Kim Jong-un, the NFL and 'Screaming at Senators': Trump's Strange Night in Alabama
Donald Trump gave one of his signature stream of consciousness speeches in Hunstville on Friday night as he tried to get out the vote for embattled Alabama Republican senator Luther Strange.
During an address inside the Wernher Von Braun Center that lasted an hour and 20 minutes, the president called North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man”, said NFL owners should cut players who kneel for the national anthem and returned to familiar targets like John McCain and Hillary Clinton.
Strange is facing a runoff election on Tuesday for the GOP nomination to hold the seat he was appointed to in February. The former state attorney general was handed the seat after former senator Jeff Sessions was appointed attorney general by Trump. Strange is currently trailing in the polls against Roy Moore, an ardent social conservative who has twice been removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
The race has become a top priority for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and a superPAC affiliated with him will spend over $9m on Strange’s behalf. The Alabama senator is seen as reliable vote for Republican priorities while Moore has mused about making “homosexual conduct” illegal and suggested that the terrorist attacks of 11 September may have been divine retribution for the United States turning away from God.
The campaign has largely focused on McConnell. Moore has attacked the Senate majority leader as a creature of the “swamp” that Trump wishes to drain while Strange has tried to distance himself from the Kentucky Republican. Strange went as far as to assert in his brief introductory remarks on Friday night that Trump was backing him so that he could have the votes in the Senate to “stand up to Mitch McConnell.” The President later asserted that Strange “didn’t know” the Senate majority leader.
Trump repeatedly praised Strange and often calling the 6’9ft senator “Big Luther.” However, he did note that Moore, who has been backed by a number of prominent conservatives including former Trump aide Steve Bannon, was “a good man” and that he would campaign for him if the former chief justice won on Tuesday.
Instead of direct criticism, Trump simply claimed Moore would a face a difficult general election in deep red Alabama. He said Moore “has a very good chance of not winning a general election.” Trump also dwelled on the political risk he was taking backing Strange, insisting that the media would attack him if the Alabama Republican lost.
In between his praise of Strange, Trump touched on a smorgasbord of topics. He renewed his criticism of Kim Jong-un, whom he called both “Rocket Man” and “Little Rocket Man” and warning of the risk posed by North Korea’s nuclear program and its recent threats to test a hydrogen bomb. “Now he’s talking about a massive weapon exploding over the Pacific Ocean, which causes calamity. Where the plume goes, so goes cancer, so goes tremendous problems.” However, Trump confidently said “I’m going to handle it”.
Hours after John McCain torpedoed Republican hopes to repeal and replace Obamacare, Trump expressed his disappointment. He said McCain’s opposition was “totally unexpected and terrible”. He also chided the Arizona Republican for what he saw as hypocrisy. “Repeal and replace, John McCain if you look at his last campaign it’s all about repeal and replace and that’s fine, we still have a good chance [of repealing and replacing Obamacare.” He described his attempts to court senators on health care, saying “I’m on the phone screaming at people all day long for weeks”.
Trump also returned to some of his favourite topics. He talked at length about the wall he hopes to build on the Mexican border, insisting it needed to be see-through. Trump said this was because drug dealers are currently using catapults to send 100 pound bags of drugs over the existing concrete wall and they are landing on people’s heads in the United States. He also responded the familiar cheers of “lock her up” directed at Hillary Clinton by telling the crowd “you gotta speak to Jeff Sessions about that”.
The president also dwelled on NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem in peaceful protest. He asked the crowd, “Wouldn’t you love one of the NFL owners when someone disrespects our flag, ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now.’” He told attendees, “If you see it, leave the stadium, I guarantee things will stop.”
Since 2016, a number of African American NFL players have taken a knee during the National Anthem. It was spurred by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who was the first to do so in protest what he saw as oppression of people of color. Several other players have since followed suit and it has sparked national controversy.
Trump’s visit to Alabama comes just four days before the primary runoff and only hours after Ben Carson, a member of Trump’s cabinet, issued a quasi-endorsement of Moore. In a statement issued by Moore’s campaign, Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development said “Judge Moore is a fine man of proven character and integrity, who I have come to respect over the years”. Carson did not explicitly endorse Moore though.
Vice president Mike Pence, who will hold a rally for Strange in Birmingham, will follow Trump in Alabama on Monday. Moore is scheduled to hold an election eve rally with Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.