President Donald Trump went after Democrats on Friday, claiming that the House impeachment inquiry was part of a planned attempt to illegitimately remove the president from office, attacking his 2020 rivals in his first campaign rally since the House voted to formalize the impeachment inquiry.
“First they engineered the Russia hoax,” Trump said, “then the Mueller witch hunt,” he continued, speaking to a crowd of supporters at the BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo, Mississippi. “That didn’t work out too well, did it? That fizzled.”
“And now corrupt politicians Nancy Pelosi and ‘Shifty’ Adam Schiff and the media are continuing with the deranged impeachment witch hunt,” Trump said, again mocking Rep. Adam Schiff’s last name.
Trump called this week’s House vote a move to “nullify” the votes of millions of Americans in the 2016 election and claimed that the Democratic Party had been plotting to “overthrow the election” results since the moment he was elected.
“I never thought I would be involved with the word ‘impeachment,’” Trump said, saying he considered it “a dirty word.”
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But Trump assured his supporters on Friday night that “the Republicans are really strong, the strongest I’ve ever seen them, the most unified I have ever seen them.”
The impeachment inquiry, he said, was not only a means to discredit his 2016 victory, but an effort to keep him from winning re-election: “It’s all a phony deal, this whole impeachment scam to try and undermine the 2020 election and to de-legitimatize one of the greatest elections,” he said.
“They know they can’t win, so let’s try and impeach him,” Trump added. “We got to impeach him ’cause we can beat him.”
Addressing 2020 Democratic candidates, Trump ridiculed rivals, saying he had a new nickname for Vice President Joe Biden — “very slow, sleepy Joe” — and continuing to attack Biden’s son, Hunter, over discredited claims of improper business relationships with a Ukrainian energy company.
Trump also went after former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who just hours before announced he was dropping out of the 2020 Democratic primary. Trump and O’Rourke had been critical of each other on the campaign trail, and even held competing rallies in El Paso, Texas, O’Rourke’s hometown, earlier this year.
“Beto, did you hear? Ah, that poor bastard. Poor, pathetic guy,” Trump said. “Anybody who says they’re born for this, they’re in trouble,” Trump said, mocking an interview O’Rourke did with Vanity Fair.
Trump also accused President Barack Obama of working harder than Hillary Clinton to beat him, stating it is the “only time I’ve seen him work hard.” He added that Democrats tried to take him down with with “the lying and the spying and the leaking” but “we are kicking their ass.”
Trump continued to attack the former president, lamenting that he did not receive as much positive coverage after he announced the death of Islamic State militant group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Obama did after the death of Bin Laden.
“I didn’t do it for the story, I did it ’cause it was the right thing to do,” Trump said. “Conan, the dog, got more publicity than me,” he added, promising that the dog would be visiting the White House in the coming weeks.
Trump stopped in Mississippi as part of a last-minute push in several competitive gubernatorial races in deep red states before they vote next week. The president is expected to visit Kentucky on Monday to aid incumbent GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, and then to Louisiana for a second time to help Eddie Rispone unseat the current governor in a runoff election.
While Mississippi should be a shoo-in for Republicans, this year’s race is proving competitive, with Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves running against state Attorney General Jim Hood, who has served in that post since 2004 and is the only statewide elected Democrat.
While Trump’s political fate isn’t tied to what happens in either of those races, he is looking to get wins on the board that he can take credit for — showing he is still a force in the Republican Party despite the negative headlines surrounding impeachment.
“You know, I can’t believe that this is a competitive race,” Trump told the rally crowd Friday night. “It’s embarrassing.”
The president took credit for forcing the runoff in the Louisiana race after holding a rally on the eve of the state’s primary, where Democratic candidate Edwards fell short of claiming the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid the contest.
Lauren Egan reports for NBC News, based in Washington.
Shannon Pettypiece contributed.