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Trump's Ohio Rally: President Revs Up Rhetoric As Midterms Approach


President Trump, heading out on the campaign trail this week - felt he had a lot to brag about, although he often didn't need a reason just to brag. Brett Kavanaugh had his first week on the Supreme Court. There was also good economic news, with unemployment hitting a nearly 50-year low. And Christian evangelist Pastor Andrew Brunson has just been released from detention in Turkey. The president talked about all of this in support of Republican candidates in Ohio last night.

NPR's Don Gonyea joins us from Lebanon, not far from Cincinnati. Don, thanks for being with us.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Indeed. Good morning.

SIMON: You spent the day speaking with Trump supporters. But first, let's hear from the president. He speaks here about how Justice Kavanaugh - and how he was treated.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The way they treated him - I've never seen anybody treated like that. But he's done us a great service because we are more energized as Republicans than ever - I think ever before - I think ever before.


SIMON: So how does that feel on the ground, Don? There are polls that show that Republican enthusiasm is on the upswing.

GONYEA: Right. I'm in one of the redder parts of Ohio. And here, you can absolutely feel that GOP voters are animated, and Kavanaugh - the confirmation fight is the reason. I was walking around downtown Lebanon, and I met 41-year-old Consuela Green (ph). She told me she voted Trump but has always been an independent voter. She says she also voted for Bill Clinton for president way back when. But here's her take on 2018.

CONSUELA GREEN: I might even be leaning to actually join the Republican Party completely.

GONYEA: Ah, OK, so based on what you've seen, are there particular issues or things that have happened that...

GREEN: Just the way certain parties behave. I just don't agree with how the Democrats are handling things and the outlash (ph) and not willing to sit down and listen to the other side.

GONYEA: And, Scott, when I pressed her, she said the attacks on Kavanaugh are what pushed her over the edge.

SIMON: Still, as Republican operatives certainly know, they're kind of bucking a historic trend - that the party in power usually loses seats in the midterms. How's the president address that?

GONYEA: Well, it's clearly the reason he is working it so hard. He's got another event tonight in Kentucky. His practice, of course, is to dismiss polls that don't contain good news, so he still does that. I can tell you that at the rallies, people often don't know who their congressional representative is. And even if they do, they'll often readily admit that they're just there to see Trump...

CHRIS MILLER: I never got to see a president in person. And I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal.

GONYEA: So he's going to tell this crowd, you've got to get out there and vote for Steve Chabot and re-elect him for another term in Congress. What's that do for you when you hear that?

MILLER: Most of the time, I vote a straight Republican ticket anyway. It's not really going to change anything of the way I think.

GONYEA: So, Scott, that's from last night in Lebanon. It's 34-year-old Chris Miller (ph). He works as a production manager, says he's a conservative. You know, I pressed him on congressional races, and he just kept saying he's there to see Trump. He doesn't mind the pitch from Trump, but he's not paying much attention to it.

SIMON: Do you notice any new wrinkle in the president's campaign? I think we can fairly call it shtick.

GONYEA: Yes, I mean, look. A lot of it feels really familiar. But as Election Day gets closer, he's ratcheting up his rhetoric. He portrays Democrats not just as opponents but as bad people. And individual Democrats are a bad guy. And he says they want to usher in radical socialism. He says they want to promote crime. So you get all of that.

He also talked about Kanye West, calling that moment this week in the Oval Office amazing. Even Steve Chabot, the conservative Republican congressman, stood on the stage yesterday in Lebanon. This is his district. And he used part of his 90-second-long speech to say, God bless Kanye West. So look. That was a moment from Trump and from the congressman.

SIMON: NPR's Don Gonyea, thanks so much.

GONYEA: Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.