Visiting Pennsylvania, Trump attacks Biden for ‘vicious, hateful and divisive’ speech
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Former President Donald Trump lashed out to President Joe Biden on Saturday night, saying the Democrat’s recent speech in Philadelphia was “the most vicious, hateful, and divisive speech ever delivered by an American president, defaming 75 million citizens.”
“He’s an enemy of the state,” Trump told a crowd of thousands. And he said Philadelphia was the right place for the speech, “because the city is devastated under Democratic rule.”
While the speech was billed as a rally to help top Pennsylvania GOP candidates Mehmet Oz for the Senate and State Senator Doug Mastriano for governor, Trump spent most of his two-day speech hours. expressing his old personal grievances and some new ones.
He briefly mentioned Oz and Mastriano, before immediately turning to his anger at Biden, and the recent FBI raid of his Mar-a-Lago home as they attempted to retrieve classified documents.
He called it “an evil and demented persecution of you and me.” It took about 80 minutes for Trump to get back to the GOP candidates on the ballot this year.
It was Trump’s first public response to Biden’s scathing condemnation on Thursday, when Biden threw Trump and “MAGA Republicans” as a threat to democracy, highlighting Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election and the January 6, 2021 riot he inspired.
After a presidency marked by its own style of slash and burn, calling on Democrats “sick” and “evil” (a characterization he repeated on Saturday, even complaining about Biden’s tone), Pressuring law enforcement to pursue rivals and be lenient with friends, Trump leveled those same accusations at Democrats on Saturday, calling them vicious.
“The danger to democracy comes from the radical left, not the right,” he said, as the crowd roared in approval. Trump then went on to lie about the 2020 election, calling it rigged despite that claim being refuted by law enforcement and his own aides.
The event was Trump’s first major campaign rally this year, and his first official public appearance since the FBI raid, conducted with a judge-approved warrant.
As Trump nodded to campaign arguments that Republicans hope to fuel their campaigns this fall – calling the election a “referendum on soaring inflation, rampant crime” and “corruption and extremism of Joe Biden and the Radical Democratic Party” – he was mostly focused on his own complaints.
During the first hour of his speech, he mainly denounced his two dismissals, the investigation into Russia, the result of the 2020 elections and Hillary Clinton, the Democrat he defeated six years ago. He complained about electric cars and wind turbines. He twice condemned the Senate’s top Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell, before moving on to Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate nominee, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.
Biden, a few days earlier, had badly excoriated Trump and his allies as a danger to American values. “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” Biden said at Independence Hall.
Trump arrived like the two main candidates he supported in Pennsylvania, Oz and Mastriano trail their Democratic rivals.
Pennsylvania’s races for Senate and governor are two of the nation’s top contests, and it could be credited for GOP victories — or blamed if its picks cost the party winnable races.
Trump’s rally too came in the middle of Biden swing of three events across the state. He was also in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday, in Philadelphia on Thursday and will return Monday for the Labor Day march in Pittsburgh.
READ MORE: Six takeaways from Biden’s Philly speech slamming MAGA Republicans
Days after Biden warned of the anarchic tilt of much of the GOP, the first part of the rally, and part of Trump’s speech, were imbued with sympathy for those arrested in the Jan. 6 riot.
Other Republicans also hit back at Biden’s speech.
“Biden insulted us, Biden put us down, Biden put us down,” said Jim Bognet, Republican candidate for the United States House in northeastern Pennsylvania. “A shameful and disgusting display of an American president.”
The series of events of current and former presidents, and potential 2024 rivals, highlighted the national issues of Pennsylvania racing this year, and how they could foreshadow the next presidential election, when the state will once again be a battleground leading.
Oz, whom Trump helped cross the finish line in a competitive GOP Senate primary, has struggled to shore up support from Republicans, after rivals sharply questioned his commitment to conservative values. He was even booed by part of the crowd at his last rally with Trump in May.
