JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — President Trump singled out for attack a trio of Senate Democrats who have been among Brett M. Kavanaugh’s biggest critics, stirring up conservative support for his embattled Supreme Court nominee as he stressed to voters here the importance of keeping the Senate in GOP control this November.
As Kavanaugh’s fate hangs in the balance, Trump used his stump speech on behalf of Tennessee Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn to warn the crowd that Democrats are “trying to destroy a very fine person, and we can’t let it happen.”
Trump attacked Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), arguing that he “destroyed Newark” while serving as mayor of New Jersey’s largest city. Trump went after Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), whom he derisively called “Da Nang Blumenthal” stemming from a controversy in 2010 when Blumenthal came under severe criticism for exaggerating his service during the Vietnam War.
And as he had repeatedly done in recent days, Trump chastised Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for keeping private the allegation against Kavanaugh from Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers. Feinstein, Blumenthal and Booker all sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Feinstein has said she kept Ford’s allegation private at her request.
“The Democrats only know how to obstruct, demolish and destroy,” Trump told a raucous crowd here. “As we’ve seen in recent weeks, Democrats are willing to do anything and to hurt anyone to get their way, like they’re doing with Judge Kavanaugh.”
Trump added: “They’ve been trying to destroy him since the very first second he was announced.”
Most people in the boisterous crowd in Johnson City, the home of East Tennessee State University, stayed on their feet for Trump's hour-long speech, which touched on recent news about Kavanaugh, the trade deal with Canada and Mexico, and campaign-trail classics, like criticizing the media and building the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
When Trump declared Kavanaugh a “good man” with “great intellect,” a woman in a red sparkly cowboy hat waved her pink “Women for Trump” sign in the air.
When he said that the Democratic Party has been “completely taken over by the resistance,” several people in the audience shouted, “Communists!”
And when Trump decried the “fake news media,” many in the crowd turned toward the press risers and booed. Rick Wood, who came to the rally from North Carolina in a “FNN — Fake News Network” T-shirt, gave a thumbs down and shook his head.
Trump’s Monday night rally in Tennessee is the first of four rallies this week. In addition to the rally here, Trump also headlined a fundraiser for Blackburn, who is locked in a competitive battle with former governor Phil Bredesen (D) for the seat of retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R).
Trump won the state by 26 percentage points in 2016. But Bredesen has narrowed the gap with Blackburn by distancing himself from national Democrats. A CNN poll last month showed Bredesen garnering the support of 50 percent of likely voters; Blackburn took 45 percent.
Later this week, Trump has scheduled rallies for Republican candidates in Mississippi, Minnesota and Kansas as part of a campaign-trail blitz one month ahead of the midterm elections.
As Trump’s ardent supporters lined up Monday afternoon to hear him speak, many said that they had been closely following news about Kavanaugh — and that their belief that he should be confirmed has not changed despite an ongoing FBI investigation and emotional testimony last week from Kavanaugh and Ford.
As she waited outside the Freedom Hall Civic Center, DeLona Osborne, 71, said she wanted Trump to begin his speech with “some positive things about Judge Kavanaugh, because he has been so bad-mouthed.”
Osborne, a retired nurse from Elizabethton, Tenn., said she watched the hearing and was unmoved by Ford’s testimony about her alleged assault, which Osborne said is part of a “ploy” by Democratic senators to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“It was the first time in my life I was ashamed to be an American,” she said. “The way the Democrats behaved . . . walking out like 2-year-olds.”
She said she doubts that anything the FBI finds this week will change her opinion.
“He’s already said he likes beer — I don’t drink beer, but if he wants to, then that’s his business.”
A few groups over, Annette Kreitzer, 57, who was sitting in the shade hours ahead of the rally, said she didn’t believe Ford because she has “no proof.”
“It’s too convenient,” chimed in her sister, Janice Lawson, 63, who is retired. “If she’s going to destroy a man, she needs proof.”
The sisters, one in a red Trump hat and the other in a blue Trump hat, arrived at 9 a.m. to stake out their spot toward the front of the line, which winded multiple blocks down a tree-lined hill.
Josh Paul, 33, stood at the front of the line — a spot he won by bringing a sleeping bag and a lawn chair and sleeping in front of the center.
Paul, who watched his 10- and 11-year-old nephews playing catch, sighed when asked about the Kavanaugh hearing.
“I don’t want to pay attention, but it’s unavoidable,” he said. “These are dangerous proceedings. These accusations without proof — it’s almost like the Salem witch trials.”
Paul, who served in the Marine Corps in Iraq and likes how Trump has emphasized pride in the military, said he does not think the FBI will find evidence against Kavanaugh that would convince him that the judge should not be confirmed.
But he said he also understands that accusations of sexual assault “are the most difficult to prove, and it’s easy to discredit someone even if they’re telling the truth.”
“It’s a terrible situation,” he said. “There’s no right answer.”
Philip Thompson, who stood further back in line, said he would “of course” be open to reevaluating his support for Kavanaugh depending on what the FBI uncovers.
“But I don’t think they’re going to find anything,” added Thompson, who is retired and said he watched the hearing last week “from beginning to end.”
Thompson, of Afton, Tenn., said he believed Ford was “a credible witness who may have been sexually assaulted by somebody” but said he is not convinced that it was Kavanaugh. He added that there “should be a statute of limitations” for when someone can come forward with allegations.
His friend Mark Halback, 66, said he was “confused” by the whole thing.
“She’s believable. He’s believable. I don’t know,” Halback said, sighing.
What he said he’s sure of is that the Democrats in the Senate have “mishandled” the proceedings.
“It’s turned into a character assassination,” he said. “There should have been a more dignified way to handle this.”
Kim reported from Washington.