MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — President Trump on Saturday again called for enacting the death penalty for drug dealers during a rally meant to bolster a struggling GOP candidate for a U.S. House seat here.
During the campaign event in this conservative western Pennsylvania district, the president also veered off into a list of other topics, including North Korea, his distaste for the news media and his own election victory 16 months ago.
Trump said that allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty for drug dealers — an idea he said he got from Chinese President Xi Jinping — is “a discussion we have to start thinking about. I don’t know if this country’s ready for it.”
“Do you think the drug dealers who kill thousands of people during their lifetime, do you think they care who’s on a blue-ribbon committee?” Trump asked. “The only way to solve the drug problem is through toughness. When you catch a drug dealer, you’ve got to put him away for a long time.”
It was not the first time Trump had suggested executing drug dealers. Earlier this month, he described it as a way to fight the opioid epidemic. And on Friday, The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration was considering policy changes to allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
But on Saturday his call for executing drug dealers got some of the most enthusiastic cheers of the night. As Trump spoke about policies on the issue in China and Singapore, dozens of people nodded their heads in agreement. “We love Trump,” one man yelled. A woman shouted: “Pass it!”
Trump was ostensibly here to inject some last-minute political capital behind Republican Rick Saccone, whose race against Democrat Conor Lamb could be a harbinger of the Republican Party’s fate in the midterms.
But in classic Trump fashion, he quickly steered away from his main reason for being there. He touted his decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and boasted that it was something his predecessors couldn’t do.
Trump also delivered a profane attack on the news media, calling NBC News anchor Chuck Todd a “sleeping son of a bitch” and deeming CNN “fake as hell,” as the enthusiastic crowd booed at the mention of journalists and chanted “CNN sucks!”
And he rattled off several falsehoods, such as a claim that 52 percent of women voted for him in his presidential win (it was 52 percent of white women, according to exit polling).
The rally at an airport hangar in the Pittsburgh suburbs took Trump back to familiar political terrain and a base that carried him to a surprise victory in 2016.
Trump talked up his decision this past week to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports — a move deeply opposed by congressional Republicans and the business wing of the GOP yet popular in this Pittsburgh suburb, the heart of steel country. Both candidates in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Tim Murphy (R) back the president’s decision on the import duties.
“A lot of steel mills are now opening up because of what I did,” the president told the crowd in this conservative district. “Steel is back, and aluminum is back.”
Trump also warned allies in the European Union to “get ready for tariffs” and threatened to impose taxes on German automakers Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Despite his allegiance to Trump, Saccone has underwhelmed national Republicans in this heavily pro-Trump district, and public polling ahead of the Tuesday election has shown Saccone neck-and-neck with Lamb, a former federal prosecutor and Marine.
For more than an hour before the rally began, Saccone stood near the entrance with his wife, chatting with people as they arrived. A number of people walked past, not seeming to notice or recognize him. Rally signs for the candidate were sparse.
Trump himself rarely mentioned Saccone during the first portion of the rally, saying he believed the candidate was “handsome” and deriding the Democrat as “Lamb the sham.” But Trump also acknowledged that Saccone was in a “tough race” and urged his supporters to come out and vote.
“We need our congressman, Saccone. We have to have him,” Trump said. Referring to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the president added: “The only chance she’s got to become speaker is electing Democrats.”
He finally pulled Saccone to the stage near the end of his 75-minute rally, as the candidate exclaimed: “If President Trump’s in your corner, how can you lose?”
“Go out, vote for Rick. He’ll never, never disappoint you,” Trump said. “Vote with your heart, vote with your brains. This is an extraordinary man.”
At another point in the rally, Trump also urged a crackdown on sanctuary cities and vowed to toughen enforcement at U.S. borders and to root out MS-13 gang members.
“We have to build a wall,” Trump said. “For people, for gangs, for drugs. The drugs have never been a problem like we have right now.”
He recalled his testy telephone conversation last month with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, which ended in an impasse over Trump’s promised border wall and an agreement to scrap Peña Nieto’s planned trip to Washington.
Trump said Peña Nieto asked him on the call to affirm Mexico’s position that it would not pay for the wall.
“He said, ‘Is it a dealbreaker?’ ” Trump recalled. “I said, ‘Bye, bye. We’re not making a deal.’ ”
Midway through the rally, Trump hinted that he may not run for reelection, yet he rolled out a new campaign slogan (“Keep America Great!”) and took repeated swings at potential 2020 Democratic challengers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — again pulling out his “Pocahontas” taunt. He also went after Rep. Maxine Waters, calling the California Democrat — who has called for Trump’s impeachment — a “low-IQ individual.”
And he couldn’t resist recounting his stunning electoral victory 16 months ago: “They said he cannot win, he cannot get — remember? — to 270. And we didn’t! We got to 306.”
The rally in Moon Township had originally been scheduled for mid-February but was postponed after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla. The campaign statement announcing the new date did not mention Saccone; rather, it said Trump would come to Moon Township to tout the GOP’s new tax law.
This was Trump’s first campaign rally in more than three months, breaking his pattern of gathering with his strongest supporters as often as twice in a month. His last two rallies were aimed at helping Republican candidates in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama, although the president did not make those men the centerpiece of his comments.
On Sept. 22, Trump held a rally in Huntsville, Ala., to encourage his supporters to vote in the GOP primary for Luther Strange, who had been appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R). While on stage, Trump acknowledged he “might have made a mistake” in endorsing Strange, who went on to lose the primary to Roy Moore, whom many of the president’s supporters had endorsed.
Trump then backed Moore, continuing to support the former Alabama Supreme Court judge even as he was accused of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
On Dec. 8, the president held a campaign rally in Pensacola, Fla. — not far from the Alabama state line. Although those close to Trump had said the president would not mention Moore during the event, Trump did just that, telling his supporters: “So get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it. Do it. Do it.”
Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, went on to win the race, becoming the first Alabama Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in more than two decades.
Since those two rallies late last year, Trump has not held any official campaign rallies, although he did name his new campaign manager last month, Brad Parscale. But that doesn’t mean the president has refrained from giving addresses that sound a lot like his signature campaign speeches.
Last month, Trump showed up at the Conservative Political Action Conference and gave an unscripted 75-minute address in which he attacked Democrats, mocked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), encouraged campaign-style chants about locking up his political opponent and recited the lyrics of a song about a tenderhearted woman who cares for an ailing snake, a parable that he frequently uses to paint undocumented immigrants as violent criminals.