GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — President Donald Trump boasted of a strong economy and criticized his Democratic presidential opponents Saturday night as he rallied supporters with familiar themes.
Trump pointed to the economy’s 3.2% growth in the first quarter before drawing even more applause by citing gains in employment and reductions in family poverty in Wisconsin. The state helped propel Trump’s 2016 victory, and Democrats are focused on reclaiming its electoral votes in 2020.
Turning to presidential politics, the president had a suggestion for members of the Democratic Party.
“They should change that to the Radical Left Democrat Party,” he told a crowd that nearly filled the 10,500-seat Risch Center in Green Bay. “It’s crazy what’s going on with them. Oh, do I look forward to running against them.”
It was a signal that what the president and Republicans have been saying about Democrats for months could be a lasting part of his reelection campaign story. Trump, who loves branding opponents, pointed to the Green New Deal, abortion rights policy and the self-described socialism of prominent Democrats to paint the whole party as radical.
In contrast, he said, “The Republican Party is the party of all Americans. And common sense,” he said, eliciting cheers and chants of “USA!”
Trump also referenced his nicknames for two of the leading Democratic presidential contenders — “Sleepy Joe” Biden and “Crazy Bernie” Sanders — and predicted that Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy was already over.
Turning to his nickname for Warren, a critic of Trump and a frequent target of the president, Trump said: “I think Pocahontas, she’s finished, she’s out.”
Trump warned his supporters that Democrats would take away their guns, promised anew to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and pledged to come up with a plan for health care after the next election.
Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had shared their love of golf with a quick round on the president’s course in Northern Virginia earlier in the day. No announcement of concrete advances in U.S.-Japan trade relations followed the meeting, though Trump told his rally audience that Japan was investing $40 billion in the American auto industry.
Trump scheduled the mid-evening rally at the same time members of the White House Correspondents’ Association gathered for their annual dinner. He refused the association’s invitation for the third straight time, a break from past practice by the president.
“Is there any place that’s more fun than a Trump rally?” he asked, having assured them there was no one he’d rather be with.
In Washington, Olivier Knox, the association’s president, voiced concerns about Trump’s attacks on the press. He said he’s received death threats, including one this week, and that he’s had to warn his family not to touch packages on the stoop.
“It shouldn’t need to be said in a room full of people who understand the power of words that ‘fake news’ and ‘enemies of the people’ are not pet names, punchlines or presidential,” Knox said.
Historian Ron Chernow, the dinner’s featured speaker, said the Founding Fathers had severe differences with the press and came under vicious criticism on occasion. He said President George Washington felt maligned and misunderstood by the press but never generalized that into a vendetta.
“Relations between presidents and the press are inevitably tough, almost always adversarial, but they don’t need to be steeped in venom,” Chernow said.
Also skipping the correspondents’ dinner to attend the rally was press secretary Sarah Sanders. In rare public praise for his chief spokeswoman, Trump called Sanders to the stage to say a few words.
“I’m so proud to work for the president,” Sanders said, and noted that she received a very different reception during the event she attended last year — the correspondents’ dinner in which the evening’s comedian lampooned her.
Trump joked that Sanders “is becoming too popular,” then riffed on his signature reality TV line. “I’m telling you, Sarah, you’re fired!” The crowd chuckled.
The president opened the rally on a somber note, offering his condolences for the victims of a synagogue shooting near San Diego. He said America stands with the victims, denounced anti-Semitism and praised the law enforcement response.
“Our entire nation mourns the loss of life, prays for the wounded and stands in solidary with the Jewish community,” he said.
Trump singled out an off-duty Border Patrol agent who fired back at the suspected shooter. The agent, who was not identified, was working as a security guard at the synagogue. He fired as the suspect fled but only hit his car.
The agent “helped disrupt the attack and saved so many lives,” Trump said.
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.