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Trump ramps up dark rhetoric in Ohio stump speech for Senate candidate Bernie Moreno

Mar 16, 2024, 3:52 PM | Updated: Mar 17, 2024, 7:04 am

VANDALIA, Ohio (AP) — Former President Donald Trump claimed that he — not President Joe Biden — will protect Social Security and warned of a “bloodbath” if he loses in November as he campaigned for Senate candidate Bernie Moreno in Ohio.

Trump, speaking on a wind-whipped airfield outside of Dayton Saturday, praised his chosen candidate in the race as an “America first champion” and “political outsider who has spent his entire life building up Ohio communities.”

“He’s going to be a warrior in Washington,” Trump said, days after securing enough delegates to clinch the 2024 Republican nomination.

Moreno faces Secretary of State Frank LaRose and state Sen. Matt Dolan in Tuesday’s GOP primary. LaRose and Moreno have aligned themselves with the pro-Trump faction of the party, while Dolan is backed by more establishment Republicans, including Gov. Mike DeWine and former Sen. Rob Portman.

Saturday’s rally was hosted by Buckeye Values PAC, a group backing Moreno’s candidacy. But Trump used the stage to deliver a profanity-filled version of his usual rally speech that again painted an apocalyptic picture of the country if Biden wins a second term.

“If I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath for the whole — that’s going to be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country,” he warned, while talking about the impact of offshoring on the country’s auto industry and his plans to increase tariffs on foreign-made cars.

Biden campaign spokesperson James Singer accused Trump of doubling “down on his threats of political violence.”

“He wants another January 6, but the American people are going to give him another electoral defeat this November because they continue to reject his extremism, his affection for violence, and his thirst for revenge,” Singer charged in a statement.

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said that Trump had clearly been talking about the impact of a second Biden term on the auto industry and broader economy.

“Crooked Joe Biden and his campaign are engaging in deceptively, out-of-context editing,” he said.

Trump repeatedly noted his difficulty reading from his teleprompters, which could be seen visibly whipping in 35-mile-per-hour wind gusts.

A one-time Trump critic, Moreno, a wealthy Cleveland businessman, supported Marco Rubio for president in the 2016 Republican primary, and once tweeted that listening to Trump was “like watching a car accident that makes you sick, but you can stop looking.” In 2021, NBC News reported on an email exchange around the time of Trump’s first presidential run in which Moreno referred to Trump as a “lunatic” and a “maniac.”

On Saturday, however, Moreno praised Trump as a “great American” and railed against those in his party who have been critical of the former president, who this week became his party’s presumptive nominee for a third straight election.

“I am so sick and tired of Republicans that say, ‘I support President Trump’s policies but I don’t like the man,’” he said as he joined Trump on stage.

Trump also dismissed recent allegations against Moreno, comparing them to attacks he has faced through the years, including his criminal indictments. Trump has been charged in four separate cases that span his handling of classified documents to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

“He’s getting some very tough Democrat fake treatment right now,” Trump said. “And we’re not going to stand for it because I know this man. We all know this man. He’s a hero, he’s a winner. And we’re not going to let these people — these people are sick.”

The Associated Press reported on Thursday that in 2008, someone with access to Moreno’s work email account created a profile on an adult website seeking “Men for 1-on-1 sex.” The AP could not definitively confirm that it was created by Moreno himself. Moreno’s lawyer said a former intern created the account and provided a statement from the intern, Dan Ricci, who said he created the account as “part of a juvenile prank.”

Questions about the profile have circulated in GOP circles for the past month, sparking frustration among senior Republican operatives about Moreno’s potential vulnerability in a general election, according to seven people who are directly familiar with conversations about how to address the matter. They requested anonymity to avoid running afoul of Trump and his allies.

Trump, in his remarks, also accused Biden of posing a threat to Social Security as he continued trying to clean up comments from an interview earlier this week in which he appeared to voice openness to cuts.

“You will not be able to have Social Security with this guy in office because he’s destroying the economics of our country. And that includes Medicare, by the way, and American seniors are going to be in big trouble,” he warned, even though Biden has pledged to protect and strengthen Social Security as it faces a projected budget shortfall.

“I made a promise that I will always keep Social Security, Medicare. We always will keep it. We never will cut it,” he said.

In a Monday interview with CNBC, Trump had answered a question about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid by saying that, “there is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting and in terms of also the theft and the bad management of entitlements, tremendous bad management of entitlements. There’s tremendous amounts of things and numbers of things you can do.”

Trump also continued to criticize Biden over his handling of the border as he cast migrants as less than human. “In some cases, they’re not people, in my opinion,” he said. Trump laced into Dolan, calling him a “weak RINO” — a Republican in name only — and accused him of “trying to become the next Mitt Romney.” He also criticized the Dolan family, which owns Cleveland’s baseball team, for changing its name from the Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Guardians.

Trump was joined at the rally by Ohio Sen. JD Vance and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who have both stumped with Moreno and are considered potential vice-presidential candidates.

Trump’s decision to back Moreno marked a major blow to LaRose, who had taken a number of steps to win his favor. Just days after entering the Senate race, LaRose endorsed Trump for president — reversing an earlier stance that the state’s elections chief should remain politically neutral. The next month, he fired a long-time trusted aide after old tweets surfaced in which the staffer criticized Trump.

The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face third-term Sen. Sherrod Brown, viewed as among the nation’s most vulnerable Democrats, in November.

Brown, first elected in 2006 and uncontested in his primary this year, has managed to hold onto his seat even as the state has shifted to the right. In his most recent reelection in 2018, he defeated then-Rep. Jim Renacci by almost 7 percentage points. Two years later, Ohio voted for then-President Trump by 8 points.

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Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writer Brian Slodysko contributed to this report.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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Trump ramps up dark rhetoric in Ohio stump speech for Senate candidate Bernie Moreno