in Tennessee to campaign for Republican Senate candidate Rep. Marsha Blackburn.
Trump gave a howling hint of what to expect over the campaign’s furious final few days during a Friday stop in Indiana.
Reciting faithfully from what has become his midterm songbook, he touted Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation and issued yet another ominous — and almost entirely fact-free — warning about a group of migrants, hundreds of miles and weeks away in Mexico, headed for the US border in search of asylum.
“Between Justice Kavanaugh and the caravan, you people are energized,” Trump enthused, a message he re-upped at length in Montana.
Trump vs. Obama
He also took on Obama, who had hours before assailed him for, among other things, “constant fear-mongering” and chronic dissembling and telling outright falsehoods about the GOP’s efforts, past and present, to dismantle the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
In Miami, Obama called it “gall” and “chutzpah”; in Atlanta, he labeled it “some kind of gumption” and “some kind of nerve.”
Earlier in the day, Trump responded to Obama’s barrage by mocking the former president over what he described as a “very small crowd” in Miami. Later on, though, at a rally for Senate candidate Mike Braun in Indiana, the President struck a nastier note.
“It’s no surprise that (Democratic Sen.) Joe Donnelly is holding a rally this weekend with Barack H. Obama,” he said, placing an emphasis on the “H,” which stands for Hussein. The implication was clear enough and right in line with the tone of Trump’s efforts to rev up conservatives.
Trump’s Saturday travel fit a familiar profile, with both rallies scheduled to support GOP candidates who are narrowly trailing in most recent polling and will need the base to turn out in force next week.
Former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, who was boosted in his bid for the nomination by the President’s endorsement, is hoping for another lift with his campaign running consistently off Gillum’s pace. The Democrat took a brief break from the trail early Saturday morning in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, where he is the mayor.
Returning to the trail, Gillum, an outspoken proponent of stricter gun control laws, said the killings in his city only upped the stakes of the coming election, while urging voters to “reject the politics of Trumpism.”
Even as the campaign back-and-forth dominates the headlines, the beginning of the weekend also belonged to the grassroots liberal groups that have quietly been gearing up for a massive, final get-out-the-vote push.
One coalition initiative, aptly named The Last Weekend, will be put to the test now after months of organizing and promotion. Swing Left, which is leading the effort, and has raised more than $9 million for candidates in 84 swing districts this cycle, says its volunteers called and knocked on the doors of nearly 500,000 voters just last week.
They expect that number to skyrocket as Election Day nears.