HAVELOCK, N.C. — Trying to prove his political clout by pushing a Republican to victory in a special election, President Donald Trump used a North Carolina rally on Monday to paint a bleak picture of a nation that he claimed would be overrun with crime, poverty and immigrants if Democrats seize power in Washington.
Trump, appearing at his first campaign rally in nearly a month, went on the offensive in an effort to change a series of late-summer negative headlines over his slipping poll numbers, warning signs of an economic slowdown and a running battle over hurricane forecasts. He urged the Fayetteville crowd to vote today for Republican Dan Bishop, brandishing his usual incendiary rhetoric to declare from the stage that “tomorrow is a chance to send a clear message to the America-hating left.”
While the stakes for the House are high, Trump’s trademark rallies inevitably become more about him than the local candidate, as he uses the stage to settle political scores, sharpen attacks and take on perceived foes. With an eye to his own reelection next fall, he touted his administration’s accomplishments but also urged voters to give him more time.
“That’s why we need four more years,” Trump said at the nearly 90-minute rally. “It’s got to seed — it’s a plant. It has to grow. It has to grow those roots. That’s why 2020 is just as important. Because they will try to take it away.”
Trump’s appearance Monday emerged as a test of the president’s pull with voters. The special election could offer clues about the mindset of Republicans in the suburbs, whose flight from the party fueled the GOP’s 2018 House election losses.
The president enjoys wide popularity within his own party, but a GOP defeat in a red-leaning state could, when combined with a wave of recent bad headlines, portend trouble for his reelection campaign. But before leaving Washington, Trump dismissed questions of whether a poor result for the Republican candidate would serve as a warning sign in next year’s elections.
“No, I don’t see it as a bellwether,” Trump said.
After a light rally schedule of late, the president had plenty of new material to work with.
Chief among them was the White House’s worries about the impact an economic downturn could have on a president who has made a strong economy his central argument for a second term. Trump advisers worry that moderate Republican and independent voters who have been willing to give him a pass on some of his incendiary policies and rhetoric would blame him — and, in particular, his trade war with China — for slowing down the economy.
Trump offered up a robust defense of the trade war with Beijing. He pushed for Congress to approve his new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal. And he exaggerated the number of miles constructed on his promised border wall.
Trump has increasingly turned to culture-war issues to rev up his core supporters.
He’s leveled harsh criticism at majority African American cities, such as Baltimore, and delivered repeated broadsides against four liberal Democratic congresswomen of color. Those attacks have been cheered by Trump’s advisers, who are bullish on running a campaign critical of Democrats they cast as socialist and unpatriotic.
Monday’s rally was held just over 100 miles from the site of a Trump rally in July where “send her back” chants aimed at a Somali-born American congresswoman rattled the Republican Party and seemed to presage an ugly reelection campaign.
The chant was not heard Monday.