Donald Trump came to Fresno on Friday, one day after he won enough delegates to officially become the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
It was a visit, Trump told a raucous but smaller-than-expected Selland Arena crowd, that he didn’t have to make. After all, he is now all but assured the GOP presidential nomination.
But Trump came anyway, he said, because he wants to build momentum ahead of California’s June 7 primary, the national Republican convention this summer – and his coming November showdown with likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The reason: He plans to compete for the Golden State, which hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential nominee since George H.W. Bush won here in 1988.
“We are going to make a strong play for California,” Trump said.
Trump then acknowledged that “maybe I can’t do it,” but said any other Republican candidate would ignore the Golden State because that’s conventional wisdom. Trump said his own wisdom is that even if competes here and loses, he’ll force the rival Democrats to spend money here to defend the state.
It was, like much of the speech, vintage Trump – and detached from reality, experts said.
“Democrats will be sweating about a lot of things this fall, but California is not one of them,” said Claremont McKenna College government professor Jack Pitney, a former Republican congressional aide. “Like so much else with Trump, he’s probably lying. He’s just talking big. If he did spend money here, the main effect would be to mobilize Latinos even more to vote against him.”
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a national look at federal races published by University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, agreed. He said California “is Democratic and getting more Democratic over time.” Trump, he added, “might not even have the money to fund a truly sophisticated, modern campaign in the classic swing states, let alone in a very Democratic state like California.”
None of that, however, seemed to faze Trump or his supporters on Friday.
Speech touches a little of everything
In many ways, the hourlong speech was vintage Trump. The billionaire real estate mogul careened from domestic policy to foreign policy, from water (“There is no drought”) to the evil mainstream media, from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton, from building a wall along the Mexico border and making that country pay for it to his admiration for controversial Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio. From Russian President Vladimir Putin to President Barack Obama, whom he called “pathetic.” And, often, back again.
The crowd – predominantly white men and women over 30, some with their children – ate it up.
Take the widely loathed Transportation Security Administration, for example.
“Did you ever see a more disgusting situation than what’s going on in your airports?” Trump said in his lone nod to the TSA, which screens airline passengers at the nation’s airports. “We’ll straighten that out.”
And so it went with just about everything else.
ISIS in Iraq and Syria? Military in general?
“We’re going to win with our military and we are going to knock the hell out of ISIS,” he said. The applause was deafening.
If there was a common thread, it was Hillary Clinton, or “crooked Hillary,” as Trump called her. The speech often meandered, but Clinton was there through much of it.
“If Hillary wins, our country will never be the same – for a lot of reasons,” Trump said. “The military will be weak. The borders will be Swiss cheese. … And we’re going to protect our Second Amendment, 100 percent. She is going to abolish it, remember that.”
Trump came on stage to loud, pulsating techno pop. No local dignitary introduced him. Instead, his introduction came from a voice over the public address system.
Before coming out, Trump met for around 30 minutes with local agriculture officials, as well as attending a VIP reception.
The crowd that awaited him was loud and boisterous, but not what some of Trump’s most prominent local supporters anticipated. Fresno businessman Michael Der Manouel Jr. predicted “the biggest political event in the history of Fresno,” with late-arrivals being turned away at the door to a jam-packed Selland Arena.
Instead, the arena wasn’t filled to capacity. There were plenty of open seats in the upper deck.
Hitting the stage, once again sans any sort of teleprompter, Trump immediately went local, recalling his 2007 dalliance with the city and the Running Horse development just west of downtown.
Trump recalls Running Horse project
“I know Fresno very well, you know that, right?” Trump said. “Because I came here probably 10 or 12 years ago (2007), and they had a problem. You remember the problem, right? They had a problem, I think it was Running Horse, right? And I was going to take it over and do a beautiful job. Fortunately, I didn’t do it because there is no water any more because they send all the water out to the ocean, right? I got lucky that I didn’t do it, but I would have changed the water. I would have worked it out, no worry.”
The reference to Running Horse and comments about water were just about Trump’s only local references. He touched a bit more on water when he said it was instead going “to protect a certain kind of 3-inch fish,” a reference to the delta smelt. There were no calls to repeal the San Joaquin River restoration agreement, or to build the Temperance Flat dam, but Trump did say that if elected, there would be more water.
“You have a water problem that is so insane, so ridiculous where they are taking the water and shoving it out to sea,” he said, adding that he’s asked why, but can’t get a good answer.
About that time, the first protester started shouting from the upper deck, yelling with his fist raised that Trump was an “idiot.” Eventually, police found themselves rushing toward more than two dozen protesters and taking them from the arena – sometimes forcibly. Trump said he didn’t care, though at one point said he’d had enough. “Get ’em out of here,” he said, as the crowd turned toward a protester, booing and yelling.
At the same time, protests raged outside, and continued well after Trump finished speaking.
Trump went on to slam the North American Free Trade Agreement, tout his opposition to the Iraq War, say he would appoint “phenomenal” Supreme Court justices and say he would “bring jobs back.” But the crowd grew restless when he went on an extended defense of his relationship with women.
“Believe me, I don’t have any problems with women,” he said. “I love women. I really love women. I have great respect for women.”
Maybe the biggest cheer of the morning came when Trump said “and we will build that wall” – a reference to his boast that he would build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal cross-border migration. He then asked the crowd who would pay for it. The deafening response: “Mexico!”
Later in the speech, he even took time – without naming them and related to battling Islamic terrorism – to recognize Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims (“A beautiful woman”) and Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer.
Throughout the speech, Trump never strayed far from Clinton, saying she “lies so much.”
He said he doesn’t want to engage rogue nation North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un. He said he isn’t friends with Russian President Putin, though he did say he was a strong leader – especially in comparison to Obama.
“Do I look presidential?” he asked the crowd to wild applause. “Does Hillary Clinton look presidential?” The boos rained down.
At the end, Trump went into a frenzied final riff.
“Here’s the story, folks,” he said. “We don’t win anymore, but we’re going to start winning again.”
He then started ticking off policies or parts of American life that he said would change or be better under a Trump administration – military, jobs, trade, money, cutting taxes, saving Social Security and Medicare, building a border wall, repealing and replacing Obamacare “with something great,” and getting rid of the controversial Common Core education standards.
“We’re going to start winning again,” Trump said. “We’re going to win with everything. … We’re going to win, we’re going to win. We’re going to keep winning. …We are going to keep winning, winning, winning and we are going make American great again.”