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President Trump Back In Campaign Mode Endorsing Republican Candidates


With just 95 days left until the 2018 midterm election, President Trump is already in full campaign mode. He's touring the country campaigning on behalf of Republican candidates. Last night, he spoke before a crowd of about 10,000 supporters in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm thrilled to be back in the state that gave us American independence.


CORNISH: The president says he'll do as many as five or six rallies a week from now until November. So we're going to break down last night's speech and talk about his rhetoric and strategy. Here to talk me through it is NPR's Sarah McCammon. Hey there, Sarah.


CORNISH: How different are these speeches from 2016, right? Like, how different is President Trump versus candidate Trump?

MCCAMMON: You know, I don't think that much different. You hear so many of the same themes again and again that you heard two years ago. One thing I really noticed about last night's speech was just a real sense of nostalgia for 2016.


TRUMP: They say probably in the history of this country, maybe in the history of the world, there has never been anything like what happened in November of '16.

MCCAMMON: He spent several minutes at the beginning just looking back and reminiscing about his win in Pennsylvania.


TRUMP: Remember that incredible night in November?

MCCAMMON: Nobody expected me to win. Nobody thought we could do this.


TRUMP: In fact, I remember again on election night they said, how the hell did this happen?

MCCAMMON: Just a real sense that his campaign is something special, that his movement is something special. And his supporters love to hear that because they feel I think sort of seen by him and sort of affirmed by that rhetoric that we're part of this big movement that is so exciting and unexpected.

CORNISH: But he doesn't have the same foil that he had in, say, Hillary Clinton - right? - the Democratic nominee. But he does have two years under his belt of leadership. Who is he going after now when he is talking about his enemies?

MCCAMMON: He continues to go after Democrats of course.


TRUMP: Let's say I'm running against Pocahontas or crazy Bernie.

MCCAMMON: And let's not forget the press, the media.


TRUMP: Because they are the fake, fake disgusting news.

CORNISH: You hear the president or you see the president on Twitter talking about the Russia investigation almost always in critical terms. How does this play out in those rallies, in the speeches?

MCCAMMON: Yeah, well, last night we heard him refer to the Russia hoax.


TRUMP: Now, we're being hindered by the Russian hoax. It's a hoax, OK?

MCCAMMON: President Trump has sort of vacillated on his position or at least his public statements about whether or not Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign and which his own national security advisers came out yesterday and reaffirmed once again is happening. Russia's trying to interfere in 2018 and beyond. But the president's own rhetoric on this subject has been conflicted at times.


TRUMP: I'll tell you what. Russia's very unhappy that Trump won. That I can tell you.

MCCAMMON: So when I hear him say Russia hoax in a crowd like that, it's a powerful rhetorical technique because it can send one message to the base. It can have the effect of making them question the investigation, perhaps the whole idea of Russia interference, while giving him room - or at least his advisers - to sort of toe the line and say, yes, we know that Russia is interfering, and we're worried about it, and we're working on it, as we heard from his national security team this week.

CORNISH: President Trump focuses a lot on immigration. How do we hear this come up in this speech? What are his areas of focus?

MCCAMMON: Immigration of course was perhaps the central issue of his 2016 campaign in making very controversial and divisive statements about immigrants. And we're hearing more of that.


TRUMP: If you have a house and somebody goes to sleep on your lawn, you say, sorry, folks, get out of here. If you call the police, they're going to remove - they're going to take - it's your lawn. This is our country. This is our country. Get the hell out.

MCCAMMON: What's really important to know about this I think, Audie, is that he is framing the debate around the midterms once again around immigration, but a lot of the statements he's making about these programs are just not accurate.


TRUMP: Yep, that's a beauty. Then you have chain migration.

MCCAMMON: There's what Trump calls chain migration or family-based migration, allowing people to bring in family members under certain conditions into the U.S.


TRUMP: A guy comes in - stone-cold killer in many cases. A guy comes in. And then you have to bring his aunt, his uncle, father, his grandfather.

MCCAMMON: He listed off all these, you know, sort of random relatives.


TRUMP: His third niece by a different marriage.

MCCAMMON: In reality, the law is that U.S. citizens can petition to bring in relatives from their nuclear families, so parents, siblings, kids. Green card holders are only limited to their spouses and unmarried children. Neither of those groups can bring an extended family like he describes.


TRUMP: So we have to change this. And we're going to change it.

MCCAMMON: But bottom line, regardless of the type of immigration, Trump often frames immigrants as criminals.


TRUMP: So you catch a stone-cold criminal. You take his name. You see he's a criminal. You see he's bad in many cases. Catch and release. You catch him, and you then release him. And he now goes into your wonderful towns.

MCCAMMON: The reality is you have to go through a background check. And multiple studies have suggested that overall, immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes than native-born Americans. So he definitely succeeds in riling up the base and in many cases frightening people with these kinds of comparisons. But they're just not rooted in fact.

CORNISH: Now, the president does like to talk about his victories as well. He sees the economy as an area where he's doing well. But at his inauguration he described the country as American carnage - right? - like, a bleak landscape of shuttered factories and industrial decline. So now how does he talk about it on the stump?

MCCAMMON: He says things are going great, and they're just going to get better basically.


TRUMP: Now that we have the best economy in the history of our country...

MCCAMMON: And he has a point to an extent in the sense that we're seeing really strong GDP numbers that just came out last week - 4.1 percent.


TRUMP: Since the election, we've added a number that nobody would have believed and that I would have never said on the campaign trail. I wouldn't have said it because they would have done a big number on me - 3.7 million new jobs.

MCCAMMON: Record-low unemployment for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, women. He cites those figures an awful lot at just about every rally. Also true, but part of a bigger, longer-term trajectory that started during the Obama years. Trump is taking credit for all of those strong economic numbers as presidents tend to do.


TRUMP: We are going to win so much perhaps some of you, but not all, will get tired of winning. Anybody going to get tired of winning?

CORNISH: All right, Sarah, there's another one of these rallies this weekend. We know the president has promised to be out five, six times a week going forward. What should people be watching for as we actually get closer to November?

MCCAMMON: Well, where we see him, especially as we get closer to the elections, will give us an idea of where Republicans feel like they have a chance but they really need a boost. And bringing the president in could give them the boost they need. But ultimately this is where Donald Trump likes to be. He loves to campaign. He loves to be in front of a big, enthusiastic, supportive crowd. That's where he feels most comfortable. And that's where he's going to be a lot over the next few months.


TRUMP: And we will make America great again.

CORNISH: NPR's Sarah McCammon, thank you for your insight.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.