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As the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump rapidly unfolds in Washington, the president is venting his frustration at campaign rallies where his attacks on House Democrats and the media are serving to further energize his supporters.
Trump, facing impeachment over allegations he improperly used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political enemies, is rousing his devotees on the road rather than hunkering down at home. He has derided the accusations as a "witch hunt."
While Trump has faced intense criticism in Washington over the Ukraine scandal and his abrupt pullout of U.S. troops from Syria, he has reveled in the rock-star reception he has received at rallies thousands of miles away in Minneapolis and Dallas.
Supporters echo the president's attacks on impeachment, House Democrats and what Trump calls the "swamp" of Washington, D.C. Like the president, they view impeachment as an illegitimate effort to take him down and defend his phone call with Ukraine's president in which he pushed for an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden, a top political rival. Impeachment, many said, will wind up re-electing Trump in 2020.
James Wilson, 47, a payroll manager in Rowlett who grabbed a front-row seat at Trump's rally in the Dallas sports arena Thursday, said impeachment was just another in a long line of attacks including special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
But he likened it to a "boomerang."
"Every time the other side throws something, it comes back and it hits them," Wilson said.
It will never stop, he said.
"The Democrats don't want him in," Wilson said. "They're going to do everything they can – legally and illegally – to get him out. But they're going to lose in 2020."
'The swamp is fighting back'
It's not just Democrats going after Trump, supporters said; it's also members of what the president calls "deep state" of the government bureaucracy.
"I think the swamp is fighting back and they're going down hard," said Mary Shea, 65, a retiree from Houston who waited for hours to get into the Dallas arena.
"I don't think he did anything that most other presidents haven't done," she said. "All presidents cut around the corners."
The impeachment inquiry centers on Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky, in which he repeatedly urged him to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of Burisma, an energy company in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.
Trump supporters slammed his accusers.
"That's a bunch of guilty people trying to keep their crooks covered up," said Naomi Hodgkins, 64, a semi-retired business consultant from nearby Mesquite, Texas, who wore a button that said "Trump 2020: No More Bullshit."
"They're doing a psychological transference of their guilt to him ... The Biden thing is going to go real deep."
Hodgkins' sentiment was echoed among the president's supporters hundreds of miles north in Minneapolis, where Trump held a rally on Oct. 10, his first campaign event since the impeachment inquiry was announced on Sept. 24.
Impeachment signs sailed above crowds outside the downtown arena, where protesters blew whistles and beat drums in the rain along Minneapolis' First Avenue. Dallas saw its own share of protesters thrusting similar impeachment signs into the air.
Meanwhile, his supporters flocked to rallies, lining up hours – and in some cases days – ahead of time to get in.
Barb Koy, a Bloomington, Minn., resident who attended Trump's Minneapolis rally, said the inquiry is "another game by the Democrats."
“Everybody is tired of it. I know people who voted blue and they’re voting red now because they’re sick of it,” she said. "I'd think even if you're a Democrat you'd be sick of it."
The Minneapolis rally came on the heels of a new Fox News poll that found 51% of voters supported impeaching Trump and removing him from office, the latest in a string of polls showing a plurality of Americans have shifted their attitude on impeachment.
Impeachment ad blitz
Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany dismissed the poll as inaccurate.
The campaign and the Republican National Committee are pushing back, spending $10 million on ads attacking the impeachment inquiry, with $8 million coming from the campaign itself, McEnany said.
Trump's schedule over the next few weeks has plenty of events that will take him out of Washington. He will attend a 2020 presidential candidate forum in Columbia, S.C. and a natural gas conference in Pittsburgh next week, and has rallies in Tupelo, Miss. and Lexington, Ky. at the beginning of November.
What Americans think: Nearly 3 weeks into the Trump impeachment inquiry, polls show a shift in public opinion
Not all Trump supporters were shrugging of the impeachment inquiry. Some worried it could cast a shadow over his re-election effort.
University of Minnesota student Blake Paulson, one of dozens who slept in a downtown Minneapolis skywalk ahead of Trump's rally, said he's concerned at how his classmates perceive the impeachment inquiry.
Paulson said students scrolling through social media are taking their cues from headlines that he believes are misleading.
"They see these headlines and think, 'Oh, he did something bad,' and that's what they go off of," said the 20-year-old, who will cast his first vote for Trump in 2020. "These are new voters who are going in with that shallow information and not thinking it through."
"I'm afraid of a lot that's happening next year," he added.
While several supporters in Minneapolis and Dallas said they expect the Democratic-led House to impeach Trump, they contend it would be political act with no meaning. They expressed confidence that Republican-dominated Senate would never vote to convict and remove Trump from office.
Caiden Anderson, 15, a high school sophomore from Alvin, Texas, and a volunteer at the Dallas event, said House Democrats' impeachment drive is "nothing."
"Even if they get it past the House, they won't get it in the Senate," Anderson said.
Wayland Hunter, a 24-year-old who didn't vote for Trump in 2016 and was attending his first rally in Minneapolis, dismissed the inquiry's legal implications.
"It's just an inquiry," the dental school student said. "It's not even like an official, drawn-out government procedure. It just seems like political staging."
Impeachment will only embolden voters, backers said – Trump voters like themselves.
Halona Porter, 45, who works in an auto parts store in Fort Worth, said Trump's enemies "need to give it up, because it's not going to happen."
After 2020, she said. "we're going to have him for another four years."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Impeachment fight energizes Trump fans at Dallas, Minneapolis rallies