President Donald Trump went to Ohio on Monday to promote Republicans’ once-in-a-generation rewrite of the tax code, but he used his meandering 47-minute speech there to air his ever-growing list of grievances.
In between testimonials from Ohioans about the benefits of the tax reform law, Trump went way off script, unleashing a series of complaints about Democrats’ chilly reaction to his recent State of the Union speech (“Can we call that treason? Why not?”), Hillary Clinton’s use of the term “deplorable” to describe his supporters in 2016 (“It was not a good day for her”), and his contention that U.S. officials within his own government are working against him (“We caught ‘em!”).
Throughout Monday’s remarks, Trump returned to an issue that aides say is almost always on his mind: the upcoming midterms.
“We got to do well in ‘18, and I know we’re going to do great in ‘20,” Trump said in the speech at Sheffer Corp. in Blue Ash, a suburb north of Cincinnati. “But I think we’re going to do well in ‘18. I think we’re going to do very well. They have gone left. They want to raise your taxes.”
Trump’s allies have been clamoring for weeks for the president to go on the road and sell the tax reform law, with some privately raising concerns that White House chief of staff John Kelly is trying to keep Trump in a bubble. Trump’s defenders strongly believe that the president is strongest when he’s unscripted, often arguing that his freewheeling campaign speeches helped propel him into the White House.
But his performance in Ohio on Monday quickly prompted eye rolling from some Republicans, who said the president made the speech more about himself than the tax law.
“He loses sight of the prize way too often,” complained one Republican lobbyist with close ties to GOP lawmakers.
The speech also underscored the potential pitfalls of relying on an economic message heading into the midterms. As Trump was speaking, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was tanking, with CNN and other networks cutting away from his live remarks to cover the tanking stock market.
Later in the speech, the president touched on the Republican-drafted memo that claims bias in the FBI after the bureau obtained and renewed surveillance warrants against a former Trump campaign adviser. The memo claims that requests for the warrants relied on a dossier compiled by a former British spy.
“Oh, but did we catch them in the act or what? You know what I’m — oh did we catch them in the act,” Trump said, not elaborating on who was caught. “They are very embarrassed. They never thought they were going to get caught. We caught ‘em! We caught ‘em. It’s so much fun. We’re like the great sleuth.”
Since the memo — which was written by Trump ally House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and others — was released on Friday, the president has said he has been “vindicated” in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible crimes by Trump associates and the president himself.
But Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, said over the weekend that Mueller should continue with his investigation and that the memo was not meant to discredit his work.
In his Monday speech, Trump went on to hit Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) for voting against the tax bill, and also criticized Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader.
“Nancy Pelosi, what she’s doing to this country, and she’s gone so far left and [Sen. Chuck] Schumer has gone so far left,” the president said. “Oh, I look forward to running against them.”
“She’s our secret weapon, I just hope they don’t change her.” he said of Pelosi. “I’m supposed to make a deal with her?”
Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), who is now running for Senate, accompanied the president on Air Force One and spoke briefly at Trump’s appearance.
Trump urged him on: “Jim, get in there and fight. Get in there and fight. We need you. We need you.”
The speech capped a day that started with five rapid-fire Monday morning tweets laying out exactly what was on Trump’s mind after returning from a weekend at Mar-a-Lago, his private Florida club.
His burst of Twitter activity included an erroneous claim that “thousands of people are marching in the UK because their [universal healthcare] system is going broke and not working” (in fact, they were marching in support of the country’s National Health Service), as well as an assertion, without evidence, that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, “is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.”
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