Republican front-runner Donald Trump found his anti-establishment crowd in full throat in Orlando Saturday and assured them “If we win Florida, it’s over!”
In an hour-and-12-minute speech to a raucous crowd at a packed University of Central Florida basketball arena, Trump offered few policy statements and little new. But he brought the bluster, vowing that he could negotiate deals no one in government today can do, that he can be tough like no one else, and that he would protect Americans from immigrants like no one else.
He belittled and dismissed his top Republican opponents frequently, calling U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida “Little Marco” and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas “Lyin’ Ted” on every reference. Everyone else who has opposed him, including the GOP establishment, he called “a disaster.”
And he called on Florida to be their Waterloo.
“If we win Florida, believe me, it’s over!” Trump said more than once.
From there he turned to Democratic front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for whom he showed no more respect.
“We will beat Hillary Clinton. We will beat her. I guarantee you!” he vowed.
The crowd loved it, except for two dozen or so protesters who one by one rose up in the audience to shout or wave signs that interrupted Trump’s speech every couple of minutes. Time after time they were escorted out as Trump yelled “Get him out of here!” and, occasionally, “Don’t hurt him!”
The crowd, capacity in the CFE Arena that normally tops out at 10,000, was as much a part of the event as Trump.
This is what Rubio, the other candidates, and Trump critics in both parties must understand and deal with: This crowd wants Trump as much as Trump wants their votes. People chanted “Build that wall!” or “We want Trump!” or “Trump, Trump, Trump!” with a thunder that UCF Knights cheerleaders would be proud to inspire. Occasionally, someone randomly shouted something from the cheap seats that sounded supportive; regardless of what it was or whether most people could hear the words, the rest of the audience always erupted in enthusiastic applause.
They knew. Whatever it was the shouter yelled, he was one of them. What he said, whatever it was, they felt it too.
Anger. Frustration, the belief that the country is sinking into anarchy where nothing is fair anymore.
Trump knew too. He frequently referred to “the movement” he was fronting.
“This is a movement. This isn’t about me. This is about you. This is about you,” he said.
His policy statements were touched on only briefly. “We will build the wall,” he reminded everyone. The United States will cut back what it gives Saudi Arabia. It will build up a strong military and tough borders. He will repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and the Common Core education standards, and abandon the Iran treaty. He will impose a 35 percent tariff to stop American companies from manufacturing overseas. He will defend gun rights.
Mostly, though, his appeal to the crowd was to replace everything they hate about government with him. He promised to bring some other big businessmen such as Andrew Beal and Carl Icahn, whom he said would help him negotiate trade pacts, treaties and other deals.
“It’s all gonna change folks. It’s all gonna change. It’s all gonna change,” Trump said. “And it’s gonna go fast.”
He continued to back off his statements last week that he would authorize water boarding and even tougher interrogation techniques, because he was advised that they are illegal under the Geneva Convention, which the United States signed. But he didn’t back off his criticism of not being able to use them.
He told again the story of Gen. John J. Pershing allegedly dipping bullets in pigs blood before using them to execute 49 Muslims accused of terrorism in the Philippines, then offering the last bullet to the only surviving prisoner and telling him to tell everyone what happened. The story has been widely disputed, but Trump stuck with it.
He didn’t say he would do the same thing, just that he was convinced it was an effective approach and he admired it. “Now we can’t be babies. We can’t be foolish,” he said.
He warned of a Clinton victory, suggesting his greatest concern was that she might be able to appoint up to four Supreme Court justices, given the current justices’ ages.
“Remember this when the Republicans want to play games,” he said.
The warm-up speakers, except for Sarasota County GOP Chairman Joe Gruters, were unconventional picks with strategic purposes far beyond just praising Trump or demonstrating political support.
They were there to remind everyone in the audience what they already felt: that unchecked immigration and corporate greed were screwing or even killing regular Americans, and that the country needs a new president who’s not afraid to say so.
Three early speakers, including employment law attorney Sara Blackwell of Tampa, were there to tell the story of Walt Disney World’s 2014 firing of scores of tech workers so that the company could replace them with cheap foreign labor brought in on HB-1 visas.
They were followed by Laura Wilkerson, whose 18-year-old-son Josh was brutally slain by an illegal immigrant.
The country she and the others described, and which Trump came to save, is a country in anarchy, where corporations do whatever they want to people, and immigrants steal jobs and perform unspeakable crimes.