WASHINGTON/ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - President Donald Trump dismissed the first Democratic debate as “BORING” on Wednesday night and declared himself above the fray even as his campaign team kept a close eye on the battle to find a challenger to take on Trump in 2020.
The two-hour debate between 10 Democratic rivals focussed on policy issues ranging from Iran and immigration to college loans and healthcare. Several of the candidates attacked Trump, but he did not immediately respond to them individually, and tried to write it all off as a dull encounter.
“BORING,” Trump declared in a one-word tweet as he watched on television from his office aboard Air Force One on his way to Japan.
After the presidential jet was refuelled in a U.S. military base in Anchorage, Alaska, Trump sent another tweet to suggest his mind was on more than just his 2020 re-election campaign.
“Just stopped in Alaska and said hello to our GREAT troops!” he said.
But there was no doubt he was watching the proceedings closely. When a technical glitch delayed the start of the debate’s second hour, Trump took aim at NBC News and MSNBC, who he accuses of treating him unfairly.
“@NBCNews and @MSNBC should be ashamed of themselves for having such a horrible technical breakdown in the middle of the debate. Truly unprofessional and only worthy of a FAKE NEWS Organisation, which they are!” he tweeted.
Trump campaign officials were on hand in Miami for the debate and jumped into action, painting the Democratic candidates as taking socialist positions out of step with many Americans.
“Perhaps it’s fitting that Democrats held their first debate in Miami, Florida, where so many Latinos have fled the ravages of socialism and understand its devastating effect on society in a real and personal way,” the Trump campaign said in a statement.
Trump won Florida in 2016, but another close race is predicted in the state in 2020.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted about the Democrats’ answers on migration amid a festering crisis at the border with overcrowded facilities for asylum seekers and the country shaken by a photo of two migrants who had died crossing the Rio Grande River.
“Now Democrats are for OPEN BORDERS! These debates are great, the American people can now see how far left the candidates are,” Parscale tweeted. “If these policies were implemented millions of foreigners would flood our system and overwhelm public services. They are disconnected from reality!”
Trump’s campaign bought the masthead advertisement at the top of YouTube for Wednesday, showing two ads during the debate that urged visitors to text a phone number for campaign updates or to vote for a Trump rally in their state.
On Facebook, the campaign ran a slew of paid ads that referenced the debate, asking people to take his tongue-in-cheek “Official Trump vs. Democrat Poll.”
The opinion poll, which required respondents to submit their contact details, posed questions such as “Who do you believe will ALWAYS put America FIRST?” with options such as President Trump or “A Sleazy Democrat.”
Trump, who has been a polarizing, name-calling and often chaotic president, is publicly expressing confidence about his re-election prospects in 2020.
He heard chants of “four more years, four more years” in his appearance in Washington on Wednesday before the Faith and Freedom Coalition, an evangelical Christian group.
Privately, some advisers worry about his chances in several states he won in 2016, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
There were some internal worries at the campaign in recent weeks that Parscale’s job might be at risk after the leak of internal polling that showed Trump doing badly in several key states, a Trump adviser said.
Trump ultimately fired two of his three pollsters, which appeared to calm those worries for now, the adviser told Reuters.
Reporting by Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton, additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis