Trump blasts rivals, returns to 2016 message as he launches 2020 campaign

Jabbing at the press and poking the eye of the political establishment he ran against in 2016, U.S. President Donald Trump officially kicked off his re-election campaign Tuesday with a grievance-filled Florida rally that focused more on settling scores than laying out his agenda for a second term.

Addressing a crowd of thousands at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., Trump complained he had been “under assault from the very first day” of his presidency by a “fake news media” and “illegal witch hunt” that had tried to keep him and his supporters down.

And he painted a disturbing picture of what life would look like if he loses in 2020, accusing his critics of “un-American conduct” and telling the crowd that Democrats “want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”

“A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream,” he said, ripping “radical” and “unhinged” Democrats even as he made only passing mention of any of the men and women running to replace him.


First lady Melania Trump, President Donald Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and Karen Pence stand before the crowd at the campaign launch in Orlando. Pence, in his introductory speech, said ‘Time for Round 2.’ (John Raoux/Associated Press)

Two dozen Democrats are competing for their party’s nomination to face off against Trump in the November 2020 election. Many of the top Democrats lead Trump in opinion polls in many battleground states.

“Just think what this angry left-wing mob would do if they were in charge of this country,” Trump said. “Imagine if we had a Democrat president and a Democrat Congress in 2020. They would shut down your free speech, use the power of the law to punish their opponents.”

The apocalyptic language and finger-pointing made clear that Trump’s 2020 campaign will probably look a whole lot like his improbably successful run three years ago. While Trump’s campaign has tried to professionalize, with shiny office space and a large and growing staff, and despite two-and-a-half years occupying the Oval Office as America’s commander-in-chief, Trump nonetheless remained focused on energizing his base and offering himself as a political outsider running against Washington.

And he appeared eager for a rerun of 2016, spending considerable time focused on former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, whose name elicited “Lock her up!” chants, even though she is not on the ballot.

Trump aides scheduled the kickoff near the four-year anniversary of the day when the bombastic reality television star and New York tabloid fixture launched his long -shot campaign for president with a famous escalator ride in front of a crowd that included paid actors.


Trump arrived by escalator at Trump Tower to announce his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in New York June 16, 2015. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Trump spoke fondly of his 2016 run, calling it “a defining moment in American history.” And he said he had fundamentally upended Washington, staring down “a corrupt and broken political establishment” and restoring a government “of, for and by the people.”

Of course, Trump never really stopped running. He officially filed for re-election on January 20, 2017, the day of his inauguration, and held his first 2020 rally in February, 2017, in nearby Melbourne, Fla. He has continued holding his signature “Make America Great Again” rallies in the months since.

Trump is hoping to replicate the dynamics that allowed him to capture the Republican Party and then the presidency in 2016 as an insurgent intent on disrupting the status quo.

But any president is inherently an insider. Trump has worked in the White House for two-and-a-half years, travels the skies in Air Force One and changes the course of history with the stroke of a pen or the post of a tweet.

That populist clarion was a central theme of his maiden political adventure, as the businessman-turned-candidate successfully appealed to disaffected voters who felt left behind by economic dislocation and demographic shifts. And he has no intention of abandoning it, even if he is the face of the institutions he looks to disrupt.


Trump supporters hold flags and signs in support of Trump’s re-election bid. (Elias Funez/The Union/Associated Press)

Advisers believe that, in an age of extreme polarization, many Trump backers view their support for the president as part of their identity, one not easily shaken. They point to his seemingly unmovable support with his base supporters as evidence that, despite more than two years in office, he is still viewed the same way he was as a candidate: the bomb-throwing political rebel.

Trump tried to make the case that he had made good on his 2016 promises, including cracking down on illegal immigration and boosting jobs.

Near the end of the rally, Trump ran through a list of promises for a second term, pledging a new immigration system, new trade deals, a health-care overhaul and a cure for cancer and “many diseases,” including the eradication of AIDS in America.

Florida is considered a near-must-win state for Trump to hold onto the White House, and both parties have been mobilizing for a fierce and expensive battle in a state that Trump has visited as president more often than any other.

While Trump bested Clinton there in 2016, a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found Biden leading Trump 50 to 41 per cent, and Sanders besting him 48 to 42 per cent. 

Speaking after Trump’s event Tuesday night, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Trump’s rally was “an hour and a half speech of lies, distortions and total, absolute nonsense.”

The Vermont senator was the only candidate among the nearly two dozen Democrats seeking the presidency to offer a live rebuttal immediately following the speech. Former vice-president Joe Biden’s campaign released a statement nearly an hour before Trump was scheduled to speak.

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