It was a Donald Trump original Wednesday night.
The President slammed Democrats for opposing his agenda, railed against the media’s coverage of his presidency and hailed the work he has done to make good on his campaign promises in a stemwinder Wednesday night at an arena filled with thousands of his still-loyal supporters.
For weeks, the President and his administration have felt bogged down and damaged by a seemingly endless barrage of inquiries and news reports linked to the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The appointment of a special counsel and indications that the investigation is inching closer to the President himself have hamstrung the administration’s legislative efforts and damaged Trump’s political capital.
But on Wednesday night, Trump rolled into this Iowa city on the banks of the Cedar River feeling none of those worries — just the wind at his back after a Republican candidate triumphed in special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District that Democrats had sought to turn into a referendum on the President.
Trump opened his speech by congratulating the Republican, Karen Handel, on her victory. But after a few minutes on script, Trump soon began to freewheel — lambasting the media as fake news and slamming Democrats for obstructing his agenda, calling them “unbelievably nasty, really, really nasty.”
But even as his attempts at health care reform face an uncertain future, Trump touted Tuesday night’s election victory — in a district that, before Trump, trended solidly Republican — as a sign that Democrats’ tactics are failing.
“Their plan isn’t working because they thought they were going to win last night in Atlanta,” Trump said of Democrats’ political strategy. “The truth is people love us, all of us. They love us. They haven’t figured it out yet.
Speaking on the eve of Senate Republicans’ release of their health care bill — as several of his top advisers were briefed on its contents — Trump noted Republicans had a “very slim” majority in the Senate, saying “we basically can’t lose anybody.”
“A few votes from the Democrats, it could be so easy and so beautiful,” Trump said, imagining an alternate reality.
But, slipping back into campaign mode, Trump spent far more time touting the controversial policies that pleased the cheering supporters who flocked to his Wednesday night rally than the signature legislative achievement he is struggling to obtain.
He touted his hardline immigration policies, those that have benefited the fossil fuel industry and his recent move to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate accord, which earned him hefty criticism from nearly all of his fellow world leaders.
The rally Wednesday night also became an opportunity for Trump to offer up new policy proposals he hopes will appeal to his base.
Instead of taking part in his call-and-response with supporters about Mexico paying for the wall, the President told his supporters he is now considering adding solar panels to an eventual border wall, with the energy produced helping to pay for the project.
“We’re thinking about building the wall as a solar wall — and it pays for itself. And this way Mexico will have to pay much less money,” Trump said.
Trump also proposed reforms to the immigration system, saying, “I believe the time has come for new immigration rules which say those seeking admission into our country must be able to support themselves financially and should not use welfare for a period of at least five years.”
The problem: It’s already illegal for immigrants to access welfare benefits in their first five years in the country.
Trump did not altogether ignore the federal investigation hovering over his presidency, decrying the probes as a “witch hunt” and slamming the mainstream media as “dishonest media corporations who will say anything and do anything to get people to watch their screens or to get people to buy their failing papers.”
But Trump’s freewheeling speech Wednesday, filled with vintage quotes harkening back to the 2016 campaign, including a reference to his former opponent Hillary Clinton, appeared largely fueled by the President’s buoyant mood on Wednesday following the Georgia special election win for Republicans.
Handel’s victory denied Democrats the chance to flip a solidly Republican district in the hopes that Trump’s rising unpopularity could sink congressional Republicans.
Trump had made no secret of his glee earlier in the day.
“Thank you @FoxNews “Huge win for President Trump and GOP in Georgia Congressional Special Election,” Trump tweeted after the race was called.
“Well, the Special Elections are over and those that want to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN are 5 and O! All the Fake News, all the money spent = 0,” Trump tweeted in one of a half-dozen tweets about Tuesday night’s contests, which also included a less-hyped race for a South Carolina congressional seat.
Trump’s high spirits continued as he went about his duties Wednesday at the White House, a White House official said.
Like the other rallies Trump has held since taking office, Wednesday’s event served to buoy the President’s mood further, giving Trump an opportunity to revel in the applause of his base and connect with his supporters that are removed from Washington.
While Trump praised his supporters Wednesday as “the smartest” and “toughest people” and thanked them for their support, he did not acknowledge his sinking approval numbers with the public at large.
The latest polling shows Trump teetering on the edge of that base of support, with just 36% of Americans approving of his job as president, according to a CBS News poll released Monday.
And as his supporters pleaded for Trump not to leave the stage on Wednesday after a 70-minute speech, Trump said he too was loathe to head back to Washington.
“I don’t want to leave either. I don’t want to leave either,” Trump said.