President Donald Trump touted Ron DeSantis’ bid for governor and Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson during an hourlong appearance Tuesday night before a raucous, overflow crowd, bringing some of the energy of 2016 to the 2018 midterm election.
Speaking at the Florida State Fairgrounds to a crowd of around 10,000, Trump fired up his supports by going after familiar adversaries, from foreign trading partners to Democrats and illegal immigrants.
“America now is winning again!” Trump proclaimed.
Hours before the event, Democratic candidate for governor Jeff Greene arrived in a designated protest area at the fairgrounds and gave media interviews alongside his campaign bus, which has “Trump’s Worst Nightmare” written on the front and back. As cars arrived to park for the event, a few Trump supporters shouted jeers at Greene.
Greene, a billionaire real estate investor, lives two properties south of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach and is a member of the Mar-a-Lago Club. He has made his pledge to “Stand Up to Trump” a centerpiece of his campaign.
“Most people don’t like Donald Trump. Most people are ashamed of what he’s doing for our country. So I’m proud to be the guy who stands up for the people who love America and love the greatness of America,” Greene said.
Nonetheless, thousands of trump fans filled the fairgrounds’ Expo Hall to capacity and many people were directed into an overflow room, demonstrating the president’s enduring appeal to the GOP base and the central role he continues to play in politics at all levels.
Hillary Clinton and “fake news” were still the enemy, with Trump attacking “crooked Hilary” and the crowd engaging in chants of “CNN sucks” and “build the wall.” One man wore a skin-tight suit in the pattern of a brick wall and the words “Mexico will pay for the wall!”
And while Trump isn’t on the ballot this election cycle, the fate of his administration very well could be. So the president worked hard to boost his preferred candidates and fire up his supporters to try to counteract a motivated Democratic base.
Trump devoted considerable time to talking up Scott and DeSantis, who is running for governor in the GOP primary against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
It was Putnam’s birthday Tuesday, but DeSantis got the big present when Trump invited him up on stage to bask in the biggest crowd by far for any event in the governor’s race.
Trump called DeSantis “a true leader, a proud veteran, my great friend, a tough, brilliant cookie. He’s tough, he’s smart, he loves Florida and he loves our country and he’s going to be your next governor.”
DeSantis praised Trump’s record and offered a laundry list of conservative proposals he plans to enact if elected, from instituting an E-verify system to check employees’ immigration status to ending “judicial activism” and repealing the “common core” education standards.
“We can make our state without peer for economic opportunity if we continue with strong conservative policies,” DeSantis said.
Scott skipped the event after visiting a school with the president earlier in the day, but Trump still implored the crowd to “make sure that Rick Scott wins and wins big” and laced into Nelson.
“Bill Nelson voted for Obamacare which has been a total disastrous situation,” Trump said, adding: “Bill Nelson puts criminal aliens before American citizens.”
Trump devoted most of the rally to extolling his own record, though, touting the 4.1 percent GDP growth last quarter and declaring that his efforts to rewrite trade deals is getting results.
The trade battles have been controversial, particularly in the heartland areas that are a crucial part of Trump’s coalition and the president dwelled on the issue for an extended period Tuesday, defending his approach.
“Now that we have the best economy in the history of our country, this is the time to straighten out the worst trade deals,” Trump said.
On foreign policy, Trump touted up his efforts to force NATO allies to pay more for their defense.
And the president drew a big reaction from the crowd when he mentioned his decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
“Can you imagine crooked Hillary doing that?” Trump said, with the crowd booing the mention of Clinton and chanting “Lock her up!”
After several recent tweets slamming special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump didn’t mention Mueller or “witch hunt,” his favorite phrase for the Russia collusion investigation.
Trump’s freewheeling speech drew frequent applause and chants, and the president praised his own abilities as an entertainer. He noted that some people say he’s not presidential.
“It’s a lot easier to act presidential than to do what I do,” Trump said to big applause.
Democrats derided the rally Tuesday, saying Trump’s score settling overlooked the key issues confronting Floridians. The Florida Democratic Party sent out a statement from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, criticizing the event.
“Tonight’s rally was not surprisingly filled with divisive rhetoric and bluster — and completely ignored the real challenges facing Florida,” Buckhorn said. “Floridians want leaders who will fight to expand health care, create good-paying jobs, and ensure every child gets a great public education.”
Trump’s fans at the rally described his presidency as an overwhelming success.
Ocala resident Nora Kuehn, 71, posed for pictures at the rally in her matching red “U.S.A.” hats and shirts bearing Trump’s image.
“I love our president,” Kuehn said. “I love what he’s doing. He’s the best thing that ever happened to our country — jobs, jobs, jobs.”