Hurricane Michael, the third-strongest storm in U.S. history, was not powerful enough to keep President Trump off the campaign trail.
Hours after the Category 4 storm made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, wreaking havoc along the coastline before pushing north into Georgia, Trump traveled to Pennsylvania to tout his own accomplishments and bash his Democratic opponents.
“I’m thrilled to be here tonight in Erie, Pa., with thousands of loyal, hard-working and beautiful American patriots,” Trump said as he began his remarks, adding, “Before we begin, I want to send our thoughts and prayers of our entire nation to everyone in the path of Hurricane Michael, especially in the Florida Panhandle, where it’s hitting and hitting hard. It’s a big one.”
But after pledging that his administration’s hurricane relief effort “will be successful,” Trump lapsed back into full campaign mode, delivering a version of the same bombastic, combative speech he has used to hammer his political rivals in recent days.
Trump excoriated Democrats for what he sees as their poor treatment of his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, singling out Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. He aimed a passing blow at Hillary Clinton, accusing her, without evidence, of collusion with Russia in the 2016 presidential election. He recounted his election-night victory in states like Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Of course, no Trump rally would be complete without the president bashing the media.
“You know these folks will dispute us if we’re wrong [sic],” Trump said of the media assembled to cover the rally, eliciting boos from his crowd.
Except for the split-screen reality of a major hurricane leveling communities in Florida and Georgia as he spoke, Trump’s stump speech was par for the course. In Erie, he was stumping for Republican Rep. Mike Kelly and Senate candidate Lou Barletta.
An animated Kelly spoke with a fervor for the president that was notable even by the standards of those who Trump joins on the stump.
“The strongest personality,” Kelly boomed, touting Trump, “the strongest president we have seen in our lifetime!”
Wednesday marked the second Trump rally in support of Barletta’s bid to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. Barletta trails in the race by double digits.
Earlier in the day, Trump explained why he was going to Pennsylvania during one of the worst storms in American history. The first death from Michael was reported by wire services during the president’s speech.
Departing the @WhiteHouse for Erie, Pennsylvania. I cannot disappoint the thousands of people that are there – and the thousands that are going. I look forward to seeing everyone this evening.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2018
Under fire over his administration’s response in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria, Trump paid special attention to Hurricane Florence in September, and this week, as Michael gained steam, he hosted briefings with FEMA and Department of Homeland Security officials.
But Trump’s partisan, self-congratulatory remarks Wednesday also presented a political danger for the president as most of the nation watched the storm unfold. Even Fox News opted to carry storm coverage rather than Trump’s rally.
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