Donald Trump gazed out at his business brethren — home builders assembled at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach on Thursday — and reminisced.
“My father built houses, and he did it beautiful,” he said. “He’d go up to the houses, and he’d check for nails. And, see, the bigger companies don’t do this. But the individual guys, that do one or two or eight or 10 houses a year. ...”
A few minutes later, still talking about the nitty-gritty of home construction, the Republican presidential nominee acknowledged he’d gotten a little carried away.
“That wasn’t gonna be part of the speech. I don’t know why I free-wheeled that,” he said. Immediately after, he seemed to summon an answer: “Because I’m so comfortable.”
A subdued Trump showed up to the National Association of Home Builders conference the morning after a raucous Broward County campaign rally Wednesday night. In front of a nonpartisan, buttoned-down audience, Trump found little taste for the red meat he delivers from the stump.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually get along with Russia?” he floated at one point, to utter silence.
He stuck by his completely unfounded assertion from the night before that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and President Barack Obama are the “founders” of the terrorist group ISIS.
“They’re the founders,” Trump said. If ISIS were a sports team, he continued, Clinton would be named “most valuable player.”
It was unclear if the laughter from the crowd indicated people thought he was joking.
Trump’s goal was to underscore his economic message about lower taxes and fewer regulations — both well-received points among the builders. Fourteen minutes into his remarks, he got around to his prepared text, but only momentarily.
“I wrote down some notes,” he said. Later, reading off a piece of paper, he said: “Hillary Clinton wants to tax and regulate our economy to death.”
Trump, a man known for frequently suing foes, decried “frivolous lawsuits.”
“A lot of the problems you have are judicial, with litigation, lawsuits and all the problems you have if you build a beautiful house. And sometimes you make mistakes,” he said. “Sometimes you build a lousy house, OK, and they should sue you.”
Trump’s appeal was to people flailing in the existing economy: losing income, finding it difficult to buy a house, facing high levels of underemployment and unemployment in minority communities.
His delivery, however, was markedly toned down — even as he mocked Democratic rival Clinton’s energy, leveling a similar criticism to the one he used to devastating effect against former opponent Jeb Bush.
“Her speeches are so short,” Trump said of Clinton. “Go home and go to sleep!”
The builders laughed. One had greeted Trump with a sign that read, “Make Homebuilding Great Again.”
Not all attendees backed Trump, though. Apparently expecting everyone to agree with him, he asked for a raise of hands if anyone couldn’t negotiate a better trade deal than the U.S. government. One man’s arm went up in the air.
“That was very cute, thank you. I’m sure you don’t believe that,” Trump said. “But that’s OK.”
Earlier, Ken Maas, a 70-year-old former builder from Denver who plans to vote for Clinton, said he’s “not sure Trump’s a builder.” He wasn’t speaking metaphorically about politics, either.
“I think he’s a relatively successful businessman, but I’m not sure Trump’s a true builder. He’s a financier,” he said. “One understands construction, and the other puts deals together.”
Jim and Jon Loudermilk, father-and-son builders from Abilene, Texas, intend to vote for Trump because of his business experience.
“Personally, I’m not all that excited about Trump, but I believe he’ll surround himself with knowledgeable people,” said Jim Loudermilk, 69. “My main thing is to preserve the Christian principles in this nation.”