HERSHEY, Pa. (AP) — Donald Trump’s barnstorming tour across the states that won him the White House continues to feature far more taunts of triumph than notes of healing after a bruising election.
Thursday’s rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania, found the president-elect calling for the mostly white crowd to cheer for African-Americans who were “smart” to heed his message and therefore “didn’t come out to vote” for his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
“That was the big thing, so thank you to the African-American community,” Trump said.
He also edged closer Thursday to completing his Cabinet, announcing his choice for interior secretary: Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, who should fit smoothly into an administration favoring more energy drilling and less regulation.
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The president-elect — who also found time to hit Twitter, playing media critic and then stating anew his doubts about charges that Russia hackers tried to disrupt the U.S. election — boasted to the crowd in Pennsylvania that he captured a state that for many Republicans was “the bride that got away.”
“Everyone leaves Pennsylvania, Republicans, thinking they won Pennsylvania. And they never do. They just don’t win Pennsylvania,” said Trump.
Pennsylvania had not gone for a Republican candidate since 1988. But the Trump campaign staff long thought that the state, rich in white working-class voters, would be receptive to his populist message and not be part of Clinton’s hoped-for firewall.
Trump repeatedly campaigned there, drawing some of the largest and loudest crowds of the campaign. He won the state by less than 1 percentage point, giving him a vital 20 electoral college votes.
The evening rally in Hershey also featured a nearly 20-minute recap of Trump’s election night win with the crowd cheering as the president-elect slowly ticked off his victories state by state, mixing in rambling criticisms of incorrect pundits and politicians from both sides of the aisle.
Trump earlier praised Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, as having “built one of the strongest track records on championing regulatory relief, forest management, responsible energy development and public land issues.” Zinke, 55, was an early supporter of the president-elect and publicly expressed his interest in a Cabinet post when Trump visited Montana in May.
As with several other Cabinet selections, Zinke has advocated increased drilling and mining on public lands and has expressed skepticism about the urgency of climate change. House Speaker Paul Ryan praised the pick, saying Zinke “has been an ardent supporter of all-of-the-above energy policies and responsible land management.”
But his nomination could have a ripple effect on control of the Senate, since Zinke now may forgo what was once a near-certain challenge to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2018.
The president-elect also tapped attorney Daniel Friedman, his adviser on Israeli affairs, to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Friedman, in a statement, said he would help fulfill Trump’s promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Many Republican presidents have made a similar vow without success.
Trump also added to his national security team by announcing the appointments of retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg as chief of staff of the National Security Council and Monica Crowley, a Fox News analyst, as the organization’s director of communications. Kellogg spent more than 35 years in the Army and, in 2003, oversaw the efforts to form the new Iraqi military after it was disbanded. Crowley and Fox ended their relationship on Thursday.
Trump has two Cabinet selections yet to make though he also needs to fill out much of his White House staff. And he was busy on Twitter Thursday morning.
He again cast doubt on U.S. intelligence assertions about Russia election hacking, writing: “If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?”
That assertion is untrue. A month before the election, the Obama administration bluntly accused Russia of hacking American political sites and email accounts to interfere.
Trump has repeatedly said he’d like to improve ties with Russia, a hope that has been echoed in Moscow. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday lauded Trump’s Cabinet selections, and particularly Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, as people with no “anti-Russian stereotypes.”
The Kremlin has cheered Trump’s victory although some Russian officials have recently said they are not expecting relations between Russia and the U.S., which were battered after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, to improve overnight.
Trump also tweeted, “The media tries so hard to make my move to the White House, as it pertains to my business, so complex – when actually it isn’t!” His declaration came on the day he was supposed to hold a news conference, now postponed until January, to reveal how he plans to distance himself from his business. Aides said more time was needed to finalize the complicated arrangement.
AP Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report..
Reach Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire