MILWAUKEE — President Donald Trump weighed in Tuesday night on the feud between Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., telling supporters at a campaign rally here that he did not believe that Sanders had said that a woman could not win the 2020 presidential election.
“I don’t believe that he said this,” Trump said, referring to reports that during a private conversation in 2018 Sanders told Warren he did not think a woman could win in 2020 — a statement the Sanders campaign has denied.
“I don’t know him, I don’t particularly like him, he’s a nasty guy,” Trump continued, while defending Sanders and arguing “it’s just not the kind of a thing he’d say.”
Trump rallied the crowd here in Wisconsin Tuesday night as Democrats took the stage in neighboring Iowa for the last primary debate before the Hawkeye State holds their first in the nation caucuses Feb. 3, when the party hopes to bring some clarity to the muddled candidate field.
Though President Trump has often reserved his most stinging attacks for Democrats like former Vice President Joe Biden and Warren, he again devoted more attention to another top-polling presidential candidate: Sanders.
“By the way, Bernie is surging,” Trump warned rallygoers.
Trump also dedicated a significant portion of his roughly 90-minute speech to foreign policy, highlighting a subject where Sanders skews further to the left than other progressives such as Warren, and one that has become front and center in the presidential campaign after the death of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. airstrike this month.
“The Democrats are outraged that we killed this terrorist monster,” Trump said, referring to Soleimani. “And the Democrats should be outraged by Soleimani's evil crimes. Not the decision to end his wretched life. They're saying, ‘Oh, he was a general, he was this, he was that.'”
“Now here's the story with the Democrats: If I didn't kill him, and let's say we lost three, four, five embassies or bases, or thousands of people, or hundreds of people, or two people were killed, they would have said, ‘Trump should've taken him out.’"
The president has been criticized by Democrats for authorizing the attack against Soleimani and escalating tensions with Iran, risking drawing the U.S. closer to another conflict in the Middle East.
Trump has insisted that killing Soleimani was necessary due to an "imminent" threat against Americans, though that explanation has shifted several times, and senior administration officials have said Trump authorized the attack seven months ago.
“Does the fact that he has killed hundreds of thousands of people and thousands of Americans and horribly killed and wounded thousands and thousands — that doesn't matter. ‘Was the attack imminent?’” Trump asked rhetorically. “I think they are going to start a new investigation.”
Trump also sought to remind his base what was at stake this election cycle as his impending impeachment trial looms over him in Washington, threatening to distract from his re-election efforts. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced Tuesday that the trial would likely begin next week.
“I don't know if you know it, the impeachment hoax, it's a total hoax,” Trump said, reminding his supporters of the importance of Republicans holding the Senate in 2020 and winning back the House.
Wisconsin has been viewed as critical to Trump’s re-election. He won the state in 2016 by less than 1 percentage point, earning roughly 22,748 more votes than Hillary Clinton, making him the first Republican to carry the state since 1984.
But Democrats, aware that Wisconsin could ultimately decide who wins the next election, have been investing heavily in the state. They flipped the governor’s seat in 2018 and chose Milwaukee to host their 2020 nominating convention in an arena just around the corner from where Trump spoke Tuesday night.
Still, Wisconsin remains deeply divided.
A poll from Marquette Law School conducted in December after the conclusion of the public testimony in the House impeachment inquiry found that 40 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin thought Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 52 percent disagreed. The disagreement split along party lines.
Polls also show a tight general election matchup between Trump and the leading 2020 Democratic candidates. In the Marquette Law School poll, former Vice President Joe Biden beat Trump by 1 percentage point, 47 to 46 percent, with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg trailing the president by 1 to 2 points, well within the margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.