Birch Run — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, in his first post-GOP debate speech, blasted U.S. trade policies, boasted he’ll win the 2016 election and vowed to offer specifics of his plans “over the next two weeks.”
“I love people, I love this country,” he said to a sold-out gathering of 2,375 on Tuesday at the Birch Run Expo Center. “We are going to make this country so strong, so powerful ... You are going to love President Trump.”
Trump hammered rival Jeb Bush as wishy-washy and thumped Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as beholden to lobbyists. His speech drew loud cheers and several standing ovations from the fired-up crowd.
He noted China again had devalued its currency on Tuesday, a theme he said he has replayed for years.
“They did it to us again, folks,” he said of China’s alleged trade advantage. “They’re taking your jobs, they’re taking your money, they’re taking everything!”
The Lincoln Day fundraiser speech — bombastic, entertaining and short on specifics — was filled with vitriol for his critics, the GOP presidential field and the political press. “The media doesn’t tell it like it is,” he said, pointing to a riser full of TV cameras as the audience thundered its approval.
The billionaire businessman, announced as “the next president of the United States,” reminded the cheering audience of Republicans fed up with current politics that he’s leading the polls. “I’m going to win this thing,” he said.
Trump called Obama’s proposed nuclear pact with Iran “incompetent” and said it “will lead to nuclear proliferation.” He said the U.S. needs a military “so strong and so powerful that nobody’s going to mess with us.”
Mexico, he said, is swiping American jobs and auto factories, including a Ford Motor Co. plant that is planned there. Detroit, home of the auto industry, “will never be what it was,” Trump said.
That led to a laugh line: “Why don’t we just let the (illegal immigrants) drive the cars and trucks in through the border?”
GOP hopeful hammers rivals, says "President Trump" would insist Ford plant planned in Mexico be built in U.S. David Guralnick
“How does that help us?” a more mellow Trump asked earlier during a news conference when talking about the auto industry. “…Cars and trucks and parts are going to go all over the place, but they’re coming in to the United States — no tax. How does it help us, except they’ll be closing plants in Michigan and perhaps in other places. We’re going to be bring back jobs (into) the United States.”
Before the speech Tuesday, Trump defended not having specific plans for how he would lead the country.
“We’re going to be announcing over the next two weeks numbers and specifics,” Trump told reporters in Michigan, making his first public appearance since the GOP primary debate last week. Still, he cautioned: “You really have to be flexible on jobs and everything else.”
When asked by the media if he had, at times, “gone over the top” in his campaigning, Trump, with familiar confidence, said: “I don’t think so. I can only go by the polls. The people that were dealing with and whatever’s happened, it is what it is.”
Trump saved some of his harshest words at the news conference for other presidential hopefuls, particularly fellow Republican Bush and Democrat Bernie Sanders. The latter took criticism for allowing Black Lives Matter protesters to take center stage during a campaign appearance in Seattle.
“I would never give up my microphone,” Trump said. “I thought that was disgusting. That showed such weakness — the way he was taken away by two young women — the microphone — they just took the whole place over … That will never happen with me.”
Despite characteristically blunt comments that anger his detractors, Trump continues to hold a double-digit lead over the nearest of 16 other GOP contenders in several national public opinion polls.
The mogul and ex-reality TV star has blasted illegal immigration, the war hero status of Arizona Sen. John McCain and Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, apparently only adding to his attraction for central Michiganians.
Hours before the Lincoln Day fundraiser, several hundred ticket buyers lined up outside the expo center. Protesters also were there to badger him with chants, signs and flags.
Tyler Sesvold, 16, flew with his mother from Chicago to see Trump speak.
“I think what he’s doing is really great …,” Sesvold said. “I have a lot of friends my age that like him as well.”
Detroit resident Jerry Patrick wanted to see Trump badly enough to drive north without a ticket, risking disappointment. Trump’s claim that he’ll bring jobs back to the United States has a special resonance for the Ford Motor Co. retiree: He said the work he did in Michigan was sent to Mexico.
“This country is going down the toilet. And he’s the only one who can pull us all out of our demise,” Patrick said.
Brother and sister Christine Wofford and Bruce Jonasz said they always try to see candidates in person. Jonasz, 61, said he is among the bloc of angry voters into which Trump has tapped.
“We’ve had it — just plain had it,” Jonasz said of the current political system. “We’ve had it with these morons in Washington. Who do they think they are?”
Jonasz said his anger stems from politicians catering to special interests. His sister said she’s “intrigued by Mr. Trump,” and particularly likes his stance on illegal immigration.
Looking at the long lines waiting see Trump was disappointing to Hayley Alderman, who stood behind a handmade anti-Trump sign reading: “Sideshow — World’s Most Delusional Man.” She was among nearly 200 protesters intent on making their presence felt.
“He has said so many homophobic, racist and sexist things,” said the 21-year-old who drove from her home in Port Huron. “ I don’t think that he speaks for anyone really in this country, and yet you see so many people lining up here to see him. And that speaks to what the Republican party stands for. It’s pretty disheartening.”
Mount Pleasant resident Julie Hefner said she’s particularly upset with Trump’s comments on immigrants, and the fact that those comments have done little to hurt his standing in the polls.
“It’s very racist and its condescending,” said Hefner, 26. “America is a country of immigrants, and I don’t think that a presidential candidate should think those things, let alone say those things.”
In a Fox News interview Tuesday, Trump said he had patched things up with the network over his attack on Kelly. He was dis-invited from the RedState gathering of conservatives, where nine of the other GOP candidates appeared last weekend.
Trump subsequently has denied he was implying Kelly’s tough questions were attributable to hormones. He said only deviants or people with “semi-sick minds” would think that.
Radio host and blogger Erick Erickson, one of the nation’s most influential conservatives, told the audience Trump had crossed a line in his comments about Kelly. Erickson said the comments weren’t appropriate for a family-oriented event.
Associated Press contributed.