In a campaign stop three days before a crucial special election for Congress, Donald Trump advocated the death penalty for drug dealers in the course of an hour-long rambling campaign style speech where he bashed television anchors, unveiled his re-election slogan and discussed nuclear arms negotiations with North Korea. He also mentioned the Republican candidate whom he endorsed.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters in a packed airplane hangar outside of Pittsburgh on Saturday,March 10, 2018, Trump gave one of his trademark speeches including a rare imitation where he feigned what it would be like to act “presidential”.
The event was held to support Republican Rick Saccone, who is neck and neck with Democrat Conor Lamb in a congressional district that Trump won by more than 20 points in the 2016 election. Trump praised Saccone saying “he knows things other people don’t know” and bashed the Democratic candidate as “Lamb the Sham”. He also discussed the physical attractiveness of both candidates. Trump said of the 33-year-old Lamb “I hear he’s nice looking, I think I’m better looking” and then followed up by saying Saccone “is handsome too”.
But Trump spent most of his hour and 20 minutes on stage talking about almost every other topic under the sun. He confirmed reports that that he had been floating the idea of imposing a death penalty on drug dealers by a long discourse where he praised the criminal justice system in China. Trump noted China once had a problem with “the opium” that was “devastating” and went on to explain his bafflement that murderers were treated more harshly than drug dealers. “If someone goes and shoots somebody, kills somebody they get the death penalty,” said Trump. In contrast, he noted “a drug dealer will kill 2,000 to 5,000 people during the course of his life”.
Trump acknowledged how controversial the concept was. “I don’t know if this country is ready but I think it’s a discussion we have to start thinking about.”
It marked Trump’s most explicit public statements on the topic, although he previously praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who is leading a campaign of alleged extrajudicial killings against drug dealers and users.
In the aftermath of the shock announcement that Trump would meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, he touched upon his relationship with the man he once publicly derided as “little Rocket Man.” Trump chided the crowd when they started go boo Kim, saying “we have to be very nice” ahead of the scheduled summit.
He went to attack his predecessors for not meeting with Kim and said his meeting would be a great accomplishment and had forced concessions from “a man who is nuked up all over the place”. As Trump described it: “They announce they’re not sending any missiles up … I wouldn’t say Japan was thrilled with missiles flying over Japan.”
In Trump’s telling, South Korea’s President Moon Jaein told him: “Without Donald Trump, the Olympics would have been a total failure.” He then opined: “It’s a little hard to sell tickets when you think you’re going to be nuked.”
In addition to the coming special election, Trump looked back to the 2016 election where he derided a speech made by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts – whom he called “Pocahontas” – on behalf of Hillary Clinton for being “so angry”. He also dwelled at length on his victory in the electoral college.
Looking forward, Trump announced his 2020 campaign slogan would be “Keep America great” since he had already “made America great again”. He also took credit for a congressional special election win by Republican Karen Handel in a suburban district where Trump was deliberately kept away for fear of alienating moderate Republican voters.
As Trump often does, he went on several tirades about the media. He derided NBC news host Chuck Todd as “a sleepy son of a bitch”; called CNN “fake as hell”; and vented about a Wall Street Journal columnist, calling him “a Neanderthal”. But one unusual target of his ire was Ronald Reagan. The 40th president is a venerated figure among Republicans, but Trump criticized his predecessor as “not great on trade”.