President rips Dems, avoids naming ‘Squad’
CINCINNATI – President Donald Trump blasted the Democratic leadership of American cities and continued his attack on Baltimore specifically during a rally in Ohio on Thursday that was more subdued and less personal than other recent campaign events.
It was a sharp break with his rally last month in Greenville, N.C., in which the president lit into members of Congress by name and paused his speech as the crowd taunted a Somali-born congresswoman, Rep. Ilhan Omar, with chants of “send her back.”
Minutes into the closely watched rally in Cincinnati, Trump referred to the four progressive congresswomen of color, including Omar, though he didn’t mention them by name. The president’s suggestion that the women return to the countries “from which they came” thrust the issue of race and racism into the 2020 election.
“The rage-filled Democratic Party is trying to tear America apart,” Trump told the audience, eliciting jeers from some but not chants.
“The Democrat Party is now being led by four left-wing extremists who reject everything that we hold dear,” he said.
Trump began the controversy last month by tweeting that the members of the “Squad” should “go back” to where they came from. In addition to Omar, the group includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All four are outspoken critics of Trump and are U.S. citizens. All but Omar were born in the United States.
Hours before Trump took the stage in Cincinnati, Omar tweeted two photographs of herself with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Ghana. The two are traveling in Africa with other members of Congress.
“They said ‘send her back’ but Speaker @SpeakerPelosi didn’t just make arrangements to send me back, she went back with me,” Omar tweeted.
At the Cincinnati rally, the president continued his criticism of “inner cities,” arguing Democratic local leaders spend “billions and billions” of federal dollars, calling it “stolen money.” It was a continuation of criticism aimed at Rep. Elijah Cummings, who is black, and his Baltimore-based congressional district, which Trump described as a “rat and rodent infested mess.” Cities receive federal money through awards or by formula.
Trump also leaned into Baltimore’s murder rate, claiming it is higher than that of Central American countries or Afghanistan. There were 309 murders in Baltimore last year, according to The Baltimore Sun in a city of just over 600,000 people.
After the broadsides aimed at Baltimore, Trump returned to a standard stump speech focused heavily on the economy and his accomplishments. Cable news networks, which carried the beginning of the rally, switched to other programming. The announced retirement of Texas Rep. Will Hurd, the only black Republican in the House, overshadowed much of Trump’s rally on social media.
“I don’t want to be controversial,” the president told the audience early in the rally. “We want no controversy.”
He got none. Unlike during his rally in Greenville, Trump declined to name the Democrats at the center of his recent controversies. The crowd did not repeat the “send her back” taunt and instead stuck with the more benign “USA!” and “Drain the Swamp!”
Trump rally crowd
Trump had to stop his rally twice in the early moments for protesters. While that is not uncommon, the president was forced to pause for longer than usual for the first interruption. The pause in his remarks was caused as the crowd tussled with at least one person holding a banner that read “Immigrants built America.”
“Cincinnati, do you have a Democrat mayor?” Trump asked sarcastically as he resumed.
Reva Edwards, 46, who voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016, said that the president has lived up to his promises and deserves four more years in the White House.
“The economy – everything is stronger since he became president,” said Edwards, a suburban Cincinnati resident who was among the crowd who showed up early to snag a good spot at U.S. Bank Arena.
Edwards said suggestions that Trump’s comments were racist are ridiculous.
“Look at your streets, Elijah Cummings, look at your neighborhoods,” Edwards said. “He doesn’t care about his people. Cummings, Ilhan Omar, the others – they are the ones who are racists.”
Donald Trump Jr., who warmed up the crowd before his father took the stage, complained that the news media has downplayed how a booming economy under Trump has benefited black and brown communities.
“African American unemployment, all-time lows. Hispanic American unemployment, all-time low,” Trump Jr. said. “What do we get for it? Ninety-four percent negative news coverage.”
Harold Sellars, 50, of Green Township, Ohio, expressed frustration with Democrats for “race-baiting and name-calling.”
“They point the finger at Trump and everything he says and tweets: It’s race, race, race,” said Sellars, who was attending his first rally. “You go and look back at their old tweets and interviews and they’re saying very similar things.”
His wife Ashley Sellars, 33, said Trump is being labeled a racist for stating the obvious.
“He’s pointing out facts,” said Sellars, a manager at a family-owned pizza restaurant. She swapped shifts with a colleague so she could attend the rally.
“In Baltimore, things are torn down, buildings are boarded up. He just pointed it out. All of a sudden it’s a big issue? By (Trump) saying something, maybe now something will get done.”
Last rally: ‘It’s breaking my heart’: Greenville, NC, wrestles with Trump’s rally
City reaction: Cincinnati residents brace for Trump rally following ‘racist’ comments
More: ‘Trump says he hopes Cincinnati rally crowd doesn’t revive ‘send her back’ chant
The rally gave the president an opportunity to reclaim the news cycle after two nights of debates featuring the Democratic presidential candidates. Trump criticized the candidates briefly, saying the debates made for “long, long television.”
Trump avoids race
Trump’s visit to Ohio’s third-largest city, one with a long history of racial tension, marks his twelfth visit to the state since his inauguration. He last held a rally in Ohio in November as a part of a swing of campaign travel in the last hours before the midterm.
The city has endured several racially fraught moments over the last two decades, and the jailing of a black judge last week again sparked outcry in the black community.
Black politicians, activists and community leaders held protests in the city to voice their anger over the jailing of former Judge Tracie Hunter, the county’s first African American juvenile court judge.
In 2001, Cincinnati suffered more than $3.6 million in property damage after riots broke out following the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas by a white police officer, Stephen Roach.
The department undertook several reforms since 2001 and its changes were praised by a task force created by then-Gov. John Kasich. A 2018 report issued by a group convened by the city determined the agency still could do better.
Trump mentioned none of that.
Minutes before Trump took the stage at the U.S. Bank Arena, a small group of African-American attendees stood in their seats and held up white t-shirts with black lettering that read: Trump and Supporters are not racist.
The crowd greeted them with an approving roar.