Donald Trump may have hinted recently that he intends to soften his tough immigration stances, but he sure didn’t sound that way speaking to several thousand supporters in Tampa on Wednesday.
“Hillary Clinton wants a totally open border. We are going to enforce our laws, remove people who overstay their visas,” he promised a boisterous crowd at the Florida State Fairgrounds. “Hillary Clinton would rather give a job to an illegal immigrant than to an unemployed Hispanic citizen, an unemployed African-American citizen, or even to a veteran.”
The Republican nominee plowed over a crowded field of primary opponents in large part by stressing a hard line on illegal immigrants, though in a televised town hall meeting Tuesday he said he was open to “softening” his approach.
Apparently not yet.
“I am going to suspend immigration wherever effective screening cannot take place and I am going to institute a new ideological screening program to keep out people who don’t share our values,” said Trump, frequently veering from the script on his TelePrompter. “You mark my words, I’ve been very good at predicting things.... Bad, bad things are going to be happening with these people pouring into our country.”
Even if he wants to soften his immigration rhetoric to broaden his appeal, it’s not easy for Trump to discard applause lines that have fired up supporters for months. The speech prepared Wednesday included no mention of Mexico or building a wall, but it didn’t take much encouragement from the crowd for Trump to go there.
“Oh, we’re going to build a wall, don’t you worry about it!” he said to cheers. “We’re going to build a wall, and Mexico is going to pay for the wall 100 percent. And it’s going to be a big wall, it’s going to be a real wall. It’s going to be as beautiful as a wall can be, but it’s going to be a wall. And we’re going to have protection for tunnels.”
The billionaire developer and reality TV star has been directly reaching out to minority voters in speeches this week. He’s been doing so before overwhelmingly white crowds, including the one in Tampa.
That suggests his new approach may be as much about reaching out to and reassuring white voters uneasy about a candidate often seen as racially polarizing as about courting minority voters.
“The Democratic Party has run nearly every inner city in this country for 50 or 60 or in some cases over 100 years,” Trump said. “They’ve produced only more poverty, only more crime, only more joblessness and broken homes all over the place at record levels, To those suffering and hurting and the people left behind, I say: 'Vote for Donald Trump, vote for Donald Trump.’ What do you have to lose?”
His key talking points throughout this campaign — bringing back American jobs and restoring “law and order” — affected the minority communities, too, he said.
“You have a right to walk down the streets of your city without being shot or having your child shot,” Trump said, directing his comments to blacks and Hispanics.
Hundreds of people waited patiently in line Wednesday morning before filing into the Florida State Fairgrounds for the rally, many buying up borderline obscene T-shirts referring to Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
JoAnne Raquet, a Republican retiree from Redington Beach, said she’s not buying the talk of Clinton inspiring women.
“(She) acts like she represents all women, and she has never represented me. She’s a terrible role model for young girls for what she put up with from her husband, most of us would throw our husbands out,” she said.
Several supporters said they would have no problem if Trump softened his rhetoric on immigration or downplayed deporting people in America illegally.
“Who had the (courage) to bring this issue up in the first place? The other Republicans didn’t want to even talk about it,” said Jim Hamilton, who owns a brokerage company in Bradenton.
Emilio Beru, 38, of Carrollwood, emigrated to Florida from Peru in 1998, and said he thinks Trump toning down his rhetoric makes sense. Not all immigrants are criminals, he said, many are hardworking, tax-paying citizens.
“That’s why Trump is making that distinction, he’s starting to see more and more that it’s not just Hispanics causing problems, it’s Europeans and ISIS crossing into our borders,” he said. “We need to build a wall, to protect the American citizens who came from all over the world.”
Gary Noel, 62, of Auburndale, has spent the past year following Trump rallies and selling $10 T-shirts he designed featuring a smiling Hillary Clinton behind bars. The registered Republican and retired CPA is a Trump supporter because he’s “not a politician” who believes in two classes of citizenry, he said.
“Everything Trump does, from immigration to whatever, he wants it to be done legally,” Noel said. “He promises to change things when Congress has done nothing. The system is broken.”
The crowd first heard from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
For 20 minutes, Giuliani warmed up the crowd with harsh criticisms of Clinton’s time as secretary of state. He seized on the recent news that the FBI released 15,000 more pages of previously undisclosed emails from Clinton’s private account for the State Department as further evidence voters couldn’t trust her.
Giuliani related the email controversy and questions about the influence of contributors and the Clinton Foundation to President Richard Nixon and the Teapot Dome Scandal.
Nixon did “a bunch of bad things,” Giuliani said, but he wasn’t “raking in millions and millions of dollars through a phony charity.”
As Giuliani rattled off a list of indiscretions, the crowd chanted, “Lock her up.”
Giuliani, though, attempted to reel them back in.
“No, no, no,” he said. “We’re going to beat her.”
Trump’s visit to the fairgrounds, where Clinton held a rally last month shortly before the Democratic National Convention, was his fourth public event in Tampa.
Clinton is hard-pressed to draw anything like his energetic crowds, Trump said, calling Florida a “second home.”
“For the next 75 days we are going to have to work very hard together to win the White House on Nov. 8,” he said.
Times staff writers Brianna Kwasnik, Anastasia Dawson and Allison Graves contributed to this report.