Three takeaways from Trump’s Manchester rally as New Hampshire heads to polls

President eager to ‘exploit divisions in the party between Bernie and the rest of the party’, strategist says

John T. Bennett
Washington
@BennettJohnT
Tuesday 11 February 2020 16:35
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Trump attacks 'mumbling' Nancy Pelosi as crowd chants 'lock her up'

Donald Trump was in mischievous mood on Monday night in Manchester, New Hampshire, urging his followers to disrupt the state’s first-in-the-country 2020 presidential primary.

The president noted to a packed arena full of his supporters that their state’s election laws allow members of one party to vote in another party’s primary. With a wry grin, Mr Trump once again showed he is willing to play the role of disrupter-in-chief – and willing to do whatever it takes to secure a second term.

“This has been an incredible state for us,” Mr Trump said of New Hampshire, where he easily won his party’s 2016 primary before losing there narrowly to the former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in the general election. “So I hear a lot of Republicans tomorrow will vote for the weakest candidate possible of the Democrats.

“That makes sense you people would do that,” he said, before taking a Trumpian jab at the entire Democratic field. “My only problem is I’m trying to figure out who is their weakest candidate. I think they’re all weak.”

It was vintage Trump: urge his followers to do something to benefit himself while stopping short of demanding it – and cast everyone who opposes him as too feeble to be the so-called leader of the free world.

That wasn’t the only notable moment in which Mr Trump revealed a thing or two about his re-election strategy. Here are three takeaways from his pre-primary Manchester rally:

The Snake
Mr Trump signalled immigration will again be a big part of his campaign-trail message to voters. The president has been focused on other issues for months, including his impeachment and subsequent Senate trial. And while he hit Democrats on that in Manchester, he aggressively pivoted back to immigration.

As he moved into part of his sometimes-scripted, sometimes-off-the-cuff rally remarks, the president produced a printout from his suit jacket and told the audience: “I used to do this a lot and people couldn’t get enough of it, to be honest with you – and I haven’t done it for a while.”

“I thought I’d do it tonight because you’re on the eve of giving us an opponent, and all of these people want open borders, they want open borders,” he said of the remaining Democratic presidential candidates. “And we don’t want open borders, we want very strong, closed borders. And we want people to come into our country, but we want them to come in through merit, and we want them to come in legally, right, right?”

The crowd offered tepid applause. But he drew a big cheer for what he did next, reading a short tale called The Snake from the paper he had just taken from his jacket. The story describes what happens when a woman takes in a wounded reptile and nurses him back to health. At the end, the creature bites her, sending her to an inevitable death.

“You’ve bit me, but why, you know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die,” Trump said, reading the woman’s part. “Silly woman, said the reptile with a grin. You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in!”

The Manchester crowd roared its approval as the president stood behind his lectern and said loudly, “got to come in legally”, depicting undocumented immigrants as “the snake” that inevitably will deliver a “vicious bite” to American citizens. He got another big applause when he tied the coming immigration message to his America First governing philosophy: “We’re fully taking care of our own citizens first.”

Thank you, Nancy
The president made sure to conjure a few jeers from the audience when he brought up House Democrats. There were his usual lines that their Ukraine investigation was a “hoax” and “witch hunt”, but he debuted a new rally line that brings voters into the mix as he attempts to personalise the impeachment matter for folks outside the Beltway, especially those in the handful of swing states that most likely will decide the election.

“We have the highest poll numbers that we have ever had. Thank you, Nancy, very much. Thank you,” he said, mocking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who decided his actions towards Ukraine warranted her giving in to many in her caucus who had long supported impeachment proceedings.

Then came the linking of that decision, which always was going to lead to his acquittal by a GOP-controlled Senate, to voters.

“While the extreme left has been wasting America’s time with this vile hoax, we’ve been killing terrorists, creating jobs, raising wages, enacting fair trade deals, securing our borders, and lifting up citizens of every race, colour, religion and creed from our rural communities to our cities,” Mr Trump said.

Donald Trump, Bernie Bro?
Is Mr Trump a “Bernie Bro”, the nickname of many followers of Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont democratic-socialist who has emerged as the Democratic frontrunner? He might be. But likely for his own self-interests, as always.

White House and campaign aides contend they believe the president would defeat any of the opposition party’s candidates. But they do not dispute wanting to take on a man who calls himself a socialist. And Mr Trump showed he is eager to fire up Mr Sanders’ supporters.

“Actually, I think they’re trying to take it away from Bernie again,” Mr Trump said, referring to the 2016 Democratic primary, which some Sanders backers said was unfairly tilted in favour of Ms Clinton. “They’re doing it to you again, Bernie! They’re doing it again!”

Translation, from one Democratic strategist: “This is a president who will do anything he can to exploit divisions in the party between Bernie and the rest of the party.”

“The more divided they are,” the strategist said, “the more chances Trump thinks he has to be re-elected because he’d be taking on a damaged Democratic nominee. He would feed on that weakness.”

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