Trump praises Robert E. Lee, asks blacks for vote
At Ohio rally, president also hailed Turkey’s release of U.S. pastor
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.