PHOENIX — As Democrats lashed into each other on the debate stage, President Donald Trump took some swipes of his own at a rally aimed at counter-programming the Democrats' big night from a state that could be up for grabs in 2020.
The president took the stage about 20 minutes after the Democratic debate began, and clearly had the event on his mind.
“I hear he is getting pounded tonight,” Trump said of Mike Bloomberg, who drew some of the most bruising attacks on from his Democratic rivals. Later in the rally, speaking of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Trump asked the crowd: “How’s he doing tonight?”
He continued to try to fuel division between Sanders’ supporters and the establishment wing of the party. “The DNC is going to take it away from Bernie again," he said. "But that’s okay because we don’t care who the hell it is, we are going to win.”
Trump also brought his Twitter attacks over the past week on Bloomberg to life, mocking the former mayor's height and downplaying the effect of his campaign spending influx.
“He spent $500 million so far, and I think he has 15 points,” Trump said, while downplaying the prospect, or effect, of being outspent by the billionaire: “My father would teach me, if you can spend less and win, that’s better than spending a lot.”
Trump has been seeking to steal the spotlight from Democrats, holding a rally during the January debate and putting on events in Iowa and New Hampshire days before voters went to the polls in those states. He’ll hold another rally in Nevada on Friday, the day before that state’s caucuses.
But Trump’s visit to Arizona also has a direct link to his own re-election efforts.
No Democrat has won Arizona’s 11 electoral votes since Bill Clinton’s victory in 1996, but with a growing Hispanic population, Democrats view the once solidly red state as within reach. Trump beat Clinton in Arizona by 4 percentage points, but his approval rating in the state has since sunk 21 percentage points, to 49 percent in January, according to Morning Consult polling.
While claiming his own internal poll numbers showed him beating the slate of Democratic contenders and calling unfavorable numbers “fake polls,” Trump blamed the news media for his depressed approval numbers.
Along with firing up his base of supporters and garnering local media coverage, the rally will also provide the campaign with tens of thousands of emails and cell phone numbers from those who signed up for tickets — information it can use to mine for donors and volunteers and get better insights into the type of voter that is supporting Trump as it looks to find untapped groups of new supporters.
Trump’s visit was also aimed at giving a boost to Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who stood by Trump during his impeachment and has gone from a detractor to a staunch defender. Trump returned the favor Wednesday, giving her a ringing endorsement as he called her up on stage.
“She helped me so much during the impeachment hoax, she didn’t wobble one bit,” Trump told the crowd. He said McSally “is tough as hell and that is what we need.”
McSally, a retired Air Force colonel, is in a tight contest in a special election with former astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
“Her opponent, a guy named Mark Kelly, even the Democrats don’t like him much, he wants to raise your taxes, open your borders, give away free health care to illegal immigrants and he wants to obliterate your Second Amendment,” Trump said.
During the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats won four statewide elected offices, including Kyrsten Sinema, whose win over McSally made her the first Democrat to win an Arizona Senate seat since 1988. McSally was then appointed months later to fill the state’s other Senate seat vacated by Jon Kyl, who had held it on an interim basis following the death of Sen. John McCain.
After lashing out at his own Justice Department over the past two weeks over their handling of the sentencing of his longtime political adviser Roger Stone, Trump only lobbed a passing attack Wednesday — though a stinging one.
“There are a lot of dishonest slime balls out there — dishonest, scum dirty cops,” Trump said. “A lot of dirty cops.”