MONROE, La. — President Donald Trump on Wednesday continued his attack on a CIA whistleblower whose complaint prompted the Democratic impeachment inquiry, accusing the official’s lawyer of plotting a coup attempt and denigrating the process as “deranged” and a hoax.
Democrats, Trump said at a rally in northern Louisiana, are “trying to overthrow American democracy to impose their socialist agenda,” before reading aloud a 2017 tweet by Mark Zaid, the whistleblower’s lawyer. Trump said the tweet, which was resurfaced on conservative websites, predicted a “coup” and an impeachment, and was proof of a wide-ranging plot against him.
“It’s so bad what they do,” Trump said. “They rip the guts out of our country.”
In an email, Zaid, pointed out that he formerly represented the Republican National Committee. He said his tweet was taken out of context and the attacks represented “partisan deflection.”
In the second speech he has given in the state since House Democrats began investigating whether he abused his power by asking the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump sought to tie the state’s Democratic governor to a party he has repeatedly painted as too “delusional” for Louisiana.
With his third rally in six days, Trump continued his swing through the Bible Belt, where he has tried to rely on his usual red-meat roadshow to tip the scales toward Republican candidates locked in close races in Mississippi, Kentucky and now Louisiana, where Eddie Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman, is running for governor against John Bel Edwards, the incumbent whom Trump painted as a “radical liberal” Democrat.
“I’m really here for a little different reason: It’s called early voting,” Trump said before announcing that he would be returning to the state before the Nov. 16 election. “That’s how much I love Eddie.”
Louisiana will be another test of Trump’s clout in several Southern states where this week’s elections have shown mixed results amid more worrying signs in key suburban districts across the country. A raucous rally Monday in Lexington, Kentucky, was not enough to keep Matt Bevin, the state’s Republican governor, from being unseated by Andy Beshear, the state’s Democratic attorney general. Bevin has yet to concede.
“The president just about dragged Gov. Matt Bevin across the finish line,” Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign manager, wrote in a statement Tuesday evening, all but attributing Bevin’s loss to his deep unpopularity going into the race, and not to Trump. For his part, Trump focused on the several Republican victories in Kentucky, including the one by Daniel Cameron, the first black person to be elected attorney general there.
The president’s visit to Tupelo, Mississippi, to support Tate Reeves, the Republican lieutenant governor, helped Reeves win the governorship in an already deep-read state. ( Trump “undoubtedly had an impact,” Parscale wrote.)
The Trump campaign is now refocusing its efforts into Louisiana before the runoff election between Edwards and Rispone, who has tried to appeal to voters by fashioning himself in the image of Trump.
The field was narrowed to the two men in October after a bipartisan primary in which Edwards won about 47% of the vote and Rispone won the second-highest tally with about 27%. But in that contest, a third major Republican candidate, Rep. Ralph Abraham, earned about 24% of the vote, and observers say the runoff race appears to be particularly close.
Trump, who visited Lake Charles, Louisiana, last month to encourage Republicans to vote against Edwards, did not endorse either of the party’s candidate at the time, a decision his campaign made in hopes of prompting the runoff.
Polls forecasting a deadlocked race indicate that Rispone could use another boost. Edwards is a former Army officer who is anti-abortion, pro-gun and wary of criticizing Trump, all of which allows him to appeal to social conservatives who might not otherwise consider voting Democratic.
Rispone, who was little known beyond Baton Rouge business circles before the race, benefits from the “R” after his name — several Trump supporters at the Monroe rally said they were voting for Rispone simply because he was not a Democrat.
“It’s about what Democrats are,” Sydney Smith, a 55-year-old from West Monroe, Louisiana, who works in the oil industry, said as he stood in line to buy water outside the rally. He said he was unsure if Rispone could pull it off even with the president’s help. “It’s 50-50,” Smith added.
Along with the usual supporters in Trump gear who showed up to listen to music played at a rib-cage-rattling volume, colorful local characters turned out to the rally: The cast of the popular reality TV show “Duck Dynasty” was seated in the VIP section near Rispone’s family.
“If you’re pro-God and pro-America and pro-gun and pro-duck hunting, that’s all I want,” Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family, told the crowd.
But no character was more bombastic than the president himself, who infused new complaints about impeachment with years-old gripes. He paused for several seconds as the crowd launched into chants of “lock her up” — a 2016 campaign-era cheer about Trump’s Democratic opponent at the time, Hillary Clinton, nearly 1,100 days after the election.
The president’s appearance Wednesday in Monroe is not the only development that has provoked high emotions in recent days. In an interview Friday, Rispone angered the governor’s supporters by saying that Edwards had “hurt the reputation” of his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy, with his work as a trial lawyer.
It was Rispone’s turn to be outraged when a Democratic New Orleans City Council member appeared in a radio ad comparing Rispone to the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
“It is disgusting how low they will go,” Rispone said at the rally, which drew chants of “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!” from supporters. Rispone praised the president for “exposing John Bel Edwards as the liberal that he is.”
Still, Rispone has proved to be considerably less polished than Edwards, a lawyer who served eight years in the state House before becoming governor. Rispone has appeared in just one debate, on Oct. 30, since the primary and has tried to use his newcomer status as a selling point, telling voters he is “not a career politician” but a “successful entrepreneur” and “conservative outsider.”
Supporters in the crowd did not seem impressed with Rispone’s Trumpian performance so far.
“That last debate may have hurt him,” James Gardner, a 52-year-old from Winnfield, Louisiana., said as he stood near the rally stage waiting for the president to speak. “Edwards just made him look stupid.”
When asked if he thought the president could do enough to help Rispone, Gardner said he would pray on it.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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