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'Not good, not nice': At Florida rally, Trump says China has 'targeted our farmers'

FILE -- President Donald Trump with President Xi Jinping of China in Beijing, Nov. 9, 2017. As President Xi and China confront economic headwinds, a vaccine scandal and trade tensions, a legal scholar named Xu Zhangrun decided to speak out. (Doug Mills/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)

TAMPA, Fla. - President Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a defiant defense of his trade policies, praising American farmers for weathering Chinese tariffs and telling a crowd at a rally for Republican candidates that "the days of plundering American jobs and American wealth - those days are over."

Trump's remarks at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall come one week after his administration announced that it is preparing a $12 billion emergency aid package for farmers who have been caught in his escalating trade war with China and other countries.

They also come as the White House is mulling over a plan to more than double its proposed tariffs on Chinese imports.

"China and others have targeted our farmers," Trump said. "Not good. Not nice. And you know what our farmers are saying? 'It's OK. We can take it.' "

Trump argued that previous administrations had allowed the United States to "truly get ripped off, but we're not going to let that happen."

"I'm not like other politicians," he said. "You've seen what happens. I've kept my promises."

In May, Trump announced tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods. Since then, China has retaliated with $45 billion in tariffs of its own, driving down soybean prices and sparking concern among Republicans that their party could suffer at the ballot box in November's midterm elections.

The new plan under consideration would mark a significant escalation in that tit-for-tat, imposing a 25 percent tariff on $200 billion in Chinese goods, up from the 10 percent Trump had proposed.

Even as he raises the stakes in his standoff with Beijing, Trump has sought to assuage fears at home. In announcing the agricultural bailout last week, he urged farmers to "be a little patient" and support his trade strategy.

His trip on Tuesday - his second to the Tampa area since becoming president - included a workforce development event at Tampa Bay Technical High School, followed by the rally at the fairgrounds, to support the gubernatorial bid of Rep. Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis, whom Trump has endorsed, will face off against Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the state's Republican primary on Aug. 28.

"I appreciate your support, Mr. President, but I appreciate even more the leadership you're showing for our great country," DeSantis said after Trump invited him onstage less than five minutes into the rally, praising him as "a tough, brilliant cookie."

Although Putnam, a longtime Florida politician, originally led DeSantis in the polls, the three-term House member recently shot past him, buoyed by the president's support - including a pair of tweets.

Although Tuesday's campaign event covered some of Trump's favorite targets - the news media, tougher immigration laws, and even "Crooked Hillary" - Trump also stayed at least somewhat on message, returning several times to praise DeSantis and encouraging the crowd to support him in both the upcoming primary and November general election.

Trump first tweeted about DeSantis in December, before he'd even officially announced his run - calling him "a brilliant young leader" and "a true FIGHTER" - and offered his social media endorsement again in June. In that tweet, Trump highlighted DeSantis' Ivy League pedigree (Yale, then Harvard Law) and his policy positions that mirrored those of the president, including support for tough border security measures and tax cuts.

In turn, DeSantis has cloaked himself in the sheen of Trump, defending the president and his policies. On Monday, before the rally, DeSantis even released a 30-second commercial that jokingly ties his domestic life to Trump. The spot opens with DeSantis' wife, Casey, touting Trump's endorsement, before featuring footage of him urging his young daughter to "build the wall" with colored toy blocks and leaning over the crib of his infant son, who is clad in a red "Make America Great Again" onesie.

But Florida also offers something of a microcosm for how the Republican Party is handling its controversial leader. Republican Gov. Rick Scott - who supported Trump's campaign and is now hoping to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson, D, this fall - is keeping a slight distance from the president.

Although Scott attended the workforce development event at the Tampa high school, he steered clear of the later rally, instead attending a Senate fundraiser of his own. But Trump nonetheless also briefly praised Scott, and criticized Nelson as an out-of-touch politician, saying he sees him in Florida only "five months before every election."

In Tuesday's wide-ranging speech, the president touched on the issue of funding for a border wall, hours after he took to Twitter to renew his vow to force a government shutdown over the issue.

"We may have to do some pretty drastic things, but we're gonna get it," he told the Florida crowd.

He also pushed for stricter voter identification laws, a cause that is broadly popular among Trump's conservative base. Trump told the audience in Florida that "if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card. You need ID."

"We believe that only American citizens should vote in American elections, which is why the time has come for voter ID," he said.

And in an incongruous juxtaposition, Trump also first attacked the veracity of public opinion polls, before repeating a recent incorrect claim of his - that a recent poll showed him to be the most popular person ever in the history of the Republican Party.

Trump, who last week told conservative friend and Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity that he plans to travel "six or seven days a week" to stump on behalf of vulnerable Republicans in the final 60 days before the 2018 midterms, will head to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on Thursday for another campaign rally, before beginning more than a week of vacation at his private golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Florida, where Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club rises amid manicured greens and gently curved palm trees, is something of a second home for the president, who has dubbed his membership-only retreat "the Winter White House." During the 2016 Republican primaries, Trump defeated two home-state rivals - former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio - before also dispatching Democrat Hillary Clinton here in the general election.

But Pennsylvania - and especially the Rust Belt swaths of the state, including Luzerne County, where Wilkes-Barre sits - also occupies a special place in the Trump political imagination. The president's unexpected and narrow victory over Clinton there earned him a critical 20 electoral votes on his path to the White House.

And his 2016 rallies there, in the former coal mining region that came to represent the Democratic former union workers who turned out for Trump in droves, were among the most frenzied and frenetic of his presidential bid.

This article was written by Felicia Sonmez and Ashley Parker, reporters for The Washington Post.