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Donald Trump attacks critics as rambling Phoenix rally speech descends into public meltdown

President suggests his words in the aftermath of Charlottesville had been 'perfect' as he goes off script to deliver a wide-ranging tirade

Wednesday 23 August 2017 03:23 BST
Donald Trump attacks critics as rambling Phoenix rally speech descends into public meltdown

Donald Trump has used a rally in Phoenix to blast the "fake media" for misrepresenting his remarks over the violence in Charlottesville, condemning journalists as "truly dishonest people" who "don't like our country".

Back in his comfort zone among his supporters, the President claimed his response to the Virginia protests and counter-protests was "perfect".

Yet he then went on to read out portions of his various statements on Charlottesville from the past week, in which he condemned white supremacists, missing out the most controversial lines in which he said there was blame for the violence "on all sides".

In a rambling and wide-ranging speech also touching the issues of North Korea, Nafta and the Mexico border wall, Mr Trump provoked choruses of boos at his mention of the media, accusing journalists of warping his various Charlottesville statements by suggesting he was providing a platform for extremist groups.

Mr Trump opened the rally with a call for unity, saying: “What happened in Charlottesville strikes at the core of America and tonight, this entire arena stands united in forceful condemnation of the thugs that perpetrated hatred and violence.”

But he quickly trained his ire on the media, shouting that he “openly called for healing unity and love” in the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville and claiming the media had misrepresented him. He read from his three responses to the violence — getting more animated with each one.

Eventually moving on, he returned to the familiar theme of Democrats "obstructing" Republican legislation on healthcare and other bills, but also pushing the crowd to "speak to their senator".

Mr Trump spoke after Vice President Mike Pence and others called repeatedly for unity.

Housing Secretary Ben Carson and Dr Alveda King, the niece of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr, were among the openers. Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham, led the rally-goers in prayer, saying, “We're divided racially, and we're adrift morally.”

Outside the Phoenix convention centre, shouting matches and minor scuffles erupted between Trump supporters and some of the thousands of protesters gathered near the site of his latest campaign rally. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton had asked Mr Trump to delay his political event to allow for more time of national healing after Charlottesville.

Donald Trump blames both sides for Charlottesville violence

In the comfort of his most fervent fans, Mr Trump resurrected his free-wheeling 2016 campaign style, pinging insults at perceived enemies such as the media and meandering from topic to topic without a clear theme.

Neither of Arizona's two Republican senators appeared with Mr Trump. Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a conservative, has been a frequent target of Mr Trump's wrath.

The President tweeted last week: “Great to see that Dr Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He's toxic!” Flake has been on tour promoting his book that says the Republican Party's embrace of Mr Trump has left conservatism withering.

At the rally, Mr Trump said he would mention no names, but appeared to reference Mr Flake by again talking about a local Senator who is "weak on borders", adding that "nobody knows who he is".

Arizona's other senator, John McCain, is undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer. Mr Trump has been critical of McCain for voting against a Republican health care bill.

The President also hailed what he framed as a possible improvement in relations with North Korea after months of mounting tension over its weapons programmes.

"I respect the fact that he is starting to respect us," he said of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

"And maybe - probably not, but maybe - something positive can come about."

On Mexico, Mr Trump accused Democrats of "putting America's safety at risk" with their opposition to his plan to dramatically increase security measures on the US's southern border.

He claimed immigration officers had told him a wall was "vital" and threatened to bring Washington to a halt if Congress opposed him, without providing specifics. "If we have to close down government, we are building that wall," he said.

And on trade, Mr Trump said he would "probably end up terminating Nafta", a proposed trade deal he has criticised in the past. That's despite the fact that representatives of the countries involved - the US, Canada and Mexico - are due to begin a new round of negotiations in a little over a week's time.

Tuesday's events put Mr Trump in more comfortable political territory than in recent days.

He began his Arizona visit with a brief trip to the southern edge of the country.

While touring a Marine Corps base in Yuma that is a hub of operations for the US Border Patrol, Trump inspected a drone and other border equipment on display in a hangar.

Mr Trump shook his head as he was shown a series of everyday objects, such as a fire extinguisher, that had been refashioned to secretly transport drugs across the border. Afterward, he spent about 20 minutes greeting service members in the gruelling, 106-degree heat, signing caps with his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan and posing for selfies on the tarmac just steps from Air Force One.

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