After considering canceling in the wake of a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, President Donald Trump held a campaign rally in downstate Murphysboro where he condemned the attack as “evil,” saying he decided to go forward with the event because canceling would make “sick, demented people important.”
Speaking to a cheering crowd at the Southern Illinois Airport, Trump said “the hearts of all Americans are filled with grief, following the monstrous killing,” calling the shooting “an assault on all of us.”
He also sought to distance himself from the man arrested in the shooting, calling him “sick” and saying “he was no supporter of mine.”
“In America we love our families, we love our neighbors and we protect our community. We trust in God. We protect the freedom of worship. And we believe in the power of prayer,” Trump said.
At an Indianapolis event a few hours earlier, Trump had said he was considering canceling the rally due to the shooting that left 11 dead in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. About an hour after that, he told reporters the rally would go on because “we can’t let evil change our life and change our schedule.
“So, I’ll go. Not that I want to go . . . in reverse, [I] have an obligation to go,” Trump said.
Trump said he decided to “change my tone” during the Illinois rally in light of the tragedy. He still hit many of his usual campaign topics, taking shots at Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and asserting that southern Illinoisians appreciate the value of “standing for the national anthem.”
The rally was in support of Illinois Republican Rep. Mike Bost, who is in a tight race against Democrat Brendan Kelly for the seat in the 12th Congressional District. Voters in the once reliably Democratic district supported Trump in 2016.
Bost appeared on stage with Trump, as did fellow Illinois Republican congressmen Rep. Rodney Davis and Rep. Randy Hultgren.
Absent from the stage was Gov. Bruce Rauner, though he was present at the rally, showing up a few hours in support of Bost before Trump spoke in a leather vest and a baseball cap emblazoned with the words “Back the Blue.”
It wasn’t clear if Rauner had any interaction with Trump during the visit. A spokeswoman for the governor’s office referred questions to campaign representatives who did not return messages seeking comment.
Saturday morning, the campaign ended days of questions over whether Rauner would attend the Trump rally, announcing about five hours before the fact that he would indeed be there.
Rauner has largely distanced himself from Trump since he was elected president, and the two have not appeared together in public.
For Rauner — still reeling from a contentious primary that saw him win by just four points — any association with Trump could help curry favor with conservatives as he tries to unify a GOP base that has lashed out against him for his action on abortion and immigration issues.
Trump’s campaign noted the Murphysboro rally was his third in Illinois since he kicked off his presidential run in 2015.
Rauner skipped Trump’s appearance at a downstate steel plant in July in favor of a full slate of other public appearances, with the governor’s office saying then that the White House knew Rauner “couldn’t be there anyway.”
Democratic gubernatorial challenger J.B. Pritzker slammed Rauner for attending Saturday’s rally, calling it “a last-ditch photo op” 10 days before the election.
Contributing: Associated Press