Trump says he’ll be in Kentucky campaigning for Bevin, McConnell
A mellow President Donald Trump addressed a national conference of veterans in Louisville Wednesday, touting his administration’s record on helping veterans before formally signing an order to expedite the process of erasing the student debt of veterans who are completely and permanently disabled.
“Today I am proud to announce that I am taking executive action to make sure that our wounded warriors are not saddled with student debt...” Trump said. “Nobody can complain about that, right? Nobody can complain about that.”
Trump’s presence in Kentucky, though, was about more than veterans. Standing directly behind the president as he signed the order, smiling, was Gov. Matt Bevin.
The Republican governor is counting on an injection of support from Trump as he attempts to beat back Attorney General Andy Beshear’s challenge in the November general election. Kentucky is one of three states with a statewide election in 2019, putting a spotlight on a close race in a state Trump won with nearly 63 percent of the vote in 2016.
Bevin is hoping for a Trump-bump, similar to one that helped U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, defeat Democrat Amy McGrath in 2018. He’s leaned hard on his relationship with the White House, saying the president and vice president are “good friends.” He even donned a sport coat emblazoned with Trump’s face at the Kentucky State Fair on Saturday.
“A man who has really done a great job, I don’t know if he’s appreciated, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but he’s done an incredible job and your state is doing phenomenal business,” Trump said of Bevin. “And I want to take all of the credit and I can’t because I have to give him a lot too, because he’s been a truly great governor.”
Trump spent an equal amount of time talking up U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who is facing reelection in 2020. The Senate race has periodically overshadowed the race for governor as McConnell and McGrath, his potential general election opponent, have raised millions of dollars for their campaigns.
“I’ll be here campaigning with Mitch, I’ll be campaigning for Matt, and we’ll get them both back in,” Trump said. “And I just had to say because Mitch has been somebody very special and Matt knows that as well.”
For Bevin, who’s popularity in Kentucky has suffered because of controversial statements he’s made about teachers, Trump’s visit is crucial, bringing with it a current of goodwill and money.
After the speech, the governor and president headed to a fundraiser for Bevin’s campaign and the Republican Party of Kentucky at the Seelbach Hotel. Attendees who want to take a photo with the president were expected to donate the maximum amount under Kentucky law to both Bevin’s 2015 campaign, his 2019 campaign and the Republican Party of Kentucky.
The Kentucky Democratic Party filed a complaint about the fundraiser with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, claiming Bevin was using it to enrich himself because the only debts left from his 2015 campaign are for the more than $4 million Bevin lent to his campaign.
Bevin’s campaign manager, Davis Paine, called the accusations “wild and untrue.”
“While Andy continues to oppose President Trump, Governor Bevin will continue to partner with the president to move Kentucky forward,” Paine said.
Beshear spent the day in Northern Kentucky with members of the Iron Workers union.
“While Andy is focused on lifting up working families, there’s nothing Matt Bevin can do to escape from his failed record of tearing down public education,” said Sam Newton, Beshear’s communications director.
Trump may have saved most of his comments about the governor’s race for the fundraiser, which was closed to the press. In his speech to more than 2,000 veterans donning white hats embroidered with the abbreviations of states like Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Tennessee — he mostly stuck to talk of veterans affairs, occasionally veering off the teleprompter at the end of sentences to crack a joke or add hyperbole.
After talking about how his administration was “making America great again,” his campaign slogan from 2016, he tip-toed into his 2020 campaign rhetoric.
“I won’t say it here because this is not a campaign speech,” Trump said to some applause from the crowd. “It is not a campaign speech. I won’t say Keep America Great, but... we’re going to Keep America Great.”
Trump’s executive order will expedite the process of loan forgiveness for around 25,000 veterans who are totally and permanently disabled, clearing out an average of $30,000 in student loan debt per veteran, according to the White House. The initiative was supported by Beshear and 50 other attorneys general in May.
He also touched on an issue important to the AMVETS conference — veteran suicide. After briefly talking about a drug made by Johnson & Johnson that treats treatment-resistant depression, Trump said the drug should be given to the government for free.
Several times through the speech Trump talked about the might of the U.S. military, claiming he had revitalized it and that the Islamic State has been wiped out (contradicting a report by the Washington Post Tuesday that the Islamic State is still operating in Afghanistan).
“Because of you, America is safe,” Trump said. “Because of you America is strong. Because of you America is free. And because of you, America will forever remain the bravest, mightiest and greatest nation on the fact of the earth.”