BILLINGS – President Donald Trump, visiting Montana for a campaign rally for the second time in as many months, held the stage for 70 minutes Thursday night in Billings – and also appeared for a public interview with Fox News a half-hour before his speech.
The president revisited many of themes of speeches he has made at similar rallies around the country, including his July 5 appearance in Great Falls. But he had some new twists as well.
Here’s a look at some highlights and main threads of his comments at Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings:
The Fox News interview: Trump unexpectedly appeared in the arena about 6:30 p.m., before his scheduled 7 p.m. start time, for a pre-arranged interview with Pete Hegseth, a Fox News contributor and former National Guard officer, who was considered in 2017 by Trump as possible secretary of the Veterans Administration.
Among other things, Hegseth asked Trump about this week’s anonymous column in the New York Times, allegedly written by someone within the administration, saying people in the administration are actively working against Trump’s worst impulses.
Trump accused the Times of “treason” for printing the column, and said there is plenty of “love” in the White House, which he called a “well-oiled machine.”
Hegseth asked if Trump would be willing to shut down the government if he didn’t get adequate funding to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The president said he “would shut down government over border security in a second,” but that he didn’t want to do anything to hurt Republicans’ chances in the elections this November – so he may wait until later to press the issue, but remains committed to funding the wall.
Hegseth also asked about the controversy over protests by NFL players during the national anthem, and who was going to “win this cultural showdown over the anthem?”
Trump replied: “We are. … I honor the flag, I honor our national anthem and most of the people in this nation do, too.”
His accomplishments: Trump began his main speech at 7:11 p.m. and spoke until 8:25 p.m., frequently referring to accomplishments under his presidency: The “best economy in history,” low unemployment, more spending on the military, conservative U.S. Supreme Court nominees, increasing border security, increasing coal production, moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, negotiating new trade deals, standing up to NATO allies and forcing them to spend more on their military.
“American is winning again and America is being respected again,” he said.
Yet he seemed to spend almost as much time complaining how these accomplishments had been portrayed in the media, saying he was always getting second-guessed or not getting the credit he deserved.
For example, he said the media first lambasted him for being “too tough” on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and then, when he had a “great meeting” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the media assailed him for being “too nice.”
“They wanted me to have a boxing match on the stage,” he said.
Bashing Democrats: Trump made it clear that his primary message Thursday was that his supporters must get out and vote this November, and vote Republican – or they risked losing all that he had accomplished.
“This election, you’re not just voting for a candidate, you’re voting for which party controls Congress,” he said.
The president accused Democrats of being “held hostage by angry mobs” and their “fake news allies,” said they stood for “open borders” and criminals pouring across the border into the United States, that they want to raise taxes, “turn America into Venezuela” and abolish Immigration and Custom Enforcement, and that they would destroy Social Security and Medicare – two programs originally passed and authored largely by Democrats.
He also suggested that if Democrats took control of the U.S. House, they planned to impeach him.
Attacking U.S. Sen. Jon Tester: The main purpose of Trump’s visit was to campaign for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale, who is challenging Tester, a Democrat – and the president unloaded on Tester early and often.
He said Tester would vote with “the Nancy Pelosis and the Maxine Waters” of Congress (two Democratic U.S. House members the president often criticizes), that he voted “for very liberal Obama judges 99 percent of the time,” and that he lied about Veterans Administration nominee Ronnie Jackson this spring.
Tester aired anonymous charges against Jackson of various misconduct, after which Jackson withdrew from consideration.
Trump also mentioned a campaign ad that Tester began airing Thursday, highlighting complimentary remarks that Trump made about bills authored by Tester to improve VA health programs.
“It’s crazy,” Trump said. “It’s like he’s my best friend. … The problem is, he’s never going to vote for us.”
The Tester campaign issued a statement Thursday, thanking the president for his praise of the veterans’ bills and urging him to sign another Tester-sponsored bill on his desk.
Denigrating the media: As usual, the president spent no small amount of time bashing the media, at one moment pointing at the riser where TV cameras are gathered and saying “there they are,” prompting many in the crowd to turn and boo.
He said the media only want to report on bad things that happen to him and that he can “never get a good story” out of the New York Times or the Washington Post. He called the Times “this piece of garbage” and repeatedly referred to the “fake news.”
“The level of unfairness and bias in the press is just incredible,” Trump told his audience.
He also made a reference to when Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte punched Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on the eve of Gianforte’s election in May 2017, prompting cheers from some in the crowd.
“I’ll tell you what, this man has fought – in more ways than one – for your state,” Trump said, with a knowing look.