President Donald Trump’s first rally following an acquittal in his impeachment trial began with a remarkably dishonest moment and wound down with him encouraging his supporters to tarnish the result of Tuesday’s Democratic primary in New Hampshire. In between, he spread a baseless conspiracy theory about massive election fraud costing him the state in 2016.
The event, which took place in Manchester, New Hampshire, is likely to only add to concerns that instead of being chastened by impeachment, Trump is heading into the 2020 election cycle feeling less constrained than ever — and more than willing to mess with the Democratic primary process in hopes of having the easier possible path to a second term.
Trump attacks the media for not showing his crowd — as they show his crowd
As he’s in the habit of doing, Trump began his speech on Monday by goading his fans into booing the assembled media. His specific beef in this case was about TV stations supposedly trying to suppress information about how large his crowd sizes are.
“They don’t even like showing the crowd. They always show my face,” Trump said. “They never show the crowd, but you know what — the people can hear the crowd.”
But the ironic thing is that as Trump said this, C-SPAN cameras panned to show both close-ups and wide shots of his crowd, in effect refuting him in real time.
"They don't even like showing the crowd, they always show my face" -- Trump begins his rally in Manchester, New Hampshire by attacking the media for not showing the crowd ... as C-SPAN shows the crowd pic.twitter.com/ZGLgoSDSfp— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 11, 2020
This is not the first time Trump has pushed this specific lie about media coverage of his crowd sizes at rallies, and it’s not the first time he’s done so as the media is covering the size of his crowd. But it did set a certain tone for the proceedings.
“Lock her up!” chants, but about Nancy Pelosi
Ugliness isn’t a one-way street at Trump rallies — Trump’s fans indulge in it too.
Minutes after attacking the media, Trump mocked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for purportedly mumbling behind him during the State of the Union — prompting his fans to break out in the “lock her up!” chants usually aimed at Hillary Clinton.
“It was very distracting. I’m speaking and a woman is mumbling,” Trump said.
"It was very distracting. I'm speaking and a woman is mumbling" -- Trump mocks Nancy Pelosi for supposedly mumbling behind him during SOTU, prompting the crowd to chant "lock her up!" pic.twitter.com/KsX6I1SVyo— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 11, 2020
The moment was a cruel reminder that even if Clinton has temporarily faded out of view, Trump and his fans seem to enjoy the pipe dream of imprisoning progressive women — in this case, for the imaginary crime of speaking quietly.
Trump also demonized Democrats more broadly during the rally. He accused the Democratic National Committee of trying to rig the primary against Bernie Sanders and warned of dire consequences if he loses in November, saying, “They’re going to take away everything. They’re going to take your wealth, they’re going to take your guns. They’re going to take away everything.”
But other things Trump said left it unclear to what extent he would accept the results of the election if he loses.
Trump won’t accept the results of an election he won
Following his attacks on the media and Democrats, Trump tried to rationalize his loss to Clinton in New Hampshire in 2016 by advancing a baseless conspiracy theory about massive voter fraud.
“We should have won the election, but they had buses being shipped up from Massachusetts. Hundreds and hundreds of buses,” Trump said.
"We should have won the election, but they had buses being being shipped up from Massachusetts. Hundreds and hundreds of buses" -- Trump pushes a completely unfounded conspiracy theory about massive election fraud costing him New Hampshire in 2016 pic.twitter.com/tCC3cclvW5— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 11, 2020
This particular conspiracy theory about the 2016 New Hampshire results being skewed by out-of-state voters has repeatedly come up in MAGA circles, and Trump has also previously pushed it.
Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California - so why isn't the media reporting on this? Serious bias - big problem!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 28, 2016
Put succinctly, the claim is that the roughly 6,500 people who registered to vote in New Hampshire on Election Day 2016 with out-of-state driver’s licenses were shipped into the state as part of some sort of Democratic conspiracy. But as I previously explained for ThinkProgress, there’s no merit to this allegation.
There are many possible explanations for the out-of-state licenses. The 6,540 people who used out-of-state licenses to register on election day may be college students. Or they might not own cars. Perhaps they’re even students who don’t own cars.
In any event, as the Washington Post notes, New Hampshire officials have the personal information of all of those people, so “[i]f the Republican legislature and governor would like to dig deeper and determine if any of those 5,000-plus people committed fraud, they certainly can.”
The president casually tossing out a baseless allegation of this sort raises troubling questions. Will he accept the results of the 2020 election if he loses, or will he use conspiracy theories to draw them into question? What role will disinformation play in his reelection strategy?
While the extent of the dirty tricks Trump is willing to use may remain somewhat in question, comments he made immediately after pushing the election fraud conspiracy theory resolved doubts about whether he’s up for them.
Trump encourages his fans to play dirty
New Hampshire has a semi-open primary, meaning any voter who is undeclared can vote in the Democratic primary. During his speech on Monday, Trump repeatedly urged his fans to take advantage of this by voting for the weakest Democratic candidate.
“I hear a lot of Republicans tomorrow will vote for the weakest candidate possible, of the Democrats. Does that make sense? You people wouldn’t do that,” he said sarcastically at one point, adding later: “If you want to vote for a weak candidate tomorrow, go ahead. Pick the weakest one.”
"I hear a lot of Republicans tomorrow will vote for the weakest candidate possible, of the Democrats. Does that make sense? You people wouldn't do that" -- Trump encourages Republicans to ratf*ck the Democratic primary in New Hampshire pic.twitter.com/QOzt4MdjDI— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 11, 2020
To be clear, there’s nothing illegal about Trump supporters casting dishonest votes in the Democratic primary. But the fact that Trump feels no shame about encouraging them to do so says something about his willingness to do whatever it takes to win reelection — especially coming as it does in the immediate aftermath of him getting impeached for trying to cheat in the 2020 election.
Trump’s speech was a firehose of BS
There was lots of other wild stuff during the rally. Trump made tragicomical remarks about the coronavirus (“In theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. Hope that’s true!”), suggested former President Obama should be impeached for his comments about health care (“Why aren’t we impeaching him?”), seemed to indicate he thinks most unauthorized immigrants are homeless (“They don’t have addresses!”), and made stuff up about “redemption money” paying for his border wall.
"You do know who's paying for the wall, don't you? Redemption from illegal aliens. The redemption money is paying for the wall" -- Trump is out here just making stuff up pic.twitter.com/dPSIVDlxps— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 11, 2020
Trump goaded his fans into booing Mitt Romney — the only Republican senator to vote for his removal from office following the impeachment trial — and in so doing made clear that he only views himself as president of states that support him.
Trump fans unleashed Clinton-style boos for Romney when Trump mentioned his name, and his comments indicated he only views himself as president of red states.— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 11, 2020
"In the Senate, other than Romney, we got 52 to nothing. 52 to nothing. That's something," he said, erasing blue states. pic.twitter.com/9n3dqqxfTk
The picture that emerged is of a dangerously uninformed and unconstrained president willing to pull out all the stops to win another term in office — and, if that isn’t enough, to deploy last-ditch conspiracy theories about election fraud in hopes of sowing doubt about the results.