COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – Relishing in Democrats’ jumbled primary in the wake of a fractious debate, President Donald Trump offered stinging criticism of his rivals as he sought to take advantage of the moment.
Making a rare four-day swing through the West, Trump was exuding reelection confidence Thursday at a campaign rally in Colorado, after taking in the prior night’s prize fight of a debate in Las Vegas. He reveled in the intra-party squabbling and the weak debut debate performance turned in by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, according to aides and allies.
â€œI donâ€™t know if anyone watched last nightâ€™s debate,â€ Trump told an arena of raucous supporters. â€œIt got very big ratings, and you know what, Mini Mike didnâ€™t do well last night. I was going to send him a note, saying itâ€™s not easy doing what I do is it?”
He offered other biting assessments of the Democratic contenders, contrasting them to his own performance in debates four years ago.
“I became president because of the debates because unlike Mini Mike I could answer questions,” Trump said.
Feeling reelection odds rising after his acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial and his campaign’s record fundraising, Trump seized on the deep divisions and personal tiffs on display in the Democratic field. But his preoccupation with the scrambled nomination race for the Democrats seeking to replace him has been clear throughout the trip.
When Trump woke up Thursday morning in his gilded Las Vegas hotel, his base during the four-state western trip, he tuned in to the post-debate coverage and displayed his glee.
Repurposing one of Bloomberg’s own quotes about the Democratic infighting, Trump tweeted: â€œThe real winner last night was Donald Trump.â€ He tacked on his own coda: â€œI agree!â€
The night before, after a campaign rally in Phoenix, Trump summoned reporters to his office aboard Air Force One to join him in watching a replay of the debate on the return flight to Las Vegas. He was scheduled to hold a rally in the city – his third in as many days – Friday on the eve of the caucuses, as he did before contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Bloomberg has been the most disconcerting force in the 2020 race for Trump since the ultra-billionaire entered the fray in November and spent more than $400 million, which rocketed him in the polls in just three months.
Bloomberg’s willingness to spend near-unlimited sums to defeat Trump this fall, and the mocking tone of many of his ads, have deeply rankled the president.
Trump’s campaign had organized itself around the strategy that it would be able to paint any rival as an extreme liberal, a “socialist” or worse, and concerns mounted that strategists would have to come up with a different plan should Bloomberg win the nomination.
Trump’s team saw the debate as validating his reelection strategy and providing a fresh opening for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, to gain a significant delegate lead on Super Tuesday. The president was hopeful that panic from more moderate Democrats at Sanders’ rise would only further fracture the Democratic Party.
On Thursday, Trump predicted the debate would be the end of Bloomberg’s campaign, and said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign was also mortally wounded.
â€œI think you lost two last night,” he said in Colorado, adding that â€œit looks like Bernieâ€ will emerge as the Democratic nominee.
Trump on Thursday placed a round of calls to confidants, echoing the thoughts he had posted on Twitter – at times with more colorful language – and opining that Bloomberg did not appear ready for the moment, according to two Republicans close to the White House who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Long insecure about Bloombergâ€™s wealth, Trump told confidants that the debate proved money alone did not lead to his own electoral success.
Between three rallies and a pair of high-dollar fundraisers, Trump sought to use his western swing to highlight administration policies that delivered on campaign promises and appealed to key demographics.
On Wednesday, he ceremoniously signed new environmental regulations that eased water restrictions on farmers in the heavily Republican California Central Valley. On Thursday, Trump spoke to a graduating class of ex-prisoners in a renewed appeal to communities of color, as he championed his administrationâ€™s work on criminal justice reform.
In Colorado Springs, Trump was rallying support for Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who is considered one of the most vulnerable senators seeking reelection this year.
â€œWe are going to win Colorado in a landslide and youâ€™re going to help us get Cory Gardner across that line because heâ€™s been with us 100%,â€ Trump said, referencing his vote in the impeachment trial. â€œThere was no waver with Cory.â€
Between touting his administration’s accomplishments and attacking his opponents, Trump also critiqued the Academy Awards for awarding best picture to the South Korean film Parasite – the first foreign language film to win an Oscar.
â€œHow bad were the Academy Awards this year, â€œTrump said. â€And the winner is: a movie from South Korea. What’s that all about?”
Associated Press staff writer James Anderson in Colorado Springs and Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report. Lemire reported from Washington.