Donald Trump makes his first visit to Chicago as president Monday, a chief executive dogged by impeachment proceedings in Washington coming to a city that overwhelmingly rejected his White House bid and whose residents have become even more politically emboldened since his first campaign.
In contrast to Trump’s cancellation of a pre-primary March 2016 rally marred by confrontations from protesters, the president plans safer and more friendly locations for this visit – a big-dollar fundraising event at his namesake downtown hotel and a speech to a room full of law enforcement at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention at McCormick Place.
Still, demonstrations are planned by protest groups spawned by Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton, with Indivisible Illinois and Indivisible Chicago among organizations hosting a “Get Out of Our House” rally. “Trump has no business in Chicago. There will be a huge protest,” the groups said as they sought support for the event on Facebook.
Adding to the discordant atmosphere of Trump’s visit is the ongoing rallies of striking members of the Chicago Teachers’ Union, who are ardent foes of the White House and Education Secretary Betsy Devos. The CTU has been encouraged in its efforts against the Chicago Board of Education by Democratic presidential contenders, most recently in a visit by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on Tuesday.
“With the city’s budget problems, the crime problems and with the strike going on, it’s going to be a proverbial zoo,” said Roger Claar, the mayor of Bolingbrook and a prominent Illinois Trump supporter.
“I think he’s making a statement by coming to Chicago and Illinois,” Claar said. “He’s not afraid to go anywhere.”
Christopher Mooney, a political scientist at the University of Illinois Chicago, the site of Trump’s canceled March 2016 rally, said the president is likely to use the trip to revisit his list of grievances against the city and its Democratic leadership.
“I’m sure he’s going to bring up the strike, the finances, the shootings — obviously because we’re his favorite punching bag among the cities,” Mooney said. “Part of that, I think, is because (Trump’s predecessor, Barack) Obama was from here and anything Obama is radioactive to him.”
But first and foremost, Trump is here to raise funds. Much like any other candidate with national stature, regardless of political affiliation, Chicago is performing its role as a major political ATM stop.
That’s especially true given Trump got less than 12.5% percent of the vote in the city in 2016 against Clinton’s near 84%. Statewide, while Trump is popular in Downstate, more rural and less populated areas, Illinois went 56% to 39% for Clinton.
Donations for the Trump fundraising luncheon are at three levels: $2,800 for a lunch ticket, $35,000 per couple donated or raised to earn a photo with the president and $100,000 raised for lunch, a photo and an exclusive roundtable sit-down with the president.
Trump also has used the luncheon to try to pump low-dollar grassroots fundraising efforts for his re-election, sending repeated emails to supporters dangling an expenses-paid trip for two to Chicago as part of a contest among smaller donors.
Donations from the event will go to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising of Trump’s reelection fund and the Republican National Committee.
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In late September 2016, after making his lone public campaign appearance in Chicago at the Polish National Alliance headquarters near Sauganash, Trump traveled to southwest suburban Bolingbrook for a fundraising event that supporters said raised $2 million.
Trump’s decision to couple a political fundraising event with an official government event at the chiefs’ convention is a tried-and-true way that presidents in both parties have utilized to cut down on expenses that have to be paid by the campaign for such items as the use of Air Force One
By law, the political parties must pay a prorated share of the costs, while taxpayers pay for the rest. But Trump, like his predecessors, does not disclose how White House officials determine what portion of a trip is “political” and subject to reimbursement to the government.
But Trump will arrive to an Illinois where Republicans’ influence has been greatly reduced after last year’s elections.
While the Illinois Republican Party had a difficult relationship with Trump under its former leader, as former Gov. Bruce Rauner sought to navigate whether the president would politically help or hurt him, the state GOP has now gone all-in for Trump.
Weekly updates from Tim Schneider, Rauner’s handpicked state GOP chairman, routinely feature talking points provided by the political arm of the White House to boost the president and attack Democrats.
Yet Rauner, the wealthy investor who largely self-funded the state GOP, is off the political scene after losing to even wealthier Democrat J.B. Pritzker, all statewide elected offices are held by Democrats, veto-proof Democratic majorities control the General Assembly and Democrats flipped two Republican-held congressional seats in the once traditionally GOP collar counties and exurbs.
Asked about the president’s visit, Pritzker said Illinois would “continue to stand strong” in the face of Trump’s “utter disregard for our values: bipartisan progress on our finances, standing with immigrants and the LGBTQ community, protecting the environment, and creating an economy that works for everyone, to name a few. As governor, I have and will fight tirelessly for these values.”
Trump has found the chiefs of police conference a safe haven to go after Chicago, its gun violence and its status as a sanctuary city where law enforcement cannot deal with federal immigration authorities unless they have a court-issued warrant.
Last year, at the group’s 125th annual convention in Orlando, Trump praised its police chief, John Mina, for doing a “great job” and for a “safe city.” This year, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has said he will boycott Trump’s speech.
Also last year, Trump said crime was “a terrible blight” on Chicago and said he was offering the city assistance from his Justice Department.
“I know the law enforcement people in Chicago and I know how good they are. They could solve the problem if they were simply allowed to do their job and do their job properly and that’s what they want to do,” the president said.
“We’ll straighten it out fast. We’re gonna straighten it out fast,” Trump told the chiefs. “I assume they want to straighten it out. Sometimes, I think, maybe, is it possible that they don’t?”
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