President Donald J. Trump returned to the campaign trail Monday night, touting the accomplishments of his first 50 days in office to a raucous crowd of supporters in Louisville, Kentucky.
Amid growing unrest among conservatives about the proposed House healthcare legislation, President Trump sought to stir up support for the bill a few days before an upcoming vote on Thursday in the House of Representatives. The President was introduced by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, both supporters of the GOP’s repeal and replace plan.
In a Monday morning op-ed for the Louisville Courier, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed the President to Louisville saying, “In his first visit to Kentucky since his Inauguration, I am proud to welcome President Trump to Louisville to discuss the future of health care.”
However, similar to his “thank-you tour” rallies and reminiscent of the campaign, the President—much to the crowd’s delight— repeatedly veered off script, highlighting fulfilled campaign promises and criticizing opponents, notably Democrats in Congress and members of the media who have criticized his initiatives.
Although the President’s first 50 days have been overshadowed by ongoing controversy regarding possible Russian influence on the presidential election and the President’s own claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor, Trump presented the administration’s recent decisions as a series of promises kept.
Standing underneath banners that said “Promises Made, Promises Kept,” President Trump noted the administration’s early accomplishments including withdrawing from Obama-era trade deals, rolling back federal regulations, renegotiating a contract with Boeing that saved 700 million dollars on the next Air Force One, and approving the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines—explaining to the delight of the crowd that the steel for the pipelines will be produced in the United States. The President also commented on the improving economy, remarking that three trillion dollars in value has been added to the economy since his election.
President Trump also praised Neil Gorsuch, his nominee for Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, whose Senate confirmation hearing began Monday morning. In a passing comment he praised Gorsuch’s credentials and asked members of both parties to promptly confirm him.
The White House’s decision to choose Kentucky for the President’s healthcare push is noteworthy. Although Republican presidential candidates have easily carried the state for two decades (Trump won the state with 62.5%), Kentucky has emerged as a battleground in the effort to repeal Obamacare. The visit follows Vice President Mike Pence’s appearance in Kentucky only two weeks ago.
According to Senator McConnell, Obamacare has unduly effected Kentuckians, whose premium and deductible costs have skyrocketed since the law’s implementation. McConnell said, “Obamacare has become a mess in Kentucky, just like it has across the nation. In our state, premiums are rising by as much as 47 percent this year alone… because of the unsustainable costs of Obamacare, insurance companies are offering fewer plans in fewer places across the country. In Kentucky’s 120 counties, 54 have only one choice for an insurance provider in the marketplace. Having only one option is really having no option at all.”
In the lead up to the rally, healthcare reform was the anticipated theme of Trump’s Louisville speech. Although the President did spend a few minutes discussing Obamacare’s impact—noting that one third of Americans now live in a county where there is only one choice for an insurance provider in the healthcare exchanges—he was light on replacement specifics, promising that “repeal and replace” would happen soon and that “we’re gonna do it.”
Despite McConnell’s appearance at the rally, not every Republican lawmaker is satisfied with the Trump-endorsed House Republican plan. Kentucky’s other Senator, Rand Paul, has joined other conservative leaders including Ted Cruz, Ben Sasse, and Mike Lee, in expressing reservations about Paul Ryan’s three-step plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Speaking to business leaders in a Louisville suburb the morning of Trump’s rally, Paul said that the current GOP plan does not do enough to fix the most problematic parts of Obamacare.
In a Monday press conference, Paul reiterated his opposition to the House Republican plan and explained that he would vote “no” if the legislation is not amended.
Commenting on his decision to return to Washington rather than attend the President’s rally, Paul’s spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper said, “Sen. Paul is always happy to have President Trump in Kentucky and looks forward to continuing to work with the administration and Congress to address health care reform with a real repeal of Obamacare and replace it with conservative market-based solutions that will bring down prices and give families more choice.”
In his speech, President Trump alluded to Paul’s critiques, promising that while the Senator might not endorse the current replacement plan, he will eventually be able to support the final version.
Paul’s absence nor the President’s lack of policy details seemed to bother the crowd. In fact, Freedom Hall—the former home of Louisville’s basketball teams—was packed. With a seating capacity of 18,000, event organizers apparently anticipated a smaller crowd. However, as the 7:30 start time approached, several pieces of curtain sectioning off parts of the upper bowl were taken down to accommodate the swelling crowd. By the time the President spoke all of the curtains were down and the arena was standing room only. President Trump himself acknowledged the capacity crowd.
Characteristic of the high-energy campaign events that propelled Trump to the presidency, the atmosphere of the event—blaring music, chants, and loud applause throughout the speech—at times resembled a March Madness basketball game rather than a political event. But this has been characteristic of President Trump’s post inauguration rallies, which his supporters clearly love and appreciate. One local reporter even remarked that the event was louder than the Kentucky v. Louisville men’s basketball game this season.
Many in attendance waited in line for hours; some waiting in excess of ten hours for the chance to see the President in person.
Evan Smith, a 24-year-old Trump supporter and seminary student from Lexington, Kentucky stood in line for hours to see President Trump in Louisville. He was not disappointed with the rally.
“For decades, politicians have sold out rural America,” Smith explained. “Our manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas, our coal mines have been shut down, and our farms have been foreclosed as the economy continues to suffer under policies that only benefit globalists and lobbyists. Rural American has felt forgotten. We feel ignored and despised by the coastal elites. This past election was about us— the forgotten man and woman.”
Smith’s thoughts represented the majority of those in attendance. In fact, one of the loudest applause lines of the night came when the President promised to put coal miners back to work. Claiming that “they have not been treated well,” the President pledged to continue fighting anti-coal regulations. Other lines from the speech that received a positive response included the oft-repeated campaign promises to “buy American and hire American” and “drain the swamp.”
The event capped a busy day for the President who earlier in the day met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss ongoing efforts to defeat ISIS. The White House also spent much of the day monitoring the testimony of FBI Director James Comey who appeared before the House Intelligence Committee to answer questions about investigations pertaining to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and President Trump’s wiretapping charges.
The Resurgent’s live coverage and instant analysis of the rally can be seen here. Photo by Michael Clevenger.