President Donald Trump is barnstorming states with key U.S. Senate contests in a final push before Tuesday’s elections, but in Montana, where the president rallied on Saturday afternoon, the fight was personal.
In an extended broadside against incumbent Sen. Jon Tester, Trump appeared to veer from his prepared remarks in a lengthy diatribe against the Democrat over his successful efforts to block the nomination of one-time White House doctor Adm. Ronny Jackson to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“He tried to destroy Admiral Ronny Jackson,” Trump complained, “who’s the most clean-cut, wonderful person you’ve ever met. He tried to destroy him, and I’ve never forgotten it.”
The rally in Belgrade, Montana, was just one of nearly a dozen campaign events the president is attending in the final days leading up to Tuesday’s midterm elections.
In railing on Tester, who faces a challenge from Republican state auditor Matt Rosendale, Trump hit all the usual talking points: he’s a pawn of “Crying” Chuck Schumer; he feigns moderation, but is a consistent Democratic vote; and he cast a vote against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
But Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, appeared to elicit a level of consternation that Trump usually reserves only for Democratic leadership, protesters, and the media.
“You take the best person in this group, that’s the equivalent of what this man is, and his family,” Trump said of Jackson. “And Jon Tester tried to ruin him... That’s why I’m here.” He quickly added, “And I’m here also for these two great people,” Rosendale and Montana Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte.
Tester is narrowly leading Rosendale, according to recent polling in the race. Republicans in the state, which Trump carried by more than 20 points in 2016, hope that his visit will fire up the party’s voters in the face of intense voter enthusiasm on the Democratic side.
Trump has harbored intense dislike for Tester personally since he circulated allegations that Jackson, then Trump’s nominee to lead the VA, had freely dispensed painkillers to White House staff, showed up to work drunk, and created a hostile work environment.
Days after Jackson withdrew his nomination, Trump called on Tester to resign and threatened to spread damaging allegations against the senator. “Tester started throwing out things that he’s heard,” Trump said at a rally in April. “Well, I know things about Tester that I could say, too. And if I said them, he’d never be elected again.”
Trump has not shared any of those allegations to date, and he didn’t revisit the topic on Saturday.
Instead, the president seemed to compare Tester’s claims about Jackson to sexual assault allegations leveled against Kavanaugh during his confirmation process.
“You have nothing in your past. Nothing. I said that to two people: I said it to admiral and doctor Ronny Jackson and I said it to Brett Kavanaugh,” the president recalled. Jackson, he said, didn’t even want the job. “It’s called welcome to the world of politics.”