In Remarks to Young Supporters, Trump Falsely Calls Elections a ‘Rigged Deal’

WASHINGTON — After spending a week laying the groundwork for a 2020 message that seems loosely defined as us versus them, President Trump on Tuesday repackaged campaign rally red meat into child-size portions for a gathering of young supporters.

At the Teen Student Action Summit 2019, Mr. Trump again attacked one of the four Democratic congresswomen of color he has assailed over the past week and falsely claimed that undocumented immigrants were voting en masse.

“She’s vicious,” Mr. Trump said at the gathering, a conservative convention in Washington, about the congresswoman, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. “She’s like a crazed lunatic.”

“Who elected her?” he added. “She’s screaming like a total lunatic at one of our rallies.”

The president’s nearly 80-minute speech was meant to inspire the 1,400 or so high school and early college-age supporters in attendance, most of whom are part of the most diverse generation in history. The group attending the convention was largely white.

During his speech, Mr. Trump spoke extensively of what he called the dangers of the “radical left,” referring to newly recirculated video of Ms. Tlaib protesting at an event in 2016 held in support of his presidential campaign.

The president also used his time at the conference to paint a dark picture of immigrants and the election system, falsely claiming that undocumented immigrants can vote, and then accusing the election system in states like California of being rigged. This has long been an inaccurate claim made by Mr. Trump, who said he lost the popular vote because of voter fraud in that state.

“They vote many times, not just twice, not just three times,” Mr. Trump said. “They vote — it’s like a circle. They come back; they put a new hat on. They come back; they put a new shirt. And in many cases, they don’t even do that. You know what’s going on. It’s a rigged deal.”

In recent days, the issue of immigration has again become fodder for the president and his supporters, who seek to frame the 2020 race as one run against progressive ideals that they warn could lead the country down the path to socialism. He has used as foils Ms. Tlaib and her freshman allies Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna S. Pressley, telling them on Twitter to “go back” to their home countries, even though three were born in the United States and all are American citizens.

At a 2020 campaign rally last week, after Mr. Trump reeled off controversial comments made by Ms. Omar, who was born in Somalia, the crowd chanted, “Send her back,” as Mr. Trump paused to listen.

During his speech on Tuesday, he suggested several times that the American heritage his supporters celebrate was under assault, and again said Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had called Americans “garbage.” She did not.

“They see our history as a source of shame; our traditions and our victories as relics to be replaced,” Mr. Trump said, adding, “Our values as obstacles to be removed; our citizens as subjects to be controlled; and America as a menace to be constrained. That’s what they see.”

John Ruffin, 19, who studies economics at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., said at the convention that he supported the president but did not approve of Mr. Trump’s initial remarks about the four congresswomen.

“Just because you come here and have a different idea of what the government should be, you shouldn’t be forced out of here,” Mr. Ruffin said, calling the go-back criticism an “un-American idea.” He called Mr. Trump’s disavowal of the rally chant a “step in the right direction,” even though the president had reversed course by the time he took the stage on Tuesday.

The Teen Student Action Summit is the brainchild of Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a group that reaches out to young conservatives. Mr. Kirk, 25, and members of his organization have been criticized by the Southern Poverty Law Center for Twitter posts that contained anti-immigrant or racist views.

The president is fond of him and has called Mr. Kirk a “genius.” Mr. Kirk has a direct line to Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people familiar with the relationship, and was scheduled to interview Mr. Kushner for nearly an hour onstage on Tuesday.

Mr. Kirk said in an interview that conservatism is popular with young people who see it as an almost countercultural alternative to the mainstream. And he disagreed vehemently that Mr. Trump’s “go back” tweet had been racially divisive and said the news media had not covered the president’s words honestly.

“At every corner, at every turn, the left is trying to divide us,” Mr. Kirk said. “The president is trying to unite us.”

Engaging young voters will be important to Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign: The president’s approval rating with 18- to 29-year-olds is around 34 percent, lower than his average with older Americans, according to Gallup. But on Tuesday, it was not clear if the president was interested in bringing more young voters over to his way of thinking, or reiterating his grievances for those who do not believe they can freely express their support for him.

“I’m the No. 1 target,” Mr. Trump said, before bringing up several young attendees to the stage to share stories of being discriminated against for their political views. “Who’s more of a target than me?”

The gathering featured Trump World figures like Eric Bolling, the former Fox News host turned informal policy adviser on issues including the opioid crisis, and Nigel Farage, the far-right leader of Britain’s Brexit Party, who has already questioned the ability of Boris Johnson, the newly appointed prime minister, to lead the country’s exit from the European Union.

Mr. Trump pointed out Mr. Farage in the crowd as he opined on the latest development in British politics. “He’s a little older than most of you,” Mr. Trump said. “I know he’s going to work well with Boris.”

But the prevailing theme of the day was the idea that conservatives are hidden from view because of abuse from liberals. Three students were brought onstage to share their stories of being harassed at school or in public for being conservative or for wearing “Make America Great Again” hats. That message touched attendees like Alejandro Puga, 20, from Miami, who said he came to the convention because he wanted other conservatives to feel like they had a voice ahead of the 2020 elections.

“Leftist students always intimidate many conservative students,” Mr. Puga said. “I’m glad that this organization and the president were able to allow students to have that sense of pride to be a conservative.”

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