Trump praises Robert E. Lee, asks blacks for vote

At Ohio rally, pres­i­dent also hailed Turkey’s re­lease of U.S. pas­tor

The Washington Post - - NEWS - BY GABRIEL POGRUND gabriel.pogrund@wash­

le­banon, ohio — Pres­i­dent Trump praised the Con­fed­er­ate gen­eral Robert E. Lee while ask­ing African Amer­i­can vot­ers to “honor us” by vot­ing for him at an Ohio rally that in­cluded an un­ex­pected and provoca­tive mono­logue on Amer­ica’s Civil War his­tory.

Ad­dress­ing an open-air rally of around 4,000 sup­port­ers, Trump ap­peared buoy­ant as he de­clared that Lee was a “true great fighter” and “great gen­eral.” He also said Abra­ham Lin­coln once had a “pho­bia” of the South­ern leader, whose sup­port of slav­ery has made his legacy a heav­ily con­tested and di­vi­sive is­sue.

The com­ments came dur­ing an anec­dote about Ohio-born Pres­i­dent Ulysses S. Grant’s al­leged drink­ing prob­lems. “Robert E. Lee was win­ning bat­tle af­ter bat­tle af­ter bat­tle. And Abra­ham Lin­coln came home, he said, ‘I can’t beat Robert E. Lee,’ ” Trump said. “They said to Lin­coln, ‘You can’t use him any­more, he’s an al­co­holic.’ And Lin­coln said, ‘I don’t care if he’s an al­co­holic, frankly, give me six or seven more just like him.’ He started to win.”

Min­utes ear­lier, Trump had hailed African Amer­i­can unem­ploy­ment num­bers and asked black vot­ers to “honor us” by vot­ing Repub­li­can in Novem­ber. “Get away from the Democrats,” he told them. “Think of it: We have the best num­bers in his­tory. … I think we’re go­ing to get the African Amer­i­can vote, and it’s true.” He also cel­e­brated hip-hop artist Kanye West’s visit to the Oval Of­fice on Thurs­day, adding: “What he did was pretty amaz­ing.”

Trump’s speech threat­ened to reignite a highly di­vi­sive de­bate over Amer­ica’s racial his­tory with just weeks to go un­til the midterms. Trump has pre­vi­ously de­fended stat­ues com­mem­o­rat­ing Con­fed­er­ate lead­ers, tweet­ing last year: “Sad to see the his­tory and cul­ture of our great coun­try be­ing ripped apart with the re­moval of our beau­ti­ful stat­ues and mon­u­ments.” Crit­ics say such stat­ues glo­rify his­toric ad­vo­cates of slav­ery.

Grant was not the only Ohion­a­tive whom Trump de­ployed as a foil in his wider cul­tural war. He also ref­er­enced as­tro­naut Neil Arm­strong, telling crowds: “He’s the man that planted the flag on the face of the moon. . . . There was no kneel­ing, there was no noth­ing, there was no games, boom” in a ref­er­ence to NFL ath­letes kneel­ing in protest dur­ing the na­tional an­them.

Trump was in Le­banon to boost the cam­paign of Rep. Steve Chabot, the in­cum­bent whose 1st Con­gres­sional Dis­trict en­com­passes the county and who had dis­tanced him­self from the pres­i­dent ahead of the event. “We didn’t ask him to come. . . . He wasn’t my first choice or my sec­ond or my third,” he told one news­pa­per, ap­par­ently fear­ful Trump’s di­vi­sive rhetoric could prove costly in the com­pet­i­tive race. On the night, how­ever, Chabot ap­peared con­tent to revel in the pres­i­dent’s sup­port. “God bless the pres­i­dent. And, I never thought I’d say this, but God Bless Kanye West,” he said.

At the out­set of his speech, Trump cel­e­brated the re­lease of Amer­i­can pas­tor Andrew Brun­son from house ar­rest in Turkey, telling sup­port­ers at the rally: “He went through a lot, but he’s on his way back” — but sidestep­ping the sus­pected killing of a Saudi jour­nal­ist amid grow­ing pres­sure on the White House to address the diplo­matic cri­sis.

“I’m re­ally proud to re­port that ear­lier to­day we se­cured the re­lease of Pas­tor Andrew Brun­son from Turkey,” he de­clared to a rap­tur­ous ap­plause in Ohio as a plane trans­port­ing the evan­gel­i­cal leader from Is­tan­bul landed in Ger­many. “I think he’s go­ing to be in great shape. . . . We bring a lot of peo­ple back, and that’s good.”

He ear­lier told re­porters in Cincin­nati that there had been “no deal” to se­cure the pas­tor’s re­lease. The pres­i­dent had been less vo­cal on the sus­pected mur­der of U.S. res­i­dent and Washington Post colum­nist Ja­mal Khashoggi, al­though he said he would raise it with his Saudi coun­ter­part King Sal­man. “I will be call­ing at some point,” he added, be­fore piv­ot­ing to the threat posed by Iran.

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