GREENVILLE — President Donald Trump continued his feud with four progressive congresswomen while drawing a stark contrast between himself and his Democratic detractors Wednesday evening.
Trump faced condemnation for a weekend tweet blasting Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, writing that the lawmakers should “go back where they came from.” Critics have called the statement racist and xenophobic, noting that all four representatives are women of color.
The president has since refined his message to “love it or leave it,” broadening the call to anyone who he feels dislikes the United States.
“If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it,” he told a capacity crowd at East Carolina University’s Minges Arena. “That was so controversial. I’m just saying it’s their choice. They can come back if they want. But they don’t love our country. I think in some cases, they hate our country.”
Trump addressed each congresswoman in turn, and supporters reacted strongly when he recounted Omar’s flippant description of the 9/11 attacks – “some people did something” – and accused Omar of seeking compassion for recruits of the Islamic State terror group.
Audience members yelled “Traitor!” and “Treason!” before a chant of “Send her back” rose from the crowd.
‘America is winning again’
Trump touted the nation’s high-octane economy, citing near-record low unemployment rates and millions of new jobs created since he took office. He said 180,000 jobs have been added in North Carolina.
“The Democratic agenda: Anti-worker, anti-jobs, anti-family, anti-citizen and anti-common sense,” Trump said, adding he’s grateful for the Democrats who voted for him in 2016. “The Republican agenda is pro-worker, pro-jobs, pro-growth and 100 percent pro-American.”
Making his case for re-election, the president said the United States is seen internationally as a stronger nation.
“America is winning again. America is respected again because we are finally putting Americans first,” Trump said. “Our economic policy can be summed up in three words: Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Noticing a large number of “Women for Trump” signs in the crowd, the president noted that women filled 60 percent of the jobs created within the last year.
Trump recapped his historic 2016 election victory and said he is proud to run on his record. He said his accomplishments come despite former special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year probe of Russian election interference, which he called a witch hunt. He also used a vulgarity commonly abbreviated as BS to describe the investigation.
“To be honest with you, I think we’ve done more in 2 1/2 years than any president ever,” he said, later adding, “Nobody in their first 2 1/2 years has done anywhere close to what we, not me, has done.”
Lashing out at Ocasio-Cortez and others who have described detention centers for immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border as concentration camps, Trump said Congress has refused overtures to reform immigration policy.
“To be honest, we want to take care of people,” he said. “We’ve got to straighten out our immigration laws. In a very short time, if the Democrats would give us a few votes, we could solve the immigration problem.”
Trump chided Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden, who he’s nicknamed Sleepy Joe, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who he calls Pocahontas. He also threw barbs at Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor who continues to be competitive in a crowded primary field.
“He runs a failed city,” Trump said. “If that’s a hot young star, I guess I just don’t know stardom anymore.”
The president welcomed state and local dignitaries including Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, State Treasurer Dale Folwell, Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly, N.C. Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley, Sen. Thom Tillis and Reps. Mark Walker and Richard Hudson.
Vice President Mike Pence introduced Trump and called on the enthusiastic audience to ensure the president wins a second term in November 2020.
“Jobs are back. Confidence is back. In a word, North Carolina, America is back,” Pence said. “To keep America great, we have to re-elect the president who’s fighting for you every day. The choice in this election couldn’t be clearer, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.”
About 90 minutes before Trump was scheduled to take the podium, an opening ceremony featured a prayer, the singing of the national anthem and brief remarks from state House Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne; Republican 3rd Congressional District candidate Greg Murphy; and the president’s daughter-in-law, North Carolina native Lara Trump.
‘A man of conviction’
Supporters began packing the Minges Coliseum hours before the rally. Rep. Larry Yarborough, who represents Person County in the state House of Representatives, was among those on hand for Wednesday’s event.
“The speech was very uplifting. He mostly talked about the things they’ve accomplished. People waited in line all day to get in there. They were fired up. On the national news, all they want to talk about was one chant that happened for a few seconds, but there were a lot of chants like ‘make America great again and ‘four more years,’” Yarborough said.
One of Trump’s 2020 campaign slogans is “Promises Made, Promises Kept” – a chant raised during Wednesday’s rally. Jackie Cappock, of Tarboro, said the president has remained true to the pledges he made when seeking office in 2016.
“He is building the wall,” she said. “He’s trying to keep the illegals from coming in here, and he’s fighting Congress every step of the way to protect us and he’s not taking any money for it.”
As for Trump’s often controversial tweets, Cappock said the medium allows him to reach constituents without the media distorting his message. She called the nation’s major broadcast networks “sorry rascals” and “fake news.”
The only way he’s going to get it out correctly is on Twitter,” she said. “I agree with him – tell it all. Otherwise we won’t get the true story.”
Yarborough said Trump proved popular with those he saw at the event. “Minges was full all the way up to the rafters. The seats on the court would full. There were big TV screens outside where people who couldn’t get in could watch. I know people were in line for hours waiting to get in,” Yarborough said.
Matt Punch, a business owner who lives in Fort Mill, South Carolina, was glad to make the five-hour drive to Greenville in order to hear Trump speak.
“Our president is a man of conviction,” Punch said. “He’s a man of truth who’s guiding us on a path of world peace, whether people want to see it or not.”
A quintet of fellow South Carolinians wearing matching T-shirts emblazoned with a red, white and blue high heel and the message “I’m a Trump Girl,” also made the trip. The Trump Girls attend rallies throughout the country, member Robin Holley of Myrtle Beach said.
“We were just in Miami and helped him raise $24 million in one day, and now we’re here to show our support,” Holley explained. “I’m confident, but I’m not going to rest on wants. I want everybody to go out and vote.”
Listing the reasons she supports Trump, Holley concluded with a rebuke of the claim that his tweet about the Democratic congresswomen revealed racial or ethnic bias.
“He has helped us with jobs, he’s helped me with my businesses, he’s helped us unite – and he’s not racist,” Holley said.
Courier-Times editor Johnny Whitfield contributed to this report.