Vladimir Putin’s seeming efforts to influence the presidential election may be fueling growing angst in Washington, but among thousands of Floridians who turned out to cheer the president-elect Friday night it was a non-issue.
Trump never mentioned it on a day that President Barack Obama discussed it at length, and his supporters attending his first Florida speech since the election sounded like they couldn’t care less.
“Their computers should have been more secure. It’s their own fault,” said Yvonne Knight of Deltona. “And Obama tried to influence the Israeli election, sending his whole political team to get [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu out of there, so it’s tit for tat.”
Carol Pugh, a beautician from Bartow, said she simply did not believe the Russians were behind it, and noted the FBI saw no evidence. When told several news outlets reported on Friday that the FBI concurred with the CIA’s assessment, she shrugged.
“I believe our government did it. Maybe it came from a disgruntled Democrat. I don’t believe anything that comes out of the media’s mouth. I do my own research,” she said. “What we found out is what we should have known anyway about Hillary Clinton, and it was all true.”
Hours before Trump showed up, amid thousands of cars streaming in and vendors hawking “Proud to be deplorable” T-shirts,” Oscar Torres tailgated with several friends who drove two hours from Palm Bay. They all scoffed at the reports of Russian involvement.
“I’m Cuban-American,” he said, Miller Lite in hand. “The Communists, the Socialists have always wanted the Democratic Party to win. Now all of a sudden they want a Republican?
“Come on, give me a break. It’s all garbage.”
Trump showed up for the Florida stop of his “Thank You Tour 2016” more than an hour late, drawing roaring applause as he stepped onto a stage filled with lighted Christmas trees and a backdrop of snow-covered woodlands.
“Merry Christmas everyone, Merry Christmas,” Trump said, after Gov. Rick Scott introduced him.
“I’m here today for one main reason. To say thank you to the incredible people of Florida, what a group. As you know, Florida’s my second home. In many ways, it’s my first home. And I love this state. I love the people. I love the people of this state. You propelled to victory a grassroots movement the likes of which the world — they’ve never seen it before.”
It was a campaign-style rally on the Interstate 4 corridor that played a crucial role in delivering Florida’s 29 electoral votes, part of a victory tour that also included Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Iowa. It often sounded more like a gloating tour, as he recounted in detail how the returns came in on Nov. 8 and how surprised the pundits were.
“Remember, they said, ‘He cannot get to 270. There is no path,’” said Trump, who suggested the media tried to suppress voter turnout by suggesting Clinton likely would win.
“Did I blow them out in the Panhandle, or what? You know why? Because the Panhandle wants its jobs back,” he said at another point.
The crowd periodically broke into chants.
“Lock her up! Lock her up!”
“Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp!”
“Thank you, Trump! Thank you, Trump!”
“Build the Wall!”
“Blue Lives Matter!”
Trump spoke of rebuilding the military but with less foreign intervention.
“We’re going to build safe zones in Syria. And we’re going to get the Gulf States to pay for the safe zones,” he said.
“Instead of rebuilding foreign nations, it’s time to rebuild our nation, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
He lamented that Time magazine named him Person of the Year instead of Man of the Year.
Trump supporters laughed at and lamented reports of colleges offering students grief therapy over Trump’s victory, and about recount campaigns that appear aimed at de-legitimizing the president-elect.
But Knight, the Deltona supporter, thinks the country will unify soon enough.
“I just think he’s going to make everybody feel good again, and when people feel good they’re nicer to each other,” she said. “I’ve already noticed it. Just going to the grocery store, everybody’s got a smile on their face, everybody just seems nicer, more courteous. There’s hope.”
Trump also called for people to come together.
“Whether you are African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, whatever the hell you might be, we are all Americans and we are all united by one shared destiny,” he said. “I’m asking you to believe once again in America.”
Times Washington bureau chief Alex Leary and Times/Herald staff writer Jeremy Wallace contributed to this report