YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — President Donald Trump returned to this longtime Democratic stronghold on Tuesday night, sounding almost unchanged from the candidate who campaigned here last year, as he confidently doubled down on promises he has yet to keep.
In the Covelli Centre arena filled with still-believing fans, Trump promised a trillion dollar infrastructure bill, which so far is stalled in a long pipeline of legislation that must come before it. He vowed he was still going to build that wall, which currently has no source of funding. He said manufacturing jobs would come roaring back to Mahoning County, advising the Ohio crowd, “don’t sell your house. We’re going to get those values up.” Ohio’s unemployment rate increased to 5 percent in June, from 4.9 percent the previous month.
And even as he is actively splitting his own party and his own movement by publicly denigrating his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, Trump made a rousing call that “America must be united.”
But what was ostensibly the biggest good news of Trump’s day — the Senate vote to move ahead on repealing Obamacare — appeared in his speech only as an afterthought. It didn’t get more than a passing mention until the very end of Trump’s hour-long laundry list of a speech, during which he appeared more animated when he spoke about cracking down on undocumented immigration, sanctuary cities, and “radical Islamic terrorism” than when he touched on the legislative victory that puts him one step closer to fulfilling a campaign promise.
“Any Senator who votes against repeal and replace [is] telling America they are OK with the Obamacare nightmare, and I predict they’ll have a lot of problems,” warned the president, who through the process, senators said, has not immersed himself in the complicated details of the House or Senate bills.
Trump arrived in this struggling, blue collar city accompanied by a large entourage of family members, cabinet secretaries and staff. Counselor Kellyanne Conway and the new White House new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, were spotted in the crowd posing for selfies with fans.
Energy Sec. Rick Perry and Veterans Affairs Sec. David Shulkin watched the rally from the sidelines. Trump traveled on Air Force One with his chief of staff, Reince Priebus; Ohio native and White House staffer Omarosa Manigault and adviser Sebastian Gorka. Also traveling were two former campaign operatives, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, Trump loyalists who have been spending more time in the White House in recent weeks.
In Mahoning County, where the only local elected Republican official is the county auditor, Ralph Meacham, and where Republican Gov. John Kasich has publicly feuded with the president over healthcare, Trump was introduced at the rally by his son and daughter-in-law, Eric and Lara Trump.
“When you hear the word ‘Russia,’ keep something in mind,” Lara Trump told the crowd. “The same people touting the crazy Russia story are the ones who gave us the fake polls…who said there was no path to victory for Donald Trump.”
Trump’s speech — a retread of a campaign rally minus the mentions of Hillary Clinton — was punctuated with the regular Trump rally cheers of “CNN Sucks!” and “Build That Wall!” from the hyped up crowd, returning Trump to the good old days of the 2016 campaign trail, almost a year to the day after he clinched his party’s nomination.
“I’m here this evening to cut through the fake news filter and to speak straight to the American people,” he said, relishing the show of insulting protesters.
“He’s a young one, he’s going back home to mommy,” Trump said at one point as a young man was escorted out of the arena by security. “He’s in trouble. I bet his Mommy voted for us, right?”
At one point, Trump, who recently tweeted that he has “very little time for watching T.V.” admitted it was how he started his Tuesday. “So this morning, I’m watching Fox News,” he said, noting he was interested in an interview with a Democrat who voted for Trump. He apparently had his staff track that man down, and pulled him up on stage to celebrate him at the rally.
So far in his presidential rally schedule, Trump typically visits states that he won. But his visit Tuesday night to Ohio was slightly different. Trump lost Mahoning County, but only by 3 points — 50 percent to 47 percent — an incredible swing for a county that President Barack Obama carried by 27 points just four years earlier. His strong performance in a Democratic county of the state was due to his economic message from a businessman that resonated with white, working class voters fed up with their party and the status quo.
Many people in the crowd said they were lifelong Democrats who deserted their party for Trump — and they said they were willing to give him more time to fulfill the promises they got them on board, like protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“It’s only been six months,” said Camille Hancharenko, a retired former General Motors employee who said she was a Democrat for 60 years before getting on board with Trump. “I’ll give him four years, well, I want him in there eight years. As long as it takes.”
But a recent Gallup poll of Ohio voters overall showed more disapprove of his performance than approve, 48 to 47 percent.
If anyone who came out to show their support had concerns about their president, six months in, it was only stylistic.
“His methods may be maddening, but I think he’s the right guy,” said Dan Goffos, a native of Warren, Ohio. “He surprises me everytime he opens his mouth or touches a keypad. But he somehow seems to come out smelling like a roses.”
Trump, who didn’t bring up his frustrations with Sessions in his remarks, defended his style overall as part of his process.
“With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office,” he said. “It’s much easier by the way than act presidential than what we’re doing here tonight, believe me.”