Trump in Waterford blasts judge, defends business practices

Former President Donald Trump delivered a combative campaign speech Saturday night at an Oakland County airport hangar, beginning by chiding a judge who fined him some $450 million for financial fraud a day before and blasting his critics and a judicial system he claimed is corrupt and set up against him for political reasons.

“It’s a horrible, horrible thing that is taking place,” Trump said as his speech in Waterford got underway shortly after 7 p.m. “You’re talking about democracy. This is a terrible threat to democracy taking place.”

Over the course of a speech that lasted more than an hour and saw Trump bring an auto worker on stage with him, the former president listed a series of grievances against President Joe Biden and the current administration, blaming him for open borders and crime − even though violent crime was down across the U.S. last year − and saying only he can secure the borders, enforce trade deals and stop a move to force automakers to sell more electric vehicles.

Delivering the speech 10 days before Michigan’s Feb. 27 Republican primary, Trump was under no illusions about how significant the state will be if as expected he wins the nomination to face Biden in the fall, saying, “If we win Michigan, we win the election.”

He could well be right.

Wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, Trump began the speech by launching into a sweeping defense of his business practices and his contention that Democrats are out to get him and keep him from being elected president again. “These are Democrats that definitely hate me — they hate you, too,” he said to a crowd of thousands of supporters gathered in a hangar in Waterford Township northwest of Detroit.

Trump’s visit to a state he won in 2016 before losing to President Joe Biden decisively in 2020 comes at a legally fraught time for the former president. A day earlier, New York Justice Arthur Engoron hit Trump with a fine that tops $450 million with interest and barred him from doing business in the state for three years for illegally inflating financial reports. Earlier in the week, another New York judge ruled that a criminal trial of Trump — related to hush money payments paid to an adult film actress ahead of his 2016 election — can move forward in March even as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump is expected to appeal the Friday finding though he will likely have to put up a sizable financial bond to do so but his financial exposure has become vast, especially since just three weeks ago he was fined a $83.3 million judgment in a civil defamation case stemming from his public denial of writer E. Jean Carroll’s sexual assault allegations against him after a civil jury had found in her favor.

He has continued to denounce those cases as well as others, including one in Georgia related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, another involving the same issue before a federal judge in Washington D.C., and a third in Florida related to allegations he improperly kept confidential documents after leaving office, as meritless and politically motivated.

During Saturday’s speech he circled back to his legal challenges several times to defend himself and blast what he argued is an unfair legal system manipulated by Democrats.

He also called Engoron “crooked” and “a lunatic,” in the early moments of the speech. “Hopefully, the whole thing is going to be thrown out and reversed,” he said.

Trump’s supporters have largely agreed with his arguments about the cases against him: He has only solidified his hold on the Republican Party despite the legal challenges he has faced and his efforts to reverse the 2020 loss to Biden even though he has shown no evidence of the widespread fraud he alleged in that outcome. He is widely expected to win Michigan’s Feb. 27 Republican primary and a follow-up GOP caucus-like convention the following weekend; his only opposition at this point is his former ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

But the legal questions could hurt him with independent voters and if he becomes president again, he will have no authority to pardon himself for any non-federal issue, such as the cases in New York.

Trump made his way to Michigan as an eager crowd stood outside in sub-freezing temperatures hoping to get in to see him; earlier in the day, he made what was considered an unusual detour for a campaigning former president, pushing $399 gold lame Trump-branded sneakers at the “Sneaker Con” gathering in Philadelphia.

The Associated Press reported he was met there with boos.

But in Waterford Township, he was greeted with a standing ovation and cheers as he argued that the switch to selling electric vehicles or EVs will result in fewer auto jobs, a contention which is true, though there are efforts underway to transfer lost jobs into related manufacturing. Meanwhile, his claims that autoworkers are all “going to be out of work in two years” as Chinese manufacturers take over the EV market is wild speculation: While China dominates much of the supply chain for materials for EV batteries, billions have been invested in the U.S. to open new factories and create new supply chains for domestic production, in large part because of incentives created by the Biden administration.

