CINCINNATI – President Donald Trump on Thursday escalated his attacks on Baltimore and other diverse, liberal cities, telling a crowd in this key swing state that Democrats “deliver poverty for their constituents and privilege for themselves.”

“For decades, these communities have been run exclusively by Democrat politicians, and it’s been total one-party control of the inner cities,” Trump said. He called federal funding sent to these areas “stolen money and it’s wasted money, and it’s a shame.”

And he invited members of the crowd to criticize Baltimore, asking them to shout out the names of countries with comparable homicide rates. When one supporter yelled out, “Afghanistan,” Trump repeated him, saying, “I believe it’s higher than Afghanistan,” prompting laughter from some in the crowd.

Trump steered clear of mentioning lawmakers by name, in a departure from his recent attacks on Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., whose district includes parts of Baltimore, and four minority Democratic congresswomen, including Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

On Thursday night, he made only a passing mention to “four left-wing extremists” who he said are now leading the Democratic Party, then told the crowd in the mostly full U.S. Bank Arena: “We can name one after another, but I won’t do that, because I don’t want to be controversial. We want no controversy.”

The president’s remarks were in line with his recent denunciations of liberal enclaves as violent, dirty and outside the mainstream. Trump offered no policy proposals for how he plans to address the problems he says plague numerous cities across the country.

Trump has accused the four Democratic congresswomen – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Omar – of being overly critical of America and said they “can’t get away with it” as long as he is president.

At the same time, Trump himself has been heavily critical of urban parts of the country, both in recent days and at the rally, where he took aim at cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago.

As protesters disrupted his remarks in Cleveland Thursday night, Trump sought to blame the city’s Democratic leader, declaring, “You must have a Democrat mayor. Come on, law enforcement.”

Trump won Ohio by eight percentage points over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2016, and the state is key to his 2020 reelection bid.

In recent days, Trump has escalated his attacks on Baltimore and Cummings, the House Oversight Committee chairman who has been spearheading investigations into Trump’s administration. Trump began by tweeting Saturday that Cummings represents a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and that “no human being would want to live there.” The president lashed out anew on Tuesday, calling the city “corrupt” and saying its residents are “living in hell.”

The president kicked off his remarks by mocking the Democratic White House candidates who sparred on the debate stage in Detroit on Wednesday night.

“The Democrats spent more time attacking Barack Obama than they did attacking me, practically, and this morning, that’s all the fake news was talking about,” Trump said, prompting boos from the crowd. “That wasn’t pretty.”

But his remarks later meandered. At one point, he claimed that AIDS and childhood cancer would soon be cured. At another, during a span of 90 seconds, Trump moved from a long riff on how he learned to pronounce Lima, Ohio, to declaring that U.S. astronauts will go to Mars to attacking a teleprompter for being “boring.” The crowd seemed to lose the thread, as they did during a longer riff about the perils and problems of windmills, long a Trump target.

“If a windmill is within two miles of your house, your house is practically worthless,” Trump said.

There were no “Send her back!” chants during Trump’s remarks Thursday night, unlike the crowd’s response during a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, last month to the president’s attacks on Omar, who was born in Somalia.

The chant echoed the racist remarks Trump aimed at Omar, Pressley, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez days earlier. Trump has accused the four lawmakers of making hateful comments about the country, setting off a controversy that led the House to vote to formally rebuke him.

Trump had earlier tweeted that the four Democrats should “go back” to “the crime infested places from which they came.” All four congresswomen are U.S. citizens, and only Omar was not born in the United States.

Trump later distanced himself from the chant and falsely claimed that he had tried to stop it, even though he paused for 13 seconds in Greenville to allow the chant to continue.

Ahead of Thursday’s rally, Trump had voiced skepticism about his ability to stop his supporters from chanting, telling reporters outside the White House that he wasn’t sure whether it was possible.

“I don’t know that you can stop people,” Trump said when asked whether he would stop his supporters if they began the “Send her back!” chant. “I don’t know that you can. I mean, we’ll see what we can do. I’d prefer that they don’t. But if they do it, we’ll have to make a decision then.”

Asked whether he had a message for his supporters, Trump said, “I do have a message . . . You know what my message is? I love them. And I think they love me. I actually think they love me.”

Trump supporters outside the arena Thursday afternoon had mixed reactions when asked whether they planned to join in if the crowd broke out into chants of “Send her back!”

Some, like Shawn Meinhardt, a 50-year-old from Ohio, embraced the chant.

“I would have to say I agree with the chant because I’m ex-military,” he said. “Some of the things she says are so anti-Semitic it’s ridiculous. I have to be honest and say I’d probably join in if it was chanted tonight.”

Several rallygoers said they would steer clear of saying “Send her back,” even though they empathized with those who chanted it in Greenville.

Omar has “been very vocal about America and putting it down, so I think that people have reached a point where they’ve had enough,” said Andrea Shannon, 53. “I don’t think I would join in, as I don’t agree with the ‘send her back’ sentiment, but I understand people’s frustration.”

Others commented on the religion of Omar, who is one of two Muslim women elected to the House last year.

“I wouldn’t join in with that chant,” said Tom Smith, a 65-year-old from Ohio. “She’s a naturalized citizen. But she doesn’t assimilate, and that’s the whole thing. I don’t think Omar has, and I don’t think she wants to. Islam is not a religion that conforms to anything. Islam wants you to conform to it.”

Omar, meanwhile, tweeted photos of herself Thursday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as part of a congressional delegation to Ghana. Omar is one of more than a dozen Congressional Black Caucus members who are on the trip.

Coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in America, the trip included meetings with Ghanaian lawmakers and a visit to the “Door of No Return,” through which millions of Africans passed before being shipped off and sold into slavery.

“They said ‘send her back’ but Speaker @SpeakerPelosi didn’t just make arrangements to send me back, she went back with me,” Omar tweeted. “So grateful for the honor to return to Mother Africa with the @TheBlackCaucus and commemorate The Year of Return!”

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Sonmez reported from Washington.

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