President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Florida on Wednesday accused the media of "pushing people apart" in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagagoue shooting that killed 11 people. Trump called the Democratic candidate for governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, calling him a "Venezuela-style" dictator who had taken "bribes."
The president's rally in Estero, Florida, is the first in a string of campaign appearances in the days before the midterm elections. Trump is visiting Tennessee, Georgia, West Virginia and Ohio before Election Day, as well as an additional rally in Florida, and two appearances each in Missouri and Indiana.
Trump has endorsed the Republican candidate for governor, Ron DeSantis, and the Republican candidate for Senate, current Governor Rick Scott, both of whom are locked in extremely tight races. DeSantis in particular has embraced Mr. Trump. Scott and DeSantis both spoke briefly at the rally. At one point, the crowd chanted "lock him up" about Gillum.
"Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum would be a disaster for Florida's economy," Trump said about DeSantis and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, Scott's opponent.
The president traveled to Florida after a tumultuous week that included the arrest of a man for allegedly sending to several Democratic leaders and other critics of Trump and a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. The president went to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, but congressional and city leaders did not appear with him, and he was met with several protesters. Trump began his rally by addressing the massacre in Pittsburgh, praising law enforcement and offering condolences.
"We pledge our resolve to remove the vile poison of anti-Semitism," Trump said, adding that there was "unbreakable solidarity" with the Jewish people. He then pivoted to criticize the media for using "tragedy to show anger and division," as the press had reported on the protests that faced the president. He accused the media of "pushing people apart." He said that the reporting was "fake and make believe," even though over 1,000 protesters did gather to demonstrate their opposition to Trump in Pittsburgh. He did, however, acknowledge that there were some "very good people" in the media.
"The media doesn't want you to hear your story," Trump added, saying that 33 percent of the country believed that the press was "the enemy of the people." He also repeatedly referred to the media as left-wing.
In his speech, Trump focused on his typical stump speech topics, such as illegal immigration and criticism of the Democratic Party.
He also discussed the migrant caravans on the way to the U.S. from Central America, who are several weeks away from arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. "We're getting prepared for the caravan, folks, you don't have to worry about that," Trump said of the migrants, most of whom are seeking asylum. Over 5,000 active-duty military troops have been sent to guard the border, and the president reports that he may send up to 15,000 troops to the border, more than are currently stationed in Afghanistan.
Trump also discussed birthright citizenship, a recent top campaign issue for Trump. The president said in an interview with "Axios on HBO" published on Tuesday that he was considering signing an executive order that would eliminate birthright citizenship, meaning that children of non-citizens and illegal immigrants would not automatically be U.S. citizens if they were born on American soil. This proposal has excited some Republicans, but many have raised concerns about its constitutionality.
The country has engaged in a debate over political rhetoric in recent days. Cesar Sayoc, the man who allegedly sent the bombs, was a steadfast Trump supporter who had promoted right-wing conspiracy theories and threatened Democratic politicians on Twitter. Pittsburgh shooting suspect Robert Bowers told police officers that he wanted to "kill Jews," according to charging documents, and had previously made anti-Semitic comments online. These prominent examples of hateful rhetoric culminating in violence have led many on the left to point to Mr. Trump for his incendiary political language. The president and his allies have vehemently denied that his heated rhetoric in rallies encouraged divisiveness.
Trump also blamed the media for sowing discord in American politics. "There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly," he tweeted on Monday.
During a campaign rally in North Carolinaon Friday, after the arrest of Sayoc, Trump often noted that he was "being nice" by using a quieter tone and softer rhetoric. "Political violence must never, ever be allowed in America and I will do everything in my power to stop it," Trump said at the rally, calling for an "end to the politics of personal destruction." At a mention of the media, the crowd chanted "CNN sucks," while Trump looked on.
Trump discussed birthright citizenship with reporters as he left the White House. "In my opinion, it's much less complex than people think," Trump said. He added that he didn't need a constitutional amendment to eliminate birthright citizenship, but it could be accomplished by congressional action or executive order. He also denied that he had contributed to a culture of divisiveness in the country. "I'm not fear-mongering at all," he said.