President Trump hosted his third wide-ranging rally of the midterm season in Montana on Thursday night, where he urged voters to "never forget Benghazi" and praised Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to body slamming a reporter last year, as a "tough cookie."
Only three other sitting presidents have ever visited Missoula, where between 6,000 and 8,000 people were attending the event at the Minuteman Aviation hangar, according to The Misssoulian.
"I love these hangars," Trump said at the opening of the rally, as the crowd chanted "USA!" He continued: "I love a hangar. There's nothing like a hangar. You get out of the plane, you walk over, and you have massive crowds." Later, Trump remarked repeatedly that he was underneath a "beautiful, beautiful, big sky."
He quickly turned to Gianforte, advising the crowd: "Never wrestle him. Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of guy."
Gianforte, who is running against Democrat Kathleen Williams, was required to undergo anger management classes for pummeling Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs the day before his election. He was sentenced to community service and fined $385 last year.
"Never wrestle him. Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of guy."
Trump continued: "I shouldn't say this -- it's nothing to be embarrassed about. I was in Rome with a lot of the leaders of other countries ... and I heard about it, and we endorsed Greg very early, but I had heard that he had body slammed a reporter. And he was way up, and I said, and this was the day of the election or just before -- 'This is terrible, he's going to lose the election.' And then I said, 'Wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him.' And it did. He's a great guy. Tough cookie."
The president also took aim at his opponent in the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton, criticizing her for her email practices and telling the crowd to "Never Forget Benghazi."
His comments came days after a federal judge excoriated the State Department for "lying" by presenting the court with "clearly false" affidavits documenting their review of Clinton's emails and communications concerning the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
A State Department lawyer acknowledged that the government's review of the materials could be considered inadequate.
With just weeks until the pivotal midterm elections, the president was primarily seeking to convince Montana to replace his longtime bitter rival, incumbent Sen. Democratic Jon Tester, with GOP state auditor Matt Rosendale. But his rally was also part of his long-running effort to help preserve Republicans' tenuous holds on the Senate and House of Representatives.
"This will be an election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order, and common sense," Trump said, referring to his successful Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh and a Central American migrant caravan approaching the U.S. border with Mexico.
U.S. and Mexican officials have agreed on a plan to handle the caravan, a senior administration official told Fox News on Thursday.
"I just want to thank the Mexican government because they're stopping it hopefully before it even gets to Mexico," Trump said to applause. "As you know, I'm willing to send the military to defend our southern border if necessary, all caused by the illegal immigration onslaught brought by the Democrats because they refuse to acknowledge or change the laws. And they figure everyone who's coming in is going to vote Democrat."
"I have caused the problem," Trump went on. "Because I have created such an incredible economy, I have created so many jobs. I have made this country, with you, so great, that everybody wants to come in. So they're all pouring in -- or trying to."
Losing one or both chambers in November's midterm elections, Trump himself has warned, could not only compromise border security and complicate his legislative agenda -- which top Republicans recently said might include another attempt at fully repealing ObamaCare -- but also empower Democrats to open a series of investigations and potentially even impeachment proceedings.
Trump emphasized that possibility in a previous rally in Montana just last month.
"I don't even bring it up," Trump told the crowd. "Because I view it as something that, you know, they like to use the impeach word. Impeach Trump. Maxine Waters, 'We will impeach him.' But he didn't do anything wrong. 'It doesn't matter, we will impeach him. We will impeach.' But I say, how do you impeach somebody that's doing a great job that hasn't done anything wrong?"
Fox News currently rates the Senate race in Montana, a state Trump won over Hillary Clinton by double digits in 2016, as lean Democrat -- and in the final weeks of the campaign season, there are renewed signs that Trump has made it his personal mission to push the state back into the Republicans' column.
Earlier this year, Trump called for Tester’s resignation for his role in torpedoing Dr. Ronny Jackson's nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Jackson had been besieged by unproven and disputed allegations compiled by Tester’s office concerning his prescription-drug practices and use of alcohol. (Tester is the top Democrat on the Republican-controlled Senate Veteran Affairs Committee.)
The president repeated that line of attack this week, saying that Tester had treated Jackson more unfairly than Democrats who fiercely opposed Kavanaugh's nomination. Democrats promoted a series of uncorroborated sexual misconduct and rape accusations against the then-nominee.
"Ever since his vicious and totally false statements about Admiral Ron Jackson, the highly respected White House Doctor for Obama, Bush & me, Senator John Tester looks to be in big trouble in the Great State of Montana!" Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday. "He behaved worse than the Democrat Mob did with Justice K!"
At Thursday's rally, Trump simply called Tester "disgraceful" and accused him of leading a "mob" to unfairly destroy Jackson's reputation.
"Tester said things about him that were a disgrace," Trump said, adding that "a series of lies" had ultimately derailed Jackson. He compared Jackson to Kavanaugh, saying both men were respected and had been wrongly maligned.
"The only thing keeping Tester's campaign alive, are millions and millions and millions of dollars from outside liberals and radical leftists who couldn't care less about Montana," Trump said. He added that Tester opposed his tax bill and wants "open borders."
He added that his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, was "so cool you wouldn't believe it" during a mid-flight scare this week, when smoke filled the cabin of her military jet.
Trump wrapped up the event by mocking Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren for "making a fool out of herself" by releasing the results of a disputed DNA test she claimed proved she likely had a recent Native American ancestor.
"She has so little Indian blood -- she has none -- that I can no longer call her Pocahontas," Trump taunted.
Thursday's rally comes two days after the Marine Corps veteran who served as Montana's GOP chairman from 2009 to 2015 warned potential protesters on Facebook that Trump supporters tend to carry guns.
"All you protesters ... This is a concealed and open carry state, and we know how to use em."
“Also all you protesters, show up as well," the former state Republican chairman, Will Deschamps, wrote on the social media site. "This is a concealed and open carry state and we know how to use em."
He ended his message by noting that he is “USMC trained,” referring to his military service.
Trump has held more than two dozen rallies to benefit GOP candidates, and more than 350 rallies since beginning his presidential bid in 2015.
Trump's campaign has said it is paying all the bills for the rallies, including the costs of fueling and using Air Force One to ferry the president and his staff to and from the events.
The billionaire businessman can apparently afford it, and then some: New filings with the Federal Election Commission show Trump's campaign has already hauled in more than $100 million for his 2020 reelection effort, an unprecedented sum that owes to his early start on the campaign trail.
Thursday's rally was Trump's first stop in a three-date tour of western states that will include Arizona and Nevada.