LIMA —Donald Trump came to Ohio on Wednesday to laud those who make America’s war machines. The president departed after trampling his own message by again lashing out at an American war hero.
For the third time in a week, Trump criticized the late Sen. John McCain, who died last year of brain cancer.
The attack, which lasted several minutes, came without warning. Trump had just finished praising veterans and workers at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, better known as the Lima tank plant.
Without any transition, he suddenly told the audience of close to 1,000: "A lot of people are asking me, because they love me, and they ask me about a man named John McCain."
Trump added: "So I have to be honest, I’ve never liked him much. Hasn’t been for me. I really probably never will."
Along with voting against the so-called "skinny repeal" of Obamacare, McCain drew Trump’s ire for turning over material purporting to detail Trump’s ties to Russia to then-FBI Director James Comey.
"John McCain received a fake and phony dossier ... paid for by crooked Hillary Clinton. And John McCain got it. And what did he do? He didn’t call me. He turned it over to the FBI, hoping to put me in jeopardy. That’s not the nicest thing to do," Trump told the capacity crowd, which sat in silence during the diatribe.
The "Steel dossier" actually started out as GOP opposition research on Trump by a conservative website, The Washington Free Beacon, and later was funded by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee.
Trump also said of McCain: "I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted ... I didn’t get a thank you. That’s OK. We sent him on the way."
Republican officeholders at Wednesday’s event were reluctant to comment on the McCain bashing portion of Trump’s speech. For example, U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, said he didn’t want to talk about it.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, expressed frustration at having to cover the same ground. "John McCain was a war hero. I’ve told you that before. That’s how I feel."
Later, Portman said Trump’s salvo against McCain "was a little different" because he also brought up policy issues.
Trump’s attacks on the late Arizona senator prompted quick outrage on social media.
"Truly a low life," responded Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper to a Dispatch tweet about Trump’s slam. "To attack John McCain because President Trump didn’t feel sufficiently thanked for his funeral is both dark and disturbing. John McCain earned every honor he received, including a war hero’s sendoff."
A couple of hours before the latest jibes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, apparently in response to earlier Trump remarks, tweeted, "Today and every day I miss my good friend John McCain. It was a blessing to serve alongside a rare patriot and genuine American hero in the Senate. His memory continues to remind me every day that our nation is sustained by the sacrifices of heroes."
From a podium flanked by a pair of Stryker attack vehicles in front of a half-dozen M1 Abrams tanks — both made in the sprawling Lima facility — the president emphasized how national security equals economic security. He pointed to almost 200 spinoffs in Ohio alone, along with facilities in several other states that provide supplies and materials to the Lima plant.
And he contrasted the boom times at America’s only tank plant to its near-closure under Democratic President Barack Obama, under defense sequestration cuts approved by both Democrats and Republicans.
Trump’s budget proposal includes more than $309 million for Stryker upgrades and modifications, and more than $2.4 billion for Abrams Tank upgrades and modifications.
Phebe Novakovic, CEO of General Dynamics, which operates Lima tank plant, said it was producing only one tank a month a few years ago. Within a year, she said she expects that total to reach 34 a month. Employment will almost double to nearly 1,000.
"What a powerful tale of rebirth and regeneration this is," she said before Trump took the stage.
When the president appeared to enthusiastic applause, his opening line was, "Well you’d better love me: I kept this place open."
He said he wanted to get into one of the tanks, but remembered Michael Dukakis — the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee widely derided for appearing in the turret of a tank wearing an oversized helmet.
He contrasted the prosperity of the Lima plant in northwest Ohio with the auto plant GM closed in northeast Ohio’s Lordstown earlier this month.
"What’s going on with General Motors?" he wanted to know.
"Get that plant open, or sell it to somebody and they’ll open it. Everybody wants it," Trump said. "And the UAW will help."
But toward the end of his talk Trumped ripped union leaders for the closure.
"They could’ve kept it in that gorgeous plant at Lordstown. They could’ve kept it. Lower your dues."