(U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who praised Mastriano and attacked Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate candidate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, did not mention Oz in her remarks.)
Oz won cheers from the crowd on Saturday and hammered Fetterman as soft on crime, while resembling many of his scripted lines from his main speech. “The only thing Joe Biden has rebuilt better is the Republican Party,” Oz said before Trump took the stage at Mohegan Sun Arena.
But Mastriano got a much stronger response – “Doug for Gov!” the crowd chanted as he took the stage – and channeled Trump with attacks on transgender women playing women’s sports, critical race theory and “illegals”.
“We the people are pissed off. I know I am,” he said, “especially after that ridiculous speech the other day.
Mastriano fell in love with the Trump wing of the party, but did little to expand its reach and struggled to raise the funds needed to advertise to a wider audience.
Prior to the speeches, Mastriano gave interviews to conservative news outlets, but when reporters from mainstream media approached, his helpers intervened. As Mastriano and his wife, Rebbie, chatted with Greene, a tall man in a blazer repeatedly moved from side to side to physically prevent a New York Times reporter from even witnessing the exchange.
More than an hour in his speech, Trump ultimately turned to the Pennsylvania races, saying Oz would be a “phenomenal” senator and hailing Mastriano as a “fearless warrior for Pennsylvania workers and Pennsylvania values.”
(At least some in the crowd still shouted that Oz is a “RINO,” or Republican in name only.)
When Trump attacked Fetterman, he made up a series of accusations about personal drug use and political positions he didn’t take while attacking his signature look, saying he dresses “like a teenager getting high in his parents’ basement”.
Hours before the event, vendors were selling Trump flags, t-shirts and stickers, and every other sort of merchandise imaginable. Gun owners for Trump. Bikers for Trump. Blacks for Trump. Latinos for Trump. “F— Biden. Trump is my president,” read some accessories.
But for GOP candidates, Trump’s footprint also carries risks. The former president is deeply unpopular in vote-rich areas like Philadelphia and its suburbs, and a spotlight on Trump in this fall’s election could divert attention from anemic approval ratings weighing on Biden.
The Democrats were delighted see Oz and Mastriano alongside Trump.
“Donald Trump wants Doug Mastriano to be the next governor of Pennsylvania for a reason: Doug will do anything to make sure Trump wins in 2024,” said a fundraising email from Mastriano’s Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “Doug and Trump agree to dismantle our very democracy.”
Fetterman used the event to hit back at weeks of Oz attacks on his record on crime. He pointed out that Oz joined an event with Mastriano, who was on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, and Trump, who incited the attack and called on Thursday for pardoning the riotersand apologize to them.
“Much like Oz’s medical advice, it’s clear that his claim to care about crime is crap,” Fetterman said in a statement.
Democrats have accused Oz of trying to distance himself from Trump after he embraced the former president’s endorsement in the GOP primary. Saturday’s rally, for example, was not advertised on the Oz campaign site. Instead, a Sept. 10 event with Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.) is billed as Oz’s “fall campaign kickoff.”
READ MORE: Biden and Trump both show love in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Here’s why.
Coming to Wilkes-Barre and Luzerne County, Trump returned to a region of strength. He helped overthrow a former Democrat stronghold, making northeastern Pennsylvania an emblem of its appeal to working-class white voters.
“I love him. It’s his whole personality. He speaks his mind,” Betsy Wormer, a Trump supporter from Selinsgrove, central Pennsylvania.
Wormer said she wasn’t very familiar with Mastriano or Oz – but Trump’s seal of approval was enough to guarantee her vote for both.
Merry Belle Hodges, a retired health care and school administrator, traveled to the event from Georgia, where she is still trying to decertify Biden’s 2020 victory.
“We have to move on, but we can’t pretend nothing happened,” she said.
Despite Trump’s popularity in northeastern Pennsylvania, he remains a battleground and the Democrats are trying to win it back. Shapiro swung across the region on Saturday.
During an event, he opened a campaign office on Biden Street in Scranton.