After the president gave a 90-second tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday after a long battle with cancer, the president moved on to what the crowd clearly wanted to hear.
Trump even seemed taken aback, and pleased, by the crowd repeatedly cheering “Fill that seat!” about 24 hours after the death of the justice. He said he would have his campaign team make T-shirts.
“That’s what we are going to do. We’re going to fill that seat,” Trump said.
But after he vowed to replace Ginsburg with a woman — and to do it next week — he took two polls, which he described jokingly as “very scientific” about whether he should pick a woman or a man. For minutes he talked about the issue before veering off to other topics. He then predicted that the news media would attack him for surveying the crowd.
“Thom Tillis said yes,” he said of picking a woman, referring to an offstage conversation he had with the state’s junior Republican senator, who is in a tough reelection battle.
Picking a woman got far more chants than picking a man — which pleased the president.
“That’s a very accurate poll because that’s the way I feel,” he said. “I actually like women much more than I like men. I have to say.”
The raucous nature of the rally stood in contrast to the vigil held for Ginsburg in Washington by the legions of the liberal justice’s fans.
Mourners began arriving at the high court soon after news of her death came Friday evening, growing to a crowd of more than 1,000 who cried, sang and occasionally applauded. On Saturday, as the sun rose, dozens of people stood in silence as a flag flew half-staff.
And they kept coming by the hundreds. Bouquets, signs and chalk messages honoring Ginsburg multiplied by the minute. Joggers stopped mid-run, bikers paused and rested on their handlebars, and mothers from across the D.C. region brought their daughters to pay tribute to the pioneering liberal lawyer and advocate for equality.
“I wanted to be a lawyer but wasn’t sure I could do it,” said Blake Rogers, 13, who let a single tear fall down her face after positioning flowers Saturday morning. “And then I heard Justice Ginsburg speak, and she showed me that I could do it, that women and girls can do anything.”
While Trump made the effort to honor this sentiment at the beginning of his rally Saturday night, the ebullience over the chance to reshape the court through Ginsburg’s replacement was unmistakable.
“Twenty-nine times a vacancy opened during an election year or prior to an inauguration,” the president said to cheers. “Every single time, the sitting president made a nomination.”
Trump did not lash out at Republican senators who said they would not vote for a nominee this year but signaled his displeasure. Two so far, Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), have said they would not. “We have some senators — you know, oh forget it,” he said while dramatically trailing off. “Think of it.”
“I won’t say it Susan. I won’t say it Susan,” he said, alluding to Collins, who said she opposes voting for a high court nominee this election year.
Trump said he realized that the 2016 election and even the 2018 midterm elections were about the Supreme Court, while repeatedly reminding the crowd that he was not on the ballot in 2018.
“There’s a lot of time. You’re talking about January 20, right?,” Trump said.
Much of the evening was a meandering speech about the president’s news coverage, the 2016 election, the Democratic primaries, his Nobel Prize nomination, Biden’s campaign, his polling in certain states and a litany of other topics. On several occasions, he reenacted the TV coverage he saw of himself and even predicted how his rally would be covered. “We’re winning by about 400 points,” he said of South Carolina, which is not a swing state.
The crowd seemed to lose interest at times. By 8:15 p.m., hordes were filing out of the venue, which Trump deemed a “peaceful protest against stupidity.”
Among the topics discussed by Trump: His relationship with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg; the journalist Bob Woodward; his Nobel Peace Prize nomination and that it was not being covered on TV; Lester Holt of NBC’s ratings; Hunter Biden; forest management; the Fox News hosts that he likes; the pro-Trump network One America News; Middle East wars; the embassy in Jerusalem and the type of stone of which it’s built; the Space Force; polls in South Carolina, Maine and other states; U.S. ventilator production; whether the “fake news” media accurately reports his mood when he wakes up in the morning; New York real estate; “leakers”; expensive aircraft carriers with electric catapults that are overpriced; elevators that are operated by magnets that don’t work; the price of Air Force One and how he negotiated it; Rush Limbaugh and his radio show; and the Medal of Honor and far more.
Rallygoers seemed confused at times at the president’s analysis of the 2016 election and the 2020 primaries and was often silent as he rambled in his trademark rally style.
At minute 86, he quickly veered from a discussion on forest fire management to China.
A bit later, Trump acted out a conversation he had with Abe.
“I know Shinzo, I need some car companies,” Trump said. “Shinzo, you have to do it.”
Trump said states imposing coronavirus pandemic restrictions would reopen as soon as the election ended and were only staying closed because they wanted him to lose. He did not mention the nearly 200,000 Americans who have died of the coronavirus. He barely focused on the pandemic, other than bragging about his production of ventilators and saying the country was not going to have more lockdowns and was “rounding the corner.”
Democrats, he said, don’t want a vaccine so Biden can win. “He doesn’t even know what a vaccine is,” Trump said, trying to paint this rival as senile.
“I got a debate coming up with this guy. They give him a big fat shot in the ass, and he comes out, and for two hours, he’s better than ever before,” Trump said, repeating his unfounded charge that Biden is using performance enhancing drugs like a baseball slugger or a cycling champion.
Trump focused some on his second-term agenda but seemed most animated by the past and television coverage. He took glee in abandoning his prepared remarks, telling the crowd they were lucky to have a president who did not follow a teleprompter.
He rattled off a string of insults.
“This is not an Indian,” he said of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a onetime presidential candidate who said she had Native American heritage. “She choked.”
“De Blasio, he doesn’t have a clue,” Trump said of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D).
He occasionally veered back to the Supreme Court or other issues, such as law and order, or to make apocalyptic attacks on the Democrats. Those remarks seemed to be on the teleprompter.
“There will be no oil. There will be no God. There will be no guns,” Trump said, if Democrats won the election, but soon moved on again.
Trump repeatedly insinuated that Biden could not form a complete sentence — an offensive attack that would be out of bounds in pre-Trump presidential elections.
Trump highlighted that a woman in the crowd shouted out that “He has no idea where he is,” of Biden. “I would never say it,” Trump said, jokingly. “He’s not smart. They keep him from talking.”
The spine of the evening’s speech, however, focused on his news media coverage, and the “fakers,” as he deemed the media.
He mused about the TV ratings of various networks, mocking Holt for being second in ratings. He bragged that he had caused the network a “PR problem” with his criticism and that one of his greatest achievements was convincing Americans not to trust the media.
“We have leakers all over this place,” Trump said.
The president gave a long jeremiad about the fake news media — commenting on hosts that he likes, such as Limbaugh and Fox News personalities Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham — but decrying others. “Barack Hussein Obama!” Trump said emphatically on several occasions, saying he was doing an impression of Limbaugh.
“They are the enemy of the people,” Trump said.
He then praised the pro-Trump One American News before complaining about Fox News.
“We like it to be on a lot,” Trump said of the TV in the White House.
He repeatedly told the crowd about his nomination of the Nobel Peace Prize and said he was disappointed that he turned on the TV with first lady Melania Trump and could not find coverage of the prize. He said he watched several nights, and six different segments on the nightly news, but could not find coverage.
Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, who recently wrote a book was “shot,” he said, but added he was smarter than Joe Biden. Trump conceded, though, that he was impressed that Woodward had been on TV all week — talking about Trump.
Emily Davies, Clarence Williams and Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.