The Donald Trump who arrived at a rocking Broward County hockey arena Wednesday night wasn’t the politician who read off a TelePrompTer when he accepted the Republican presidential nomination last month, or when he laid out his economic plan in Detroit earlier this week.
No, the Trump who rallied thousands of raucous supporters in Sunrise came to South Florida to riff.
On ISIS: “ISIS is honoring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS … and I would say the co-founder is crooked Hillary Clinton.”
On the Russian invasion of Crimea, of which Trump seemed to be unaware in a recent interview: “This was taken during the administration of Barack Hussein Obama.”
On Clinton, his Democratic rival for the White House: “Hillary Clinton said, ‘I don’t like his tone.’ See, I don’t like her temperament. Her temperament is the temperament of a loser.”
The crowd loved it.
It was Trump’s first time campaigning in Broward, Florida’s most Democratic county, and his first big public appearance in the state’s southern end since October. Back then, long before any Republican primary ballots had been cast, Trump’s rally had felt like a cross between a thumping rock concert and an edgy protest.
For his backers, the thrill isn’t gone.
“Lock her up!” they chanted from the moment they gathered, under an afternoon thunderstorm, outside the Florida Panthers’ arena. When Trump blasted the news media, they changed the chant to “Lock them up!”
“Look at this. August. Hot. Tremendous bad weather today,” said Trump, who had flown in from an earlier rally in Virginia, another key swing state. “You have a vicious storm — and look at this place!”
At least three groups of protesters interrupted Trump’s hour-long commentary in a span of about three minutes. The second time, a Trump supporter who had helped kick the protesters out came back into the arena holding his arms in a triumphant “V.” The third time, some Trump backers dumped their drinks and threw trash at the hecklers.
“Is there any place better than a Trump rally, or more fun?” Trump interjected once.
Then: “There’s so much love in the room,” he said, without irony. “It’s incredible.”
“Trump is Trump,” gushed Sandra Witte, a Tamarac Republican. “We all love him. I love everything about Donald Trump: He is extremely successful. He is a true American. He has a beautiful family. … He wants to take care of America first.”
Inside the rally, which began more than an hour late, Trump whipped out props — a series of poster boards showing various graphs on the economy (“Are we having fun with these stupid boards? I love these boards”) — and mentioned that the people seated behind him wouldn’t see them.
“The people behind me, they’re all on television,” he said. “They’re going to be famous.”
He seemed unaware that the face above his left shoulder was former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley of Palm Beach County, who resigned in disgrace after he was accused of sexually propositioning male pages in Congress.
The father of Omar Mateen, the man who killed 49 people in June at Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub, was seated behind Clinton at a Monday night rally in Kissimmee.
“They knew!” Trump said Wednesday, mocking the Clinton campaign’s poor advance work. “Of course he likes Hillary, because Hillary won’t even say the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ ” Trump added. Clinton’s campaign has disavowed Seddique Mateen and said he wasn’t invited to the rally by the campaign.
Besides Clinton, Trump repeatedly targeted reporters, drawing some of the night’s strongest applause.
“The biggest rigger of the system is the media,” he declared. “I mean, look at the way they covered that story yesterday. Was that disgusting?”
He was referring to his off-the-cuff suggestion Tuesday that gun owners take action against Clinton if she wins and appoints judges opposed to gun rights. Trump has accused reporters of misinterpreting his meaning, which the Clinton campaign called “dangerous.”
“We have our Second Amendment,” Trump said in Sunrise. “We need our Second Amendment protected.”
His advisers and supporters who warmed up the crowd — including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Fort Lauderdale state Rep. George Moraitis — stressed the importance of registering voters and casting ballots early, by mail or in person, ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Outside the arena, volunteers registered voters.
Huckabee, who was campaigning with Trump for the first time, noted that he was formerly one of Trump’s presidential rivals.
“I’m one of those 17 people that was eviscerated by Mr. Trump,” he said, by way of introduction. Florida Republicans have speculated that Huckabee, who now lives in the Panhandle, may run for governor in 2018.
Then Huckabee cracked a Zika joke.
“I’m a lot more afraid of a Hillary Clinton presidency than I am of getting a mosquito bite in South Florida,” he said.
Trump also offered some Florida love, mentioning former opponents Marco Rubio (“who we are totally supporting, and who is totally supporting us”) and Jeb Bush (“who was a governor — a successful governor — for eight years”).
“You know, I’m in Florida. This is my second home,” Trump said, calling his Doral golf resort the “greatest.” “We own Doral.”
“You own the world!” a fan screamed. “You own everything!”
At one point, Trump compared his tax plan to Ronald Reagan’s. He also imagined an alternate political scenario in which he might have been named “Secretary of Not Allowing Businesses to Leave Our Country.” And he said, falsely, that he opposed the Iraq War “from the beginning.”
“I think,” Trump said, “I look presidential.”