Poised to take home Florida’s 99 delegates on Tuesday night, Donald Trump held a town-hall meeting at the Tampa Convention Center before about 1,000 people on Monday afternoon, where he acknowledged that he’s ready to close out the primary season and begin pivoting toward Hillary Clinton.
“If we win Florida, and we win Ohio, we can go on to attacking Hillary, and we can stop attacking each other,” Trump said.
While Ohio may or may not go his way, there isn’t a single poll published in months that shows Trump in serious jeopardy of losing Florida, a state where he is a part-time resident (residing in Palm Beach County).
It was a star-studded occasion for conservatives in the house. Sarah Palin, Chris Christie and Attorney General Pam Bondi prepped the crowd for Trump, with Bondi announcing her endorsement for Trump before introducing him to the stage.
“Our country and our world need someone who is going to protect our security like never before, and that’s why I support Donald,” Bondi said, adding that “My mom is with Donald Trump, and so am I.”
Palin was a surprise speaker, as she had earlier canceled an appearance in the Villages after her husband Todd was injured.
“It’s a movement. This is a strategy. This is finally an opportunity to take our country back, to get out government on our side,” said Palin, stretching out her vowels on “back” and “side.”
The former Alaska governor weighed in on the violent clashes that took place between supporters and opponents of Trump Friday night in Chicago. She said: “What we don’t have time for is all that petty, punk-ass little thuggery little stuff that’s been goin’ on from these quote unquote protesters, who are doing nothing but wasting your time and trying to take away your first amendment rights, you’re right to assemble peacefully, and the media being on the thug’s side — what the heck are you guys thinking?” as the crowd booed in response.
Marco Rubio has been barnstorming the state this week, yet only a couple of polls show him within single-digits of catching Trump, who has led in every poll taken in this state since this past summer.
“You gotta go vote. You gotta represent the people. He defrauded the people,” Trump said, mocking Rubio’s poor attendance in the Senate over the past year as he’s campaigned for president. Criticizing him for being “weak” on immigration, Trump questioned how Rubio ever got elected in the first place.
With Chris Christie looking on, Trump reminisced about how the New Jersey governor pounded Rubio in that infamous moment in New Hampshire three days before the first primary. “I said, ‘This is weird, he keeps giving the same answer like he’s a robot,”’ Trump recounted. “After the fifth time, I said, ‘What’s going on over here? And I had this- see this big powerful hand? Because I didn’t want him to go down.” he asked the crowd, extending his right hand in a reference to Rubio’s juvenile campaign patter regarding the size of Trump’s hand.
He never mentioned the words “Jeb Bush,” but took a dig at the since-vanquished presidential candidate by indicating how he had spent only $2 million in winning New Hampshire, while “someone you know” spent $49 million. “I came in first; he came in fifth. Who do you want as your president?”
That Trump has largely (but not exclusively) funded his own campaign is among the things his supporters like.
“I believe because he has no political figures to give back to once he’s in the office, he’s his own person, you know?” said Greg Tapp of Lakeland. “I’ve seen what happens when you have favors you own your political party.”
Trump began his address saying his candidacy is bringing many new voters to the system, and that’s not Trump hyperbole. Tapp said Tuesday’s primary will be his first vote ever.
According to Joe Gruters, Trump’s Florida campaign chairman, there’s been a 67 percent increase in overall turnout to date in all GOP primaries “and I think that’s directly attributable, or most of it, to Donald Trump.”
Trump generally holds large rallies, but Monday’s was more intimate, using a small room in the convention center for a town-hall setting. He spoke about 37 minutes instead of his usual hour-plus, and took questions from the audience.
The first came from an 18-year-old high school student from St. Augustine, who asked about foreigners coming from Mexico to take jobs that Americans don’t want to do.
Trump disagreed, saying Americans do want those jobs. “They want to work, they want to make a lot of money, they want to be rich, they want to buy a nicer house, they want to take care of their family with health care,” he said, but didn’t directly answer the question about Americans’ unwillingness to do low-wage jobs such as do farm work.
New Jersey resident Ed Thompson, drove up from Fort Myers Monday where he’s visiting friends. He said he’s voted Democratic, independent and Republican over the years, and that he likes Trump for his stance on Planned Parenthood, one of several positions where he has differed from his Republican opponents.
Trump has said he supports the family planning organization, but not for abortions (Title X does not allow using federal funding for abortions. Medicaid, however, does allow spending government money on them — in very restricted cases). “I have no problem with Planned Parenthood doing great things for people who can’t afford it, to take that kind of a stance from a politician is refreshing because there are no absolutes in this game,” Thompson said
Thompson blamed Friday’s Chicago clashes on the progressive activist group MoveOn.org, which he called a violent organization. “They’re domestic terrorists, as far as I’m concerned, because they rule by fear.”
Half a dozen protesters were ejected from the premises in Tampa on Monday, all in the first 15 minutes of the event. There was no violence, though on one occasion a black woman seemed to get literally in the face of an elderly white woman before she was escorted out.
“There’s no learning curve with Donald,” said Lehigh Acres resident Margaret Braun. Despite his lack of government experience, Braun thinks Trump won’t need much schooling. A lifelong Republican, she said she rejects Republicans who have failed in Washington.
“Marco Rubio, we voted for him in 2010, we wanted to change the Senate so we’d have some control, and we did, ” she said. “Oh, we were so happy. But they didn’t do anything! They have no business running for president saying they’re going to help our country when they had the chance.”
That type of sentiment has made Rubio a major underdog going into Tuesday’s election, and Trump the front runner.