Egged on by the enthusiastic crowd, Mr. Trump cited a familiar list of grievances during his 76-minute speech. He railed against the “witch hunt” conducted against him by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and the “18 very angry Democrats” who worked with Mr. Mueller. He insisted — falsely — that Mr. Mueller had cleared him of all wrongdoing in connection with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and of obstructing the investigation that followed. And he remained fixated on his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, and her “33,000 emails,” once again prompting chants of “lock her up.”
At times, Mr. Trump seemed like any other incumbent president, ticking off a laundry list of claimed accomplishments on veterans’ health care, funding for the military, abandoning the Paris climate accords and defending gun rights. The frenzied crowd seemed to lose some of its passion during those moments.
But he whipped them up again by raising fears about immigrants, spending more time on the centerpiece of his bleak vision of a country under assault than on any other issue. As he has before, he lashed out at Democrats, saying they are to blame for the consequences of letting “aliens” into the country.
“The Democrat agenda of open borders is morally reprehensible,” Mr. Trump said, accusing Democrats of the “ultimate act of moral cowardice” for failing to defend Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. He said the Democratic position on immigration was “the greatest betrayal of the American middle class and, frankly, American life.”
But for Mr. Trump, the rally was the beginning of what polls suggest will be a difficult 18 months as he seeks another four years in the White House. Already trailing Democrats in many voter surveys and having never cracked 50 percent in approval ratings since taking office, Mr. Trump has turned himself into one of the most polarizing presidents in American history.
His decision to formally start his re-election bid in front of a frenzied crowd of die-hard supporters was a clear signal that he has no intention of backing away from his dire warnings about immigration and trade. Nor will he abandon the personal attacks against his critics and the establishment that have supercharged his most loyal fans.