ESTERO, Florida—Four days after a gunman slaughtered 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused the news media of “stoking resentment” and chasing profits, reverting to a familiar and often successful strategy as the Republican party seeks to turn out its base of voters in next week’s midterm elections.
After condemning the “violent poison of anti-Semitism,” Trump immediately pivoted to attacking the “far-left media,” a missive that drew boos from the crowd and a deafening chant of “CNN sucks.” Rally-goers leaned in toward the press area and yelled “tell the truth” and “fake news,” among other taunts.
Most of Trump’s attacks on the media, whether at the White House or at political rallies, are off the cuff. But on Wednesday night, the biting criticisms were part of his prepared remarks, indicating that the Republican party has settled on an anti-media message as part of its closing argument six days before the midterms.
“The far-left media has spread terrible lies and stories about the Trump administration and the tens of millions of people who make up our movement—the greatest political movement in the history of our country,” Trump said, calling journalists “a big part of the division” in the country.
Trump’s rally came a day after he visited the site of the massacre of 11 Jewish congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where he was largely shunned by state and local officials, including top congressional leaders. But Trump got a much warmer reception in deep-red southwest Florida on Wednesday night.
“The media doesn’t want to hear your stories—not my stories, your stories. That’s why 33 percent of the people in this country believe the fake news is in fact—and I hate to say this—the enemy of the people,” Trump said, to loud cheers from the crowd.
Hostility toward the news media is standard fare at Trump rallies, and it is often successful for him as a political strategy. As the president’s supporters waited for the rally to begin, some of them approached the press area and taunted reporters with obscenities. One was wearing a t-shirt that read, “fuck the media.” That man, 38-year-old Florida resident Nick Schein, told The Daily Beast that he only wanted to troll CNN’s Jim Acosta—who frequently draws the ire of Trump supporters—but said he wanted to send a message to the rest of the press, too.
“Everything that I hear from the media in general is so slanted. No matter what Trump does, it’s just drivel. There’s nothing good,” Schein said. “He could cure cancer and they’d say, oh, drug companies need to make money.”
But while Trump was throwing red meat to his conservative base, he appeared well aware of the political backdrop in the state as he sought to lift two Republican candidates who are locked in close races with their Democratic opponents. The 7,000-seat Hertz Arena appeared at capacity as Trump kicked off his final marathon-like push to boost GOP Senate candidates in the six remaining days of the 2018 campaign. He is holding 11 rallies during that stretch, mostly in states where Republicans are aiming to defeat Democratic incumbents and grow their slim 51-49 majority in the Senate. One of the party’s key targets is Florida.
Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points in Lee County, which includes Estero and Fort Myers. But the president only won by one percentage point statewide, and the GOP is at risk of losing control of the governor’s mansion this year. Trump introduced Ron DeSantis, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, and continued his attacks on Andrew Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee and DeSantis’s opponent.
“Ron is running against a radical socialist who, frankly, wants to turn Florida into Venezuela,” Trump said. “Andrew Gillum is too extreme for the people of Florida.”
Republican strategists here are also worried about their chances of defeating Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who appeared vulnerable earlier in the 2018 cycle but who could narrowly fend off a challenge from Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R)—especially as Gillum drives up enthusiasm among progressives and younger voters. The RealClearPolitics polling average has Gillum ahead of DeSantis by three points, while Nelson has a two-point lead over Scott.
Moreover, the conservative sugar-high over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court appears to be dwindling after it helped jolt GOP candidates in some red states. The president has said voters should reward him for standing by Kavanaugh as the then-federal judge faced accusations of sexual misconduct.
Watching the partisan mud-slinging from the crowd was 25-year-old Jorge Nunez, a Democrat who is voting for Gillum and Nelson. He didn’t show up to protest, only to listen—a rarity in today’s political climate.
“I’m here really because I can only see everyone else’s opinions online, and I’ve got to form my own opinions,” Nunez told The Daily Beast. “I can’t have everyone telling me a bunch of things on social media.”