JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) — As the fate of his Supreme Court pick hangs in the balance, President Donald Trump barnstormed Monday for a Republican Senate candidate in Tennessee, warning that Democrats will unleash havoc if they gain control of Congress and accusing them of trying to sink his nominee.
“A Democratic takeover of Congress will plunge our country into gridlock and chaos and take away all of the wealth that you’ve earned over the last 20 months,” Trump warned, claiming without evidence that the stock market would plummet, 401(k)s disappear, taxes rise beyond “your wildest imagination,” and crime go through the roof.
It was a dire picture painted by a president eager to convince his raucous supporters of what’s at stake in November as he headlined a high-dollar, closed-door fundraiser and appeared at a packed rally in Johnson City to boost U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn in her tight Senate race against the state’s Democratic ex-Gov. Phil Bredesen for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
Trump praised Blackburn as a “true fighter” for the state, telling the crowd, “She’s all about Tennessee values.”
“A vote for Marsha is really a vote for me,” he said.
Bredesen, like other Democratic candidates across Trump country, has painted himself as a pragmatist willing to work with the president on certain issues. The Tennessee campaign is among several closely watched races expected to determine control of the Senate, where Republicans are desperate to defend a narrow two-seat majority in the face of surging Democratic enthusiasm.
And the stakes couldn’t be clearer. The rally came as the FBI investigated sexual misconduct allegations against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh — a probe that was forced by a small group of undecided senators who could doom the nomination. Earlier Monday, Trump disputed reports that his White House tried to narrow the scope of the probe and limit which witnesses the FBI could interview, saying he wants them “to do a very comprehensive investigation, whatever that means.”
But Trump was far less sympathetic in front of his enthusiastic rally crowd, accusing Democrats of trying to slow down the investigation and insisting that nothing will come of it.
“If we took 10 years, they’d want more time,” he complained, charging that Democratic senators are “willing to do anything or hurt anyone” to subvert his agenda, including taking down his nominee.
“They’re trying to destroy a very fine person, and we can’t let it happen,” Trump said.
Kavanaugh has staunchly denied allegations now leveled by multiple women, including one who testified that he pinned her against a bed, groped her, tried to take her clothes off and covered her mouth to silence her when they were in high school.
The rally was the first of a busy week of campaign travel for the president that will take him to states including Mississippi, Minnesota and Kansas.
Previewing his own re-election playbook, Trump criticized a number of rumored 2020 presidential opponents, including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“We call him 1 percent Biden,” said Trump, claiming that his political career was finished until former President Barack Obama “took him off the trash heap.”
Trump, who railed against the North American Free Trade Agreement during his 2016 campaign, also hailed the revamped trade agreement with Canada and Mexico unveiled late Sunday, drawing loud cheers from his crowd.
“It’s fair, it’s modern and it’s balanced,” Trump said. “America’s winning again.”
But Trump spent far more time railing against “radical Democrats,” who he said had been “in a blind rage” since his election win.
“They’ve gone crazy,” he said. “Trying to burn our future down.”
Blackburn’s contest, in a state that Trump won by 26 points, has drawn heavy interest from the White House, with repeat visits by both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Bredesen has tried to distance himself from the national Democratic Party, presenting himself as an independent thinker who will support Trump’s policies when they’re beneficial to the state.
The former two-term governor, who would be the first Democrat to win a Senate campaign in Tennessee since Al Gore in 1990 if he’s victorious, has run TV ads in which he says that he’s “not running against Donald Trump” and learned long ago to “separate the message from the messenger.” He held an event Monday night in Chattanooga that he’d hoped would be a debate with Blackburn, and he has been needling her for not agreeing to one there.
“Presidential visits are good for fundraising, but I’ve found that Tennesseans are independent thinkers who can make up their own minds,” Bredesen said in a statement after Trump’s visit.
Trump, as he has in other states, argued that Bredesen is not the centrist he says he is and will wind up voting with Democratic leaders including Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi if he gets to Washington.
Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 advantage in the Senate and are trying to hold onto their majority.