MISSOULA — In a wide-ranging 70-minute speech from Missoula, President Donald Trump slammed Sen. Jon Tester and congressional candidate Kathleen Williams, both Democrats, as “extremist” liberals and praised Rep. Greg Gianforte for assaulting a reporter in 2017.
Trump, who spoke to thousands of supporters in an airplane hangar near the Missoula International Airport, has ventured to Montana three times in the last four months to campaign for Republican State Auditor Matt Rosendale, who is running against Tester in one of the closest watched Senate races in the nation.
The president’s speech covered an array of topics, from his victory in the 2016 election to Brett Kavanugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court to immigration and the economy.
But one of the most startling moments came when he praised Gianforte for assaulting a reporter on the eve of the 2017 special election.
“Greg is a great guy but you never want to wrestle with him. Any guy who can do a body slam is my type of guy,” Trump said to loud applause and laughter from the crowd. “When I heard that he body slammed a reporter… I thought ‘oh this is terrible, he is going to lose the election.’ And then I thought, ‘I know Montana pretty well, that actually might help him.’”
He mentioned the assault again later while talking about his potential 2020 Democratic challengers, specifically former Vice President Joe Biden, who earlier this year said if he were in high school he would “beat the hell” out of Trump for his lewd comments about women. Biden later apologized for the comment.
“Remember when he challenged me to a fight?” Trump asked the crowd. “I said he wouldn’t last long. He’d be down faster than Greg would take him down. He’d be down so fast.”
Trump spent a large part of the first 20 minutes of his speech reliving the 2016 election and dismissing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump colluded with the Russians.
Trump then focused his ire on “super liberal Jon Tester.” He criticized Tester’s voting record and for not supporting the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He also criticized the two-term Democratic senator’s “D” rating from the National Rifle Association.
“If you want to drain the swamp, you have to vote out the Democrats and you have to vote Senator Jon Tester out,” Trump said, to loud applause.
Later, the president revealed that he was campaigning against Tester because of his role in torpedoing the nomination of former White House doctor Adm. Ronny Jackson for Veterans Affairs secretary. Jackson withdrew his name from consideration earlier this year after facing questions about his ethics and preparedness for the job.
“I can never forget what Jon Tester did to a man that is of the highest quality,” Trump said. “What he did was unfair. It was vicious.”
Trump went on to compare the allegations against Jackson to those against Kavanaugh, which he called a “con job.”
Both Gianforte and Sen. Steve Daines made appearances before the crowd in Missoula. Daines was the first elected official to speak to the crowd and criticized illegal immigration and “leftist mobs.” When he mentioned former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the crowd chanted “Lock her up!”
While thousands of Trump supporters descended on the Missoula airport, a counter protest was held across town, which also attracted a large crowd. Meanwhile, on the hills above town, protesters used the iconic Mount Sentinel “M” to spell “Impeach” and the Mount Jumbo “L” to spell “Liar.”
Inside the rally, the crowd was overwhelmingly supportive of the president and his policies. Michael and Kathy Kidwell of Hamilton said they supported the president because they wanted to see him build a wall along the border with Mexico. Neither of them were surprised that Trump has made three trips to the state in just four months. Trump’s visit on Thursday tied Harry S. Truman for the most number of visits to Montana by a sitting U.S. president.
“I’m not surprised,” Michael Kidwell said. “The guy is just unstoppable.”
Matt Poch made the three-hour drive from Eureka because he supports Trump’s agenda but also because he wanted his kids to see a president.
“When are you ever going to get to see a U.S. president in person?” he asked. “It’s a chance for us to see something we would normally only see on television.”
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