DALLAS — President Donald Trump escaped the daily drumbeat of impeachment in Washington for friendlier turf in Texas where he assailed his political opponents and sought to give Republicans a boost in a state Democrats have in their sights for 2020.
Trump repeatedly called for the unmasking of the Ukraine whistleblower, whose complaint set off a series of events that led to the inquiry: "Who is the whistleblower? We have to know." He criticized the Intelligence Community's Inspector General who handled the whistleblower complaint: "Why does the IG allow a thing like this to happen to our country?" And repeated his assault on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "Crazy Nancy, she is crazy."
Back home, Trump faced another day of dizzying impeachment developments. His acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said in a White House briefing that Trump wanted to hold up military aid to Ukraine until the country agreed to probe a conspiracy involving the 2016 U.S election. Hours later though, after the claim confused and angered allies of the president, Mulvaney denied any connection between the two.
But Trump tried to turn the impeachment inquiry away from him and into a populist touchstone.
"They come after me, but what they are really doing is coming after the Republican Party and what they are really doing is coming after and fighting you," Trump said, accusing the Democrats of trying to overthrow the results of the 2016 election.
Trump touted the cease-fire agreement that the United States reached with Turkey earlier Thursday, temporarily suspending the Turkish invasion of northern Syria to allow the U.S.-allied Kurdish forces to retreat. Trump described his decision to pull troops from Syria, allowing the Turkish invasion, as an "unconventional" attempt at conflict resolution.
"I said, you’re going to have to let them fight for a little while," he said. "Like two kids in a lot, you gotta let them fight, then you pull them apart."
Trump’s Dallas mega-rally is his third of the past week, signaling a ramp-up in the fall schedule as 2020 inches closer. While the president won Texas by nine points in 2016, Democrats see an opening for the 38 electoral votes at stake after last year’s midterms. Republicans want to shore up support in reliably red northern Texas, particularly in the suburbs.
Most notably, Democratic leaders started labeling Texas a battleground after Ted Cruz only narrowly won his 2018 Senate race against then-Congressman Beto O'Rourke.
Trump has already visited the state five times this year, for both official and campaign events. Before the rally, Trump attended a fundraiser in Fort Worth and also toured the Louis Vuitton leather workshop in Johnson County.
And for the second time this year, O’Rourke, a Democratic presidential candidate, held a counter-rally nearby. The first dueling events took place in El Paso in February, when immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border took center stage. O’Rourke branded Thursday’s campaign gathering a “Rally Against Fear” and used it to highlight gun control, as he has done since the deadly shooting in his hometown in August.
Trump made a point of attacking O'Rourke, calling him "very dumb" and mocking his hand movements.
"Beto, in a few short weeks, got rid of guns and got rid of religion, those are not too good things in Texas to get rid of," Trump said.
The event was held in the home of the Dallas Mavericks, whose owner Mark Cuban is a fierce Trump critic. But Cuban said he had no issue taking the campaign's money for the evening at the American Airlines Center.
"Their money is green," Cuban told NBC News in an email. "We are glad to take it."