Even Away From Correspondents’ Dinner, Trump Makes Sure to Have His Say

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The White House Correspondents’ Dinner meant so little to the Trump administration and its boosters that thinly veiled rebukes of the First Amendment-focused event were a running theme of the president’s Saturday night campaign rally in Wisconsin.

It meant little to Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign manager, who took the stage and mentioned that he had been invited: “Nothing better than just self-serving love,” he said of the dinner.

It meant little to the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whose comedic roasting at last year’s dinner led to a reformatted event this spring. As she strode onstage to wild applause and alluded to the dinner, which was unfolding (without a comedian) in Washington, the crowd began a tailor-made chant: “Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!”

“Last year this night I was at a slightly different event,” Ms. Sanders said. “Not quite the best welcome. So this is an amazing honor.”

And it meant little to President Trump, who did not mention the dinner by name. Instead, he emphasized the news coverage of his rally, frequently disparaged the news media and told attendees they were having more fun with him than they would with a Democratic president. “By the way, Saturday night,” he said in a tongue-in-cheek delivery, “is there any place that’s more fun than a Trump rally?”

Supporters, doing the wave and thrusting Trump 2020 posters toward visiting Trump world celebrities including the social media personalities Diamond and Silk, did not seem to think so.

Dan Weddig, who drove over 100 miles from Gladstone, Mich., with his wife, Pam, enduring snowstorm warnings to attend, said he was happy to be part of the counterprogramming effort.

“It’s kind of in your face,” Mr. Weddig, 63, said of the dinner. “It’s a bunch of reporters and news people patting each other on the back.”

Aside from the reliable digs at the news media — images of Mr. Trump, dressed as a professional wrestling character and body-slamming a CNN logo, flashed across the Jumbotron before the president’s appearance — the rally was subdued for several stretches. During a more than hourlong speech, the president focused on policy and promises kept to a state that will be among the toughest in the country for Republicans to protect entering the 2020 election.

Mr. Trump first offered condolences for those killed and injured during a shooting at a California synagogue, then continued by heavily emphasizing trade relations with China, the healthy economy and his preferences on Federal Reserve policy. At times, the president had to rouse the crowd to the usual noise levels by deploying a reliable set of keywords: “Democrats,” “the media,” “the swamp.”

The less raucous rally was perhaps partly because of what is politically at stake for Republicans in Wisconsin, where three recent presidential elections were decided by the closest margins in the country. It is already presenting itself as a prime battleground territory before 2020, with Democrats planning to have their convention next year in Milwaukee.

One of the most visible industries here is also in peril. Dairy farmers in the state known for its cheese are reeling from the president’s trade wars as over 1,200 farms have stopped milking cows. But when Mr. Trump said his administration’s repeal of the estate tax would help farmers, the crowd still cheered.

Tailoring his speech to Midwesterners on the shores of Lake Michigan, Mr. Trump trumpeted local victories. He praised armored vehicle manufacturers in Oshkosh, and told the crowd his administration was earmarking $300 million to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. (His budget calls for cutting the program by 90 percent this year.)

“Now you finally have a president that is loyal to you,” Mr. Trump said, mostly reserving mockery for his prospective opponents.

“Can you imagine Sleepy Joe, Crazy Bernie?” he asked. “Can you imagine any of those people up here doing what I’m doing?”

As he attacked the usual hit list of Democrats, journalists and prospective 2020 presidential candidates, Mr. Trump detailed his policy victories and denounced his perceived enemies for any setbacks or losses. He again blamed John McCain, the Republican senator of Arizona, for dismantling a Republican plan to overhaul the health care system.

“We should’ve had health care,” Mr. Trump said. “But one man decided to vote against it.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill Mr. McCain voted down would have led to the loss of health care for over 16 million people. Still, the crowd cheered.

Mr. Trump blamed the Federal Reserve for slowing the country’s economic growth by avoiding quantitative easing. And he blamed the Democrats for just about everything else, be it abortion policy or immigration laws, deploying the usual criticisms.

Over the last week, the administration signaled weeks of bitter fighting ahead as it resisted requests for documents and testimony in a bid to block multiple inquiries by Democratic lawmakers in the House.

The White House had said it would tell various people in the president’s orbit to defy subpoenas, but it indicated late Friday that one such official, Carl Kline, a former personnel security director, would testify before a House committee about how security clearances had been handled.

The president, who spent his morning golfing near Washington with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, also used his speech to disparage the special counsel’s investigation into his campaign as “collusion delusion.”

After revisiting his favorite rally anecdotes, like moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and calling world leaders to complain about how much American aid cost the country, Mr. Trump paused and remarked on the crowd’s enthusiasm.

“You know why we’re having a good time?” Mr. Trump said. “Because we’re talking about a subject that we love, the United States of America.”

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