Trump rehashes gripes, rips ‘radical’ Dems in 2020 launch

First lady Melania Trump, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence greet supporters at a rally where Trump formally announced his 2020 re-election bid Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Jabbing at the press and poking the eye of the political establishment he ran against in 2016, President Donald Trump officially kicked off his reelection campaign Tuesday with a grievance-filled Florida rally that focused more on settling scores than laying out his agenda for a second term.

Addressing a crowd of thousands at Orlando’s Amway Center, Trump complained he had been “under assault from the very first day” of his presidency by a “fake news media” and “illegal witch hunt” that had tried to keep him and his supporters down.

And he painted a disturbing picture of what life would look like if he loses in 2020, accusing his critics of “un-American conduct” and telling the crowd that Democrats “want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”

“A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream,” he said, ripping “radical” and “unhinged” Democrats even as he made only passing mention of any of the men and women running to replace him.

The apocalyptic language and finger-pointing made clear that Trump’s 2020 campaign will probably look a whole lot like his improbably successful run three years ago.

While Trump’s campaign has tried to professionalize, with shiny office space and a large and growing staff, and despite two-and-a-half years occupying the Oval Office as America’s commander-in-chief, Trump nonetheless remained focused on energizing his base and offering himself as a political outsider running against Washington.

And he appeared eager for a rerun of 2016, spending considerably more time focused on former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, whose name elicited “Lock her up!” chants, than on his current 2020 challengers, even though she is not on the ballot.

A boisterous crowd of thousands of Trump supporters, many in red hats, began gathering outside the arena on Monday and spent Tuesday braving downpours and listening to a cover band as part of a “45 Fest” the campaign organized to energize the crowd.

“Trump has been the best president we’ve ever had,” said Ron Freitas, a retired Merchant Marine and registered Democrat from Orlando.

Close by, hundreds of anti-Trump protesters clapped and took photos when a 20-foot (6-meter) blimp of a snarling Trump baby in a diaper was inflated. Some members of the far-right hate group Proud Boys were also spotted marching in Orlando outside the rally.

Trump aides scheduled the kickoff near the four-year anniversary of the day when the bombastic reality television star and New York tabloid fixture launched his longshot campaign for president with a famous escalator ride in front of a crowd that included paid actors.

Trump spoke fondly of his 2016 run, calling it “a defining moment in American history.” And he said that, in the years since, he had fundamentally upended Washington, staring down “a corrupt and broken political establishment” and restoring a government “of, for and by the people.”

Of course, Trump never really stopped running. He officially filed for re-election on January 20, 2017, the day of his inauguration, and held his first 2020 rally in February, 2017, in nearby Melbourne, Florida. He has continued holding his signature “Make America Great Again” rallies in the months since.

Still, he gave lip service to the hype, telling the Orlando crowd he was standing “before you to officially launch my campaign for a second time.”