In front of a raucous crowd in Indiana on Thursday night, Donald Trump set the tone for his campaigning ahead of the US midterm elections, attacking the media, embellishing facts on the economy and threatening to “get involved” with the Justice Department and FBI if they don’t do what he wants.
The president was in town to support the Republican candidate for senator, a wealthy businessman named Mike Braun, who has vowed to be a “true ally” to Mr Trump if elected in one of the country’s tightest races.
Mr Trump called Mr Braun a “special guy” before going on to attack his Democrat rival, Senator Joe Donnelly, as someone who is “not going to vote for us on anything”.
One of the most controversial moments of the rally was provided not by Mr Trump himself, but by a suited bodyguard – later described as a “volunteer” by officials – who attempted to prevent a photographer from taking pictures of a protest.
That happened early on in a rally where Mr Trump spent much of his speech whipping up the crowd with familiar buzzwords and themes.
On the Justice Department, Mr Trump repeated his complaint that the attorney general Jeff Sessions has failed to intervene and shut down Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump team in 2016.
“Our Justice Department and our FBI have to start doing their job and doing it right,” Mr Trump said. “What’s happening is a disgrace and at some point — I wanted to stay out — but at some point if it doesn’t straighten out properly… I will get involved.”
Another scripted attack came against search engines and social media companies. This week, Mr Trump has accused Google and other tech giants of rigging search results about him and suppressing conservative news websites. Google pushed back sharply, saying Mr Trump’s claim simply isn’t true.
On Thursday night, though, Mr Trump made clear this is not a complaint he will let go. “We as a country cannot tolerate political censorship, blacklisting and rigged search results,” he said. “We will not let large organisations silence conservative voices.”
Mr Trump also promoted his record, again calling the economy the best in the “history of our country” and boasting about “putting tariffs on foreign producers who cheat our workers and cheat our companies.”
The economy and jobs are nowhere close to historic bests based on several measures. And Mr Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports would help many domestic steel and aluminium mills while likely increasing prices for the factories that rely on those metals.
The crowd in Evansville was enthusiastic to see Mr Trump in his controversial element, stirring up chants of “space force” and “lock her up” without the need for prompting from the stage.
And that enthusiasm threatened to boil over as a protester interrupted Mr Trump’s comments on trade tariffs for Canada. Trump supporters shouted abuse at the woman, who responded by giving them the finger as she was led away by police.
Mr Trump paced nervously and lost his train of thought while the protester was being escorted out. But the moment also served up what will be one of the top talking points from the rally – as a member of Mr Trump’s advance team put up his hand to block a photojournalist’s lens.
The moment was captured by another member of the press, and in the background of that picture journalists can be seen reacting with shock at the bodyguard’s actions.
On Twitter, members of the White House press corps said they had never seen something like this happen before, and contrasted the act with Mr Trump’s own statement on “political censorship”.
In the wake of the interruption, Mr Trump complained about hypothetical news stories covering the protest and not the size and enthusiasm of the crowd. In a bizarre aside, he suggested that if Hillary Clinton had won in 2016, and gone on to hold a midterm election rally in Indiana, her crowd sizes would have been small.
The final key point of Mr Trump’s speech was immigration, which the president framed as a threat to people’s “safety”.
He said the Democrats would not be tough on border security and the violent gang MS-13, which he referred to in animalistic language, referring to “nests” of gang members. He then said he was not allowed to call them “animals” even though they love slicing up 16-year-old girls – “they sliced ’em up”. This appeared to be a reference to the murder of Damaris Alexandra Reyes Rivas.
Heading into the final months of campaigning, the Republican Party is defending its majorities in the House and Senate, facing retirements and an energised Democratic opposition. Democrats are increasingly bullish about their chances to capture the 23 seats they need to retake the House. But flipping the Senate remains a much tougher prospect, given that 10 incumbents are running in states Mr Trump won.
Mr Trump is aiming to spend more than 40 days on the campaign trail between the beginning of August and the 6 November vote. Officials said Mr Trump wants to be on the road for Republicans more than Obama was for Democrats in 2010 — when his party suffered what Obama called a “shellacking” — and beyond what President George W Bush did in 2002.