At post-debate rally, Trump seems to dial back attacks on 'the squad'

At an Ohio campaign event on Thursday following two nights of Democratic debates, Trump revived plenty of familiar attacks — and appeared to give short shrift to others.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally at U.S. Bank Arena, in Cincinnati on Thursday.John Minchillo / AP

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By Shannon Pettypiece

CINCINNATI — President Donald Trump went after windmills, Robert Mueller and Joe Biden at a campaign rally Thursday night in Cincinnati.

But one group was mostly missing from his diatribe — the members of Congress at whom he's been lobbing racist attacks in recent weeks.

While Trump blamed Democrats for the problems of inner cities, there was no mention of Rep. Elijah Cummings, despite repeated Twitter attacks over the past week that many viewed as racist. And the president made only a passing jab at the four congresswomen known as "the squad," who he had said last month should go back to the "crime infested" countries they came from.

Trump, never one to back down from a fight, has defended his comments. But after weeks of being called a racist, he mostly avoided repeating the attacks that have fueled some of the loudest criticism of his presidency, including from several members of his own party.

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As Trump was speaking, Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, the only black Republican in the House, shocked Washington by announcing he will not seek re-election. Hurd was one of only four members of Congress who voted last month for a resolution condemning Trump's racist comments.

Without acknowledging that criticism, Trump looked to defend his record on race Thursday, again citing a criminal justice reform bill he signed and improvements in the economy that he said have benefited African Americans.

While his support among black voters has hovered in the teens in recent polls, and his rally crowds are overwhelmingly white, his campaign had been hoping to pick up some ground with black voters, particularly in swing states like Michigan, where the election could once again come down to a few thousand votes.

While Trump mostly sidestepped issues of race on stage, the issue was apparent off it. Before the rally began, a group of about a dozen black audience members stood up holding T-shirts that said "Trump and Republicans are not racist," sparking cheers from the audience.

Trump was widely criticized following his last rally in Greenville, North Carolina, on July 17 for not intervening when the crowd began chanting "send her back!" at the mention of one member of "the squad," Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. — who became a U.S. citizen after migrating from Somalia as a child.

The president later tried to distance himself from the chants, but he declined to say when leaving the White House for Thursday's rally whether he would stop the crowd if the chant broke out again.

"If they do the chant, we'll have to see what happens," Trump said. "I don't know that you can stop people."

Trump instead focused his rhetorical fire on some of his other favorite targets, using familiar language.

He called former special counsel Robert Mueller "sharp as a tack," mocking his congressional testimony, and again slammed windmills, saying they are noisy, kill birds and decrease housing values. He revived his mocking nickname of "Pocahontas" for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a reference to her contentious claims of Native American heritage, and repeatedly called former Vice President Joe Biden "sleepy," saying the Democratic front-runner had "no clue what he is doing" and would sign anything put in front of him as president.

Still, after two nights of Democratic debates, Trump had little new material about his presidential rivals beyond his standard criticisms.