BALTIMORE — President Trump told House Republicans to prepare for “historic battles” in the coming election cycle, saying the GOP will create jobs and cut red tape as Democrats on the debate stage in Houston pushed what the president called “radical socialism” and “open borders.”
“They’ve never learned, they haven’t watched,” Mr. Trump said Thursday night at the House GOP retreat in Baltimore. “You’re doing the defense.”
Mr. Trump said the GOP has bolstered the economy and the Veterans Affairs Department, supercharged the military and energy sector and taken on opioid addiction, though he challenged Republicans in the hotel banquet hall to explain the party’s “bold vision for the future.”
He teased a substantial tax cut for middle-income people, saying it will be written in the coming year. And he predicted victory in his trade war with China, saying his tariff-heavy approach will bring the Asian superpower to its knees.
“Their supply chains are being broken like toys,” he said.
He pledged to build his border wall and to protect people with preexisting conditions, should the GOP manage to rally from its 2017 failure to replace Obamacare. And he pledged to protect the Second Amendment at all cost as Congress debates how to thwart mass shootings.
Testing a new applause line, he said it might be tough for the GOP to push its narrative.
“It’s the Democrats and it’s the media, we’re fighting two battles. It’s as if they’re one, because they are one. They’re colluding and they’re obstructing,” he said to laughter.
Mr. Trump delivered his pep talk close to a year after the House Republicans lost the majority in midterm elections.
They took consolation this week in winning a tightly contested House special election in North Carolina.
Republican Dan Bishop squeaked to victory, exposing Democrats’ weakness in rural areas but — perhaps more importantly for 2020 — revealing eroded support for Republicans in the suburbs.
Mr. Trump acknowledged the tough fight.
“He got in gear and he was brutal and brilliant and he did a great job,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Bishop. “We worked together as a team and it was inspirational for a lot of people to watch.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy insisted the party is well-positioned to retake the House and pursue an agenda based on core party values, starting with attempts to reel in entitlement programs that are driving the runaway debt.
“The Republicans have never been more united,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Look at the polling itself with this president. No president, not even Ronald Reagan, had as much support within the party as President Trump does.”
If Mr. Trump is worried about electoral prospects, he didn’t let on.
“Winning is a good thing, isn’t it?” Mr. Trump said as he took the stage to chants of “four more years.”
“You’re gonna take it. You’re gonna take the majority,” he added later.
The president’s visit to Baltimore comes a month after he sparked outrage for describing the city as a “disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested mess.” He accused Democrats of mismanaging the city.
As Democrats pushed back against the president’s comments, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was born in Baltimore, slammed Mr. Trump, suggesting his “slumlord” son-in-law Jared Kushner, who owns property in the city, was partly responsible.
Mr. McCarthy defended Mr. Trump, saying the visit put a spotlight on the war on poverty.
“I think the president coming here symbolizes that yes, he cares about Baltimore,” the California Republican said Thursday. “He cares about the people of Baltimore and he does not accept that you have to stay in poverty.”
Some locals doubted his sympathies, however. As Mr. Trump’s motorcade approached the GOP’s hotel, bystanders near the Inner Harbor booed, held signs about rats and at least one young woman offered a dual-middle finger salute.
Mr. Trump was scheduled to speak at 7:10 p.m. but didn’t start until 8 p.m. or so — right as 10 of his potential 2020 Democratic foes took the primary-debate stage in Houston.
The president said he could run them off the stage by pointing to low unemployment rates, particularly among black and Hispanic Americans.
Earlier Thursday, Mr. Trump rued the fact he’d miss the Democratic mud-slinging.
“I’m gonna have to have it somehow taped,” Mr. Trump said as he left the White House. “It’s going to be very interesting. I look forward to going home, I’m going to have to watch it as a rerun.”
Mr. Trump also handicapped the primary.
“It would look to me like it would be Elizabeth Warren, and looks like Joe [Biden], maybe will be able to get there — maybe not. I don’t know. Certainly Bernie [Sanders] is there,” he said. “I would imagine Biden would be able to make it if he doesn’t make any major mistakes.”
“Let me tell you, it takes a lot of courage to run for office,” he added. “I respect all of them.”
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