MILWAUKEE (AP) — President Donald Trump defended his decision to kill a top Iranian general and slammed Democrats as weak on national security during a rally in a key battleground state as Democrats held their final debate before primary voting commences.
Offering his own counter-programming, Trump appeared in Wisconsin, just as Democrats took the stage in next door in Iowa, which holds its kickoff caucuses in less than three weeks on Feb. 3.
In front of a crowd of thousands in downtown Milwaukee — not far from where Democrats will hold their convention this summer — Trump took on the leading Democratic candidates, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“Bernie and the radical left cannot protect your family, nor can they protect our country,” Trump told supporters at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
Yet Trump also defended Sanders as he weighed in on the ongoing he-said, she-said spat between Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who claims Sanders told her during a private meeting that he doesn’t believe a woman can win the White House — a charge Sanders vehemently denies.
“I don’t believe that Bernie said that. I really don’t … It’s not the kind of thing he’d say,” said Trump.
He also criticized former Vice President Joe Biden’s tendency to mix up locations, including recently confusing Iran with Iraq.
“When you do that you can’t really recover,” Trump said.
Winning back Wisconsin is a key part of Democrats’ 2020 strategy — and one of the reasons the party chose Milwaukee to host its national convention in July. Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016 and he is expected to make frequent visits in the coming months as he works to maintain his edge.
Vice President Mike Pence warmed up the rally crowd by panning the Democratic candidates as too far left for the state.
“You know, I heard they’ve got another debate tonight. If it’s anything like the other ones, those people are going to be standing so far on the left I think that stage is going to tip over,” Pence quipped.
Trump supporters began lining up Monday evening outside the arena to make sure they would be able to get inside.
“I think the Wisconsin vote is very important, very important,” said Brenda Stoetzer, 60, from Hickory Hills, Illinois. “And we need to just spread the message here that, you know, Trump is helping the people, the ordinary people. He’s not making the rich richer. He’s making everyone richer.”
“I think he’s done right by the whole country,” agreed Nancy Freye, 65, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. “He’s fighting for all of us every day. I don’t know how you can even get anything done, but he does. So good for him and for us.”
Trump spent much of the rally defending his record, including his decision to order the strike that killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, whom he labeled the “world’s No. 1 terrorist.” Trump’s decision came under intense criticism from Democrats and raised questions about whether it really prevented an imminent attack, as some Trump administration officials have claimed.
“The Democrats are outraged that we killed this terrorist monster, even though this monster was behind hundreds and hundreds of deaths,” Trump told the crowd, adding that “thousands of people” don’t have legs and arms right now “because of this son of a bitch.”
Democrats, he said, “should be angry about his crimes, not the decision to end his wretched life.”
Trump also went on an extended riff about his efforts to roll back energy- and water-saving regulations, panning energy-efficient light bulbs and low water flow dishwashers, showers and toilets, which he promised to replace.
“Your dishes are going to be beautiful,” he promised.
Highlighting the politics of the city, Trump’s rally was interrupted several times by protesters, who also demonstrated outside the arena where he spoke.
While Democratic voters try to decide who is their best candidate to take on Trump, the president has been contending with the House vote to impeach him. After weeks of delay, the House will vote Wednesday to send its articles of impeachment to the Senate. Republicans hold the majority in the Senate and there is nowhere near the 67 votes needed for Trump’s removal.
Trump accused Democrats of wasting America’s time with “demented hoaxes” and “witch hunts” while “we’re creating jobs and killing terrorists.”
Wisconsin’s primary is April 7.