WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — President Trump bragged about his economic and diplomatic accomplishments and savaged the media during a raucous rally Saturday before thousands of supporters in a state that is critical to his reelection hopes.
The campaign-style event held at the Total Sports Park was billed as counterprogramming to the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in the nation’s capital, which the president skipped for the second consecutive year.
“You may have heard I was invited to another event tonight,” the president told a crowd that began gathering under cloudy skies hours before the scheduled 7 p.m. kickoff. “I’d much rather be in Washington, Mich., than Washington, D.C.”
The president treated the crowd, dotted with the familiar “Make America Great Again” hats, to his customary litany of immigration complaints, gibes at prominent Democrats including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and boasts about purchases of “brand-new” military equipment.
The president also complained that the media had not given him sufficient credit for making possible Friday’s meeting between leaders of the two Koreas, saying he had “everything” to do with it.
He also predicted that he would achieve the “all-time record” for appointing conservative judges and boasted that his tax and economic policies were working.
“Let me tell you: Our country is doing great,” he said.
Trump conceded that the stock market, which peaked in January and has gone sideways since then, has been hurt by his tough “America First” trade policies. But he said it was necessary to push China for concessions beyond what Beijing has offered to date, even if it inflicts short-term “pain” on many Americans.
“I can’t let other countries take advantage of us,” he said to cheers.
Less than 20 minutes into the speech, as Trump jumped from assailing former FBI director James B. Comey to the European Union in a speech that appeared largely unscripted, some in the mostly white and older crowd headed for the exits.
At nearly 80 minutes long, the rambling tour d’horizon was lengthier than most State of the Union addresses and featured nods to space travel, the price of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, promises of “crystal clean water,” entertainer Kanye West and plans to rehabilitate local infrastructure.
Trump showcased themes for the fall election campaign, warning Republicans against complacency and claiming that Democrats would raise taxes, welcome unlimited numbers of illegal immigrants into the country and whittle away at gun rights.
He brushed aside polls warning of a Democratic wave heading for congressional Republicans, predicting, “We’re going to win the House.”
The rally, about 40 miles north of Detroit, capped another tumultuous week for Trump, including visits from French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as controversy involving several members of his Cabinet.
During Saturday’s rally, Trump reprised familiar talking points from his campaign, boasting about cutting taxes, spurring job growth and protecting American workers from unfair U.S. trading partners.
“Jobs are booming and confidence is soaring. All over the world, they’re talking about this success,” the president crowed.
Since Trump took office, the U.S. economy has added 2.7 million jobs — an average of 181,000 per month — while growth was fastest in counties that gave Trump the most votes, according to a Washington Post analysis of U.S. Labor Department data.
He told rally attendees that companies were returning to the United States from abroad and vowed that the economy would accelerate in coming months.
“They’re leaving other countries and they’re c oming back to Michigan,” he said.
Still, Michigan’s total employment grew a bit less over the past year than the national average, and its factories added jobs at only a quarter of the national pace, according to Labor Department statistics.
Trump’s visit reflected the state’s role in his unlikely 2016 triumph and his prospects for reelection. Washington Township is in Macomb County, traditional home to the “Reagan Democrats” who helped Trump eke out a Michigan win by fewer than 11,000 votes.
The township is 93 percent white and significantly more affluent than the county as a whole, according to the Census Bureau.
Michelle Kalil, 52, a physical therapist, praised Trump for reviving the economy.
“ I think he’s doing an amazing job and I’m glad he’s sticking to his guns,” she said.
Trump’s approval rating stood at 40 percent in a Washington Post-ABC News poll this month, up from 36 percent in January. More than half of those surveyed, 56 percent, said they disapproved of the president.
The president also was greeted by a small group of protesters. Ryan Drutchas, 33, a high school science teacher, called Trump’s rhetoric “vile.”
A former Republican voter and first-time protester, Drutchas said the rally stemmed from the former reality television star’s “narcissism . . . . It makes my skin crawl.”
Rick Zelmanski, 59, of Clinton Township, applauded the speech.
“He’s about America, man, doesn’t get better than that,” Zelmanski said. “I have total faith in Donald Trump. I think he’s the right man at the right time.”
Border security was a recurring theme, with Trump claiming that U.S. immigration laws were “the dumbest” and “corrupt.” He added without elaboration: “If we don’t get border security, we’ll have no choice. We’ll close down the country.”
Trump derided what he called “the phony” Washington press dinner, saying that the journalists who attended “hate” him.
Trump, who has attacked the press as “the enemy of the people,” skipped the dinner last year too. But this year, he encouraged members of his administration to attend, and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders plans to “represent the administration” at the head table, WHCA President Margaret Talev said.
Trump is the first president to skip the dinner since Ronald Reagan, who missed it in 1981 while recovering from his wounds after an attempted assassination.
Trump also said that he had a “a long and very good talk” Saturday morning with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met Friday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Things are going very well, time and location of meeting with North Korea is being set,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “Also spoke to Prime Minister Abe of Japan to inform him of the ongoing negotiations.”
Rachel Chason and Trevor Bach reported from Washington Township, Mich., and David J. Lynch reported from Washington, D.C.