Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump played up his Long Island ties while giving his campaign speech to an estimated 12,000 supporters during a rally in Bethpage at Grumman Studios on Wednesday evening.
After the Nassau and Suffolk GOP chairmen and Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano took turns on stage endorsing the billionaire businessman and former reality TV star, Trump then spoke for 35 minutes, espousing his positions on immigration, the economy and America’s global standing—as well as reminding everyone he grew up in Queens and golfed at Bethpage State Park.
“We don’t fight like people from Long Island,” Trump told the cheering crowd when he bemoaned the state of the national defense. “We’re going to rebuild our military. It’s totally depleted.”
The candidate’s campaign stop came two weeks before the April 19 New York presidential primaries, which have become unusually pivotal this election season since presidential candidates usually have their nominations clinched well before voters cast their ballots in The Empire State. Trump is leading in polls here over his nearest rival in terms of delegates, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who was campaigning upstate Thursday, and, in third place, Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who toured LI on Monday. The race appears to be a nail-biter ahead of July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
The crowd booed when Trump mentioned Cruz’s mocking “New York values” remark the Texan had made during a GOP debate and when Trump said that Kasich supports the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump, who’s been criticized for suggesting that most Mexican immigrants are violent criminals, for proposing to ban Muslims from entering the country and for continuing his long history of uttering misogynistic comments, tried to counter some of those criticisms.
“I love the Mexican people, I love Hispanics,” Trump proclaimed before launching into his pitch for having Mexico pay for a wall along the southern border of the United States to keep undocumented immigrants out. His supporters joined in the most-repeated chant of the night: “Build the wall!”
“Who’s going to pay for it?” Trump asked. The crowd shouted back in unison: “Mexico!”
Giving the rally a woman’s touch was Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who touted her wealthy father’s work ethic. Both she and Donald made note of her appearance beside him on stage because she gave birth to her son one week ago.
“Self-funding his campaign means that he’s not beholden to anyone,” Ivanka explained. His perceived independence from billionaire campaign donors who dominate American politics has been widely reported as among his biggest draws, although Trump does accept donations and isn’t entirely paying for the campaign himself.
Later, when Trump took the stage, he asked the audience, “Did Ivanka do a good job?” That was his set-up to use his catchphrase from his old reality TV show, The Apprentice. “So I should not say, ‘Ivanka, you’re fired,’ right?” The crowd shouted, “No!”
His speech also stuck to the script of his prior rallies—and speeches by the other Republican politicians who came before him—when he demonized the dozens of reporters on hand to cover the event, predicting that they wouldn’t accurately report the size of the crowd.
“The press is so dirty,” Trump told his supporters. Some of them turned away from looking at him on stage so they could directly boo the journalists, who were literally gated in—his campaign staff had forbidden them from leaving their quarantine area during the speech.
“The press is so bad,” Trump continued. “They’re terrible people.”
Adding (mild) injury to insult, this reporter fell five feet during the speech and landed on a box of TV equipment when a metal railing broke loose on the makeshift platform the campaign had set up for the media to film the event.
For the record, acting Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said the venue could hold 12,156 people based on the square footage of Grumman Studios, a film set named for the prior tenants, the defense contractor that laid off 20,000 workers when it shut operations here in the 1990s. Trump’s campaign reportedly said 18,000 people requested tickets. Several hundred supporters were turned away when the venue reached capacity, clashing with anti-Trump protesters outside.
Twice during the rally, the crowd singled out anti-Trump protesters who had dared to infiltrate their ranks. His supporters joined forces in pointing them out to Trump’s security personnel, who escorted the unwanted participants from the building. The crowd then shouted “asshole” in unison, as is the customary treatment of villains at sporting events.
“Don’t hurt him,” Trump repeated five times during one of the incidents. Before the rally, staffers made similar statements to the crowd in an apparent attempt to avoid violence from breaking out, as has happened at prior Trump rallies nationwide. While the protester was being escorted out, Donald asked the crowd, “Isn’t a Trump rally the greatest?”
Aside from the two people who were arrested for disorderly conduct, three people were aided at the scene, a police spokeswoman said. Krumpter has said that it would cost the county up to $400,000 to police the event due to the unusually large crowd and short preparation time since they had less than a week’s notice. At one point during his speech, Trump thanked the “police chief,” but didn’t mention him by name.
Trump also thanked “Big Joe,” a reference to Nassau County Republican Chairman Joseph Mondello, who came out early in support of Trump as opposed to fellow Republican Ed Mangano, who waited until the rally itself to urge the party to unite behind Donald Trump. In the same breath, Trump was uncertain whom to thank on the other side of the county line.
“I wanna thank Steve, right? From Suffolk?” Trump said. Suffolk County Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle had previously taken the stage to endorse Trump, who is reportedly scheduled to appear on April 14 at a Suffolk GOP event at The Emporium in Patchogue. Whether Trump was confusing LaValle with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, or Steve Levy, his Republican predecessor, we’ll never know.
Left out of Trump’s speech was a business venture of his that made headlines on LI in recent years: Trump on The Ocean, a proposed restaurant and catering hall that would have been built at Jones Beach State Park. Trump fought New York State opposition to the venue’s having a basement, but abandoned the project after Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012.
Trump ended the rally the same way he began: With the ’90s techno song “Get Ready for This” playing and restating his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”