He also claimed China is currently making cars in Mexico and selling them into the U.S. “tax free,” a claim which is not true − though Chinse companies are working on plants in Mexico.

Trump noted the huge number of undocumented migrants crossing the southern border, saying the border was far more secure when he was president and arguing that it has resulted in an explosion of crime. He invoked an image of “illegal alien criminals crawling through your windows and going through your drawers,”

He said since he left office − following an election he again baseless claimed was fraudulent − the nation has become “stupid” again, a situation he said he would reverse if reelected.

“We will be the stupid country no longer,” he said. “We had it going, we built the greatest economy in the history of our country but we will get it back and we will do it again.”

Trump did oversee a strong economy, especially in terms of stock market gains, but it soured late in his term due to shutdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden has overseen large gains in the stock market and job market as well, with unemployment rates persistently low − but inflation soured following the pandemic and its increases have only been coming down significantly in recent months.

On Friday, Michigan Democrats held an online news conference to blast Trump and warn that a Trump victory in November would be bad news for Michigan and its workers, as well as the country. U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, noted that many in the party dismissed her concerns when she warned of a potential Trump victory in 2016.

“This time, I’m really scared to death what’s going to happen in this country,” Dingell said. Trump “doesn’t care about our auto industry; he doesn’t care about working people,” she said.

Ahead of Trump’s rally, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer − a co-chair of Biden’s reelection campaign − put out a statement arguing that as president Trump stood against workers, fought to overturn abortion access and allowed jobs to be moved overseas. “Donald Trump creates division everywhere he goes, but we’ve come together to make our state more welcoming and more prosperous,” she said. “Michigan didn’t buy what Donald Trump was selling in 2020 and we won’t in 2024.”

But Trump did win Michigan in 2016, although it was by a slim margin of less than 11,000 votes or about two-tenths of a percentage point. And there are many indications that he could win the state again this year, with voters widely disapproving of Biden’s performance as president and polls showing him trailing Trump in several battleground states, including Michigan.

A Fox News poll this week showed Trump 2 percentage points ahead of Biden in Michigan, 47%-45%, in a head-to-head matchup, though that was within the poll’s margin of error. Trump’s lead was bigger, at 42%-37%, when including independent candidates Robert Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

Complicating matters for Biden in Michigan is his support for Israel in its counterattack of Hamas in the Gaza Strip following terrorist attacks of last Oct. 7. With tens of thousands of Palestinians killed in the counterattacks, many progressives − as well as many members of southeastern Michigan’s large Arab-American and Muslim community − have demanded Biden call for a ceasefire, given the financial support the U.S. provides Israel.

Biden, who made his first campaign visit of the year early this month, does have support in the state, however, including from the UAW, which endorsed his candidacy in January and held events on his behalf in Warren. UAW President Shawn Fain, fresh off a successful strike of the Detroit Three automakers − during which Biden became the first sitting president to walk a picket line − has vociferously denounced Trump as a “scab” and a member of the “billionaire class.”

Trump, meanwhile, has blasted back at Fain, calling him a “dope” and a “weapon of mass destruction” and arguing that by allowing the automakers to pursue a transition to selling more electric vehicles and not speaking out against the Biden administration’s proposed rule to spur those sales, the UAW brass could cost autoworkers their jobs.

At the same time, the Biden campaign hasn’t stayed pat as Trump tries to boost his base in Michigan ahead of a Feb. 27 primary he is widely expected to win. On Friday, it unveiled a 1-minute TV commercial, airing in Michigan and some other battleground states, criticizing Trump for comments in which he said he told a leader of a country that is part of NATO, the North American Treaty Organization, that if it didn’t pay its share of the group’s costs, he would encourage Russia to take any action it liked.

“No president has ever said anything like it,” the ad says. “It’s shameful.”

Contact Todd Spangler at Follow him on Twitter @tsspangler.

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