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President declares the winner of the Democratic debate: Donald Trump

Though a spate of recent polls show the president faring badly against possible Democratic opponents, Trump and his advisers say the contentious debate left them feeling bullish about the president’s reelection prospects.

By: New York Times | Las Vegas | Published: February 21, 2020 8:22:44 am
President declares the winner of the Democratic debate: Donald Trump President Donald Trump speaks to rural stakeholders on California water accessibility, in Bakersfield, Calif., Feb. 19, 2020. (The New York Times: Doug Mills)

Written by Katie Rogers

Flying to Las Vegas from Phoenix on Wednesday night on Air Force One, President Donald Trump was glued to the Democratic presidential primary debate.

He liked what he saw, and on Thursday morning, as strategists and pundits sifted through the aftermath, the president tweeted out his conclusion.

“‘The real winner last night was Donald Trump,’” Trump wrote on Twitter, quoting Michael Bloomberg’s remarks to a group of supporters. “Mini Mike Bloomberg. I agree!”

Though a spate of recent polls show the president faring badly against possible Democratic opponents, including Bloomberg and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Trump and his advisers say the contentious debate left them feeling bullish about the president’s reelection prospects, especially with the impeachment phase of his presidency behind him.

And at an event Thursday morning, Trump seemed to marvel that impeachment had happened at all.

“I didn’t do anything wrong and they impeached me a few weeks ago,” he told a group of people at a criminal justice overhaul event in Las Vegas. “I said: ‘What happened? What did I do?’ The good news, my numbers went through the roof.”

As he continued his four-day West Coast swing, Trump was preparing for his second “Keep America Great” rally in two nights — this one in Colorado Springs, where he was expected to try to bolster the fortunes of Sen. Cory Gardner, a vulnerable Republican up for reelection in a state that is trending increasingly liberal.

Read | At Democratic debate, Mike Bloomberg says India bigger carbon emitter than China

Democrats have pointed out that the president’s track record on lending support to embattled candidates is mixed at best. But Trump is practiced at trying to turn any anti-Trump words spoken by Democrats against them, as he did when he paid particular attention to remarks that Bloomberg delivered to supporters Thursday morning at an event in Salt Lake City.

“Look, the real winner in the debate last night was Donald Trump because I worry that we may be on the way to nominating somebody who cannot win in November,” Bloomberg said. “If we choose a candidate who appeals to a small base, like Sen. Sanders, it will be a fatal error.”

Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son and a campaign surrogate who watched the debate aboard Air Force One with his father, said that Bloomberg’s performance amounted to a “great night” for his father.

“Bloomberg was the victim of a political homicide and was clearly not prepared for the onslaught coming his way at the debate,” Trump Jr. said in remarks relayed through a spokesman. “If he can’t handle Grandpa Joe or Pocahontas on the debate stage, what makes anyone think he can handle Trump?”

Debate night brawl: Mike Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders attacked by rivals New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren (L-R) return from a break at the ninth Democratic 2020 U.S. Presidential candidates debate at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Before leaving Las Vegas, Trump traveled to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, where he delivered a commencement address for a program for former offenders — but not before turning the event into a mini-rally in which he attacked the FBI and Hillary Clinton and commented about the sentencing of Roger Stone, his longtime political adviser.

Trump, who approved a slate of pardons and sentence commutations this week, told the crowd that he wanted to see the sentencing process play out but believed that Stone would be exonerated. Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison for obstructing a congressional inquiry in a bid to protect the president.

Also read | When Democrats vote, Donald Trump is never far away

“At some point, I’ll make a determination,” Trump said. “But Roger Stone and everybody has to be treated fairly. And this has not been a fair process.”

The White House has sought to make an overhaul of the criminal justice system one of the central selling points to the president’s reelection, using it as proof that he is interested in issues that are important to both moderates and Democrats.

“I passed criminal justice reform, not the Democrats,” Trump told supporters Wednesday evening at his rally in Phoenix. “I did it with the Republicans, and this could not have been done by anybody but me and the Republican Party. The Democrats did not do it. They could never have done it.”

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