By Lynn R. Mitchell and Alex Davis
It was vintage Donald Trump Monday at Radford University in southwestern Virginia as the Republican presidential frontrunner stood before a packed Dedmon Center that holds 3,800 and gave his now-familiar stump speech. Ticket holders began lining up outside the venue three hours before the doors opened at 10am. Traffic on I-81 was backed up at the Radford exit as the city of 17,000 braced for thousands of visitors . Law enforcement was out in force working traffic control and security.
It was past noon when, dressed in white shirt, pink tie, and an American lapel pin on his suit jacket, The Donald entered to applause and cheers, and gave them what they had come to hear.
If you wanted a red meat speech, this was it, and the crowd roared its approval as he touched on each bullet point:
- Build the wall on the border between Mexico and the U.S., a “beautiful” wall that he suggested could possibly have his name on it “because they will want to name it after me;
- Mocked former Mexican President Vincente Fox for being “angry” and using the “f” word, something Trump said he’s never done (surely tongue in cheek);
- List of endorsers including Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Jerry Falwell Jr.;
- Has the support of Reagan Democrats and Independents;
- The press is bad — said 80 percent are “sleazebags” — so the laws need to be revised to make it easier to sue them;
- Syrian immigration is bad;
- Politicians are liars;
- Repeated the claim that he carried the Hispanic vote in Nevada (see clarification of that claim here);
- Said he will beat Hillary; she should not be allowed to run for president (cheers).
Trump belittled his opponents, Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz, by calling them “Little Marco” and “Lying Ted.” He taunted Rubio with a second name — “choke artist.” Then he doubled down on his anti-Rubio and anti-Cruz remarks.
Trump’s appearance was not without controversy. Protesters were numerous on the streets and inside the arena:
- Bernie Sanders supporters stood on Main Street just beyond the university’s grounds holding signs that said, “Make America Hate Again,” “Trump is a Chump,” and Bernie signs.
- Protesters inside the venue [video] caused multiple disruptions during the hour appearance by Trump, causing him to demand of security, “Get ’em out! Out! Out! You’re out of here!” He called to one protester who was being escorted out, “Are you going back to Mexico?” At one point there was an eight-minute interruption to the rally as security ushered out several dozen “Black Lives Matter” protesters [video] followed by Trump telling staff to let more supporters in from outside to “fill in that space.” There was even a kerfuffle between a Time photographer and Secret Service that caused quite a commotion in the media corral [video] and resulted in the ejection of the photographer;
- After the “Black Lives Matter” protesters were removed, Trump called out to the crowd, “You’re only going to hear this once. All lives matter!” and the crowd cheered.
- Media were once again kept behind metal gates — a kind of media playpen — instead of having free access to mingle with the crowd. At the end they were allowed to photograph Trump as he made his way through the crowd;
- At downtown’s El Texano Mexican restaurant, a photo was posted on their Facebook page that they received from patrons after the rally. On the back of the lunch receipt was written, “Thank you so much for the great food and service. We came here from the Trump rally. We wanted to give back to one of the many communities receiving hate in the name of ‘U.S.A.!’ Together, united we stand. Thanks again.”
Word of Trump’s visit polarized the campus, causing Radford University to post a disclaimer on Facebook shortly after word got out that the campaign was going to fork out $3,000 to rent the gymnasium:
A note to the Radford University community: A representative of Mr. Trump’s campaign approached Radford University by telephone late Tuesday about available venues during his upcoming trip to Southwest Virginia. The campaign requested to rent the Dedmon Center for his event and the university agreed. The university considered this request in the same manner as it would consider requests from other organizations.
As an institution of higher education, we at Radford University must be tolerant of all viewpoints, even those with which we may not agree. Radford University is not an official host of the rally and does not otherwise endorse any candidate, their positions or opinions.
Trump rallied the crowd after each disruption. “We’re having fun! Are you having fun?” And then he added, “Believe it or not, we’re going to unify this country!”
He told students in the crowd, “I met your dean. Your school is going to become famous because I’m here.” His remarks rambled from subject to subject as he appeared to gauge supporters’ reactions, tossing out catch phrases to rally them. He mentioned the Trump Hotel he is building in Washington, DC, and added, “If I don’t make it to the White House, I’ll still live on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Trump talked about revamping the coal industry in southwest Virginia and West Virginia, and the hardships loss of jobs had caused on families.
At the conclusion of his remarks, he moved through the crowd of mostly students, signing their rally signs as he worked his way toward the exit. He was leaving Virginia for a rally late in the day in Georgia.
After the rally, nearby BT’s Restaurant, where the marque out front welcomed Trump and his effort to “Make America Great Again,” was packed with many who had attended the rally. Locals greeted each other while visitors enjoyed the hospitality before hitting the road home. Tuesday is Super Tuesday when Virginia goes to the polls.
Many thanks to Alex Davis, chairman of the Radford Republican Committee, for boots on the ground pics and additional commentary.