Trump seeks to make case for strike on Iranian general in address to Ohio supporters

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump briefing on China The island that can save America MORE spent a substantial part of his remarks at a campaign rally in Ohio on Thursday making the case for a U.S. strike against a top Iranian general in Iraq, describing it as part of an effort by his administration to achieve “peace through strength.”

At his rally in Toledo, Ohio, Trump described Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani as a “sadistic mass murderer” who was to blame for recent Iran-backed protests on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. He also said that the deceased general  was actively planning attacks on American facilities

“Last week, the United States once again took the bold and decisive action to save American lives and deliver American justice," Trump said, 

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“Soleimani was actively planning new attacks and he was looking very seriously at our embassies and not just the embassy in Baghdad. We stopped him and we stopped him quickly and we stopped him cold." 

The president also indicated he was ready to take military action against Iran after it retaliated for Soleimani’s death with missile attacks on Iraqi bases holding U.S. troops late Tuesday, saying he held off only when learning there were no American casualties.

“We were ready to go,” Trump told the crowd. “We didn’t do anything. We were ready — not that I wanted to — but we were ready.” 

Trump ripped Democrats over their criticism of last Thursday’s strike, after lawmakers alleged the action was taken without proper notification or approval from Congress; the president’s remarks came roughly an hour after the Democrat-controlled House voted nearly along party lines to approve a resolution aimed at limiting his ability to take military action against Iran.

Trump also sought to pin the blame for Iran’s hostile behavior on the previous administration, lambasting the Obama-era Iran nuclear accord in familiar terms and repeating a misleading claim about Obama giving $150 billion to Iran as part of the agreement.

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“By subsidizing Iran’s malign conduct the last administration was leading the world down the path of war. We are restoring our world to the path of peace,” Trump told the crowd. “Peace through strength.” 

Trump’s remarks dovetailed with the message of his 2016 presidential campaign, during which he pledged to withdraw America from prolonged foreign entanglements to focus on domestic issues while building up U.S. military might.

The president’s appearance in Ohio comes at a busy point for Trump and his administration, amid tensions with Iran in the Middle East and a looming Senate impeachment trial.

The strike against Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, a designated terrorist organization, prompted concerns that Washington and Tehran were on the brink of war, though both sides stepped back from escalating military conflict in recent days as Trump declared Iran to be “standing down.”

Trump briefly mentioned impeachment during Thursday’s roughly 90-minute address, decrying it as a “hoax." He chose instead to focus on the strike on Soleimani and his efforts to broker new trade agreements and boost job creation in the United States. 

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The appearance marked Trump’s first official campaign rally of 2020, taking place in a state where he defeated Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTop Democratic pollster advised Biden campaign to pick Warren as VP Longtime Democratic pollster: Warren 'obvious solution' for Biden's VP pick How Obama just endorsed Trump MORE by a decisive 8 percentage points in 2016. Ohio has historically been considered a key swing state, though it has favored Republican candidates in recent contests. 

Ohio is likely to be a key territory for the president’s reelection. The president has visited the Buckeye State on a number of occasions during his first term, most recently attending the opening of a Pratt Industries factory on Wapakoneta last September.  

Trump has made his effort to boost job creation in the U.S., particularly in the manufacturing sector, a central component of his message to voters, something he focused on at various points during Thursday’s appearance. He positioned himself as a champion for Ohio’s coal and steelworkers, while painting his Democratic opponents as their enemy.   

“For decades, career politicians promised to defend the workers of Ohio and then they went to Washington and voted for the same globalist policies that devastated your communities and shipped away your jobs,” Trump said. “But the betrayal of Ohio workers and U.S. workers ended the day I took the oath of office.”

Trump touted his decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), characterizing his forthcoming “phase one” trade deal with China as a boost for American farmers. He also boasted about the U.S. stock market gains.

The Trump campaign hosted an event in Columbus with Trump’s daughter-in-law and campaign senior adviser Lara TrumpLara Lea TrumpFrustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  Obama's Trump attacks electrify Democrats, anger GOP McConnell says Obama administration 'did leave behind' pandemic plan MORE on the eve of Thursday’s rally.

The move suggests an effort by Trump’s campaign to focus on Ohio as the November election draws closer.

An Emerson College poll taken in October of last year showed Trump trailing the three top Democrats — Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden campaign cancels fundraiser with Mueller prosecutor Twitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation MORE, Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCOVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Gloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California Police killing in Minneapolis puts new scrutiny on Biden pick MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersGloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Unemployment claims now at 41 million with 2.1 million more added to rolls; Topeka mayor says cities don't have enough tests for minorities and homeless communities MORE — in theoretical head-to-head contests by slight percentages, though the results were in the poll’s margin of error.

The rally is the first of at least three that Trump will attend in January as the 2020 campaign season continues to heat up.

He will journey to Milwaukee, Wis., next week and, at the end of the month, Trump is scheduled to make a campaign speech in the New Jersey district represented by Rep. Jeff Van DrewJeff Van DrewTrump campaign launches new fundraising program with House Republicans NY, NJ lawmakers call for more aid to help fight coronavirus Campaigns face attack ad dilemma amid coronavirus crisis MORE, who announced he would switch from a Democrat to Republican after breaking with his party in last month’s House impeachment vote.