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At post-debate rally, Trump seems to dial back attacks on 'the squad'

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By Shannon Pettypiece  with NBC News Politics
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally at U.S. Bank Arena, in Cincinnati on Aug. 1, 2019.   -   Copyright  John Minchillo AP

CINCINNATI, Ohio — President Donald Trump went after windmills, Robert Mueller and Joe Biden at a campaign rally Thursday night in Cincinnati.

But one group was mostly missing from his diatribe — the members of Congress at whom he's been lobbing racially-charged attacks in recent weeks.

While Trump blamed Democrats for the problems of inner cities, there was no mention of Rep. Elijah Cummings or Baltimore, despite repeated Twitter attacks over the past week that many viewed as being racist. And the president made only a passing jab at the four congresswomen known as "the squad," whom he had said last month should go back to the "crime infested" countries they came from.

Trump, never one to back down from a fight, has defended his comments. But after weeks of being called a racist, he mostly avoided repeating the attacks that have fueled some of the loudest criticism of his presidency, including from several members of his own party.

As Trump was speaking, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, the only black Republican member of the House of Representatives, shocked Washington by announcing he will not seek re-election. Hurd was one of only four members of Congress who voted last month for a resolution that condemned racist comments Trump had made.

Without acknowledging that criticism, Trump looked to defend his record on race Thursday, again citing a criminal justice reform bill he signed and improvements in the economy which he said have benefited the black community.

While his support among black voters has hovered in the teens, according to recent polls, and his rally crowds are overwhelmingly white, his campaign had been hoping to pick up some ground with black voters, particularly in swing states like Michigan where the election could once again come down to a few thousand votes.

While Trump mostly side-stepped issues of race on stage, the issue was apparent off it. Before the rally began, a group of about a dozen black audience members stood up holding T-shirts that said "Trump and Republicans are not racist," sparking cheers from the audience.

Trump was widely criticized following his last rally for not intervening when the Greenville, N.C. crowd began chanting of Rep Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. — who became a U.S. citizen after migrating from Somalia — "send her back!"

The president later tried to distance himself from the chants, but declined to say when leaving the White House for Thursday's rally whether he would stop the crowd if the chant broke out again.

"If they do the chant, we'll have to see what happens," Trump said. "I don't know that you can stop people."

Trump instead focused his rhetorical fire on some of his other favorite targets, using familiar language.

He called former special counsel Robert Mueller "sharp as a tack," mocking his congressional testimony, and again slammed windmills, saying they are noisy, kill birds and decrease housing values. He revived his mocking nickname of Pocahontas for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a reference to the controversy over her claims of Native American heritage, and repeatedly called Vice President Joe Biden "sleepy," saying the Democratic front-runner had "no clue what he is doing" and would sign anything put in front of him as president.

Still, after two nights of Democratic debates, Trump had little new material about his presidential rivals beyond his standard criticisms.