At an arena rally in Greenville, North Carolina, on Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump quadrupled down on his recent racist attacks on four female Democratic lawmakers. He also chastised one of them for using “the big, fat, vicious…F-word” against him, alleging, “that’s not somebody that loves our country.”
“She looks down with contempt on the hardworking American, saying that ignorance is pervasive in many parts of this country,” the president said of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), to cheering from the crowd, many of whom began chanting, “Send her back!”—enthusiastically joining in on the collective anti-Omar hate.
The congresswoman is an American citizen, and a Somali refugee. Trump, of course, did nothing to object to the chant, and soon thereafter reiterated his position on the four congresswomen and like-minded Americans: “If they don’t love [the country], tell them to leave it.”
Hours before taking the stage in Greenville, the president had tweeted that he’d be riffing on the topic that night, bringing the usual red-meat fare to his base supporters. “Big Rally tonight in Greenville, North Carolina. Lots of great things to tell you about… I’ll talk also about people who love, and hate, our Country (mostly love)!” he posted to Twitter on Wednesday morning.
Of course the president was going to deliver for his fans. To abstain from this fight at such a big public event would betray every political and petty instinct he’s ever exhibited. Trump advisers across the board said the president didn’t really have a choice, given that his entire political branding is built on the perception that he picks fights and sticks to his guns. “I think it’d be wise for him to lean into it. No other direction to go,” said one source close to the Trump campaign.
The president appears to be enjoying himself, as his critics bash him as the racist-in-chief and his defenders insist Democrats are the real racists. “Well, let’s put it this way,” Trump told the Daily Mail a few hours before he delivered his remarks at the rally. “I’m not unhappy.”
Over the past few days, the president has tried to dominate the news cycle by continuing to expand on one of the more openly racist attack lines of his presidency: a tweeted declaration that four minority congresswomen—three of whom were born in the United States—should return to the countries from which they each came.
“They’re complaining all the time,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday, building on his weekend social media posts about left-wing Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). “Very simply, you can leave. You can leave right now. Come back if you want, don’t come back, that’s OK too. But if you’re not happy, you can leave… I’m sure that there will be many people that won’t miss them.”
The president’s comments came at a time of his announced nationwide raids on undocumented immigrants, as well as his recent asylum plan that could pose his gravest threat to migrants. This week, his racist tirades were defended, excused, or even laughed off by major players in the national Republican Party, with Team Trump arguing that the president didn’t mean it, or that he was correct to say it, or that he was merely being his typical, funny self.
“It’s not uncommon for POTUS to tweet tongue-in-cheek 2drive home very obvious narratives,” Katrina Pierson, a Trump 2020 senior adviser, tweeted Sunday. “These ‘progressive women’ spend their time advocating for nations of their heritage & others instead of representing US while on our tax payroll - so bye.”
And yet some Trump allies seemed less enthused about the president’s determination to make himself the center of attention in this particular news cycle. “As the left insist it’s racism, the right insist the Fab 4 are anti-American. A good time for all,” former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), a Trump surrogate, told The Daily Beast on Monday. “But most of us wish Trump had not jumped into the center of the Democrat circular firing squad.”
Of course, those close to Trump don’t expect him to be letting up any time soon, even if certain advisers and supporters would prefer more restraint. The president is hardly known for showing that level of impulse control, and that applies to situations in which he’s lobbing racist taunts at Democratic enemies, and even in cases where he’s feuding with brutal dictators.
In the days leading up to his first speech before the United Nations in late 2017, Trump asked his friends and top administration officials if they thought it’d be wise for him to mock North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during his big U.N. speech. In polling his buddies and officials, the president revealed what he was itching to do during his address: He’d bash the dictator as the “rocket man” or “little rocket man,” according to two sources with knowledge of these conversations. Numerous people and confidants told him not to do it, thinking it unwise or unbecoming of a sitting president.
He did it anyway.
“Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” Trump, who had yet to befriend the “rocket man,” said before the U.N. General Assembly. The president also warned that the U.S. would “totally destroy North Korea” in a war. In the subsequent months, after a deluge of headlines and reels of cable news coverage Trump would make a point of teasing his advisers and friends who had urged him not to use his “rocket man” insult, the sources said.
“When the president gets ahold of an insult or applause line that he sees working, getting him to put it down is like grabbing a bone from a dog,” a senior White House official told The Daily Beast. Regarding Trump’s talk of how the congresswomen should “go back” to other countries, the official simply predicted: “He’s going to be at this for a while.”