WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump brought his campaign to a raucous crowd of supporters in Rhode Island on Monday, mocking his remaining opponents for “colluding” against him and saying the state’s economy has struggled because of bad trade deals.
An estimated 800 people crowded into a tent at the Warwick Crowne Plaza to hear Trump speak, with hundreds more waiting outside, as the businessman-turned-candidate urged voters to turn out for Tuesday’s Rhode Island primary.
Trump said he decided to make a last-minute stop in Rhode Island after asking his campaign team over the weekend why there wasn’t a rally scheduled in the state and being told it wasn’t worth “bothering” because it’s small and he’s already so popular here.
Dismissing the advisers as “political professionals,” Trump said he shot back: “But it’s my people, these are my people! … I said, I don’t care what our schedule says – I couldn’t care less. We’re going to Rhode Island. So they put it in.”
The crowd roared its approval. They did the same at the start of his remarks when he addressed one of the day’s headlines: “Let’s start by saying, leave Tom Brady alone!”
Trump plowed through a long list of topics in his roughly 50-minute speech, though the focus repeatedly turned back to the heavy loss of industrial jobs in places like Rhode Island as countries such as Mexico and China have joined the global economy. Trump said he would slap a 35% tariff on imports from those places to bring jobs back to the United States.
“The jobs have been ripped out of our country, folks,” he declared, saying the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement had “destroyed New England, destroyed Rhode Island and destroyed big portions of our country.”
Before ticking off a list of poor economic statistics about Rhode Island, Trump said: “I didn’t even want to read it because it’s too depressing.”
Some of the loudest boos came when Trump mentioned that Syrian refugees are being resettled in Rhode Island. “We don’t know where they’re from,” he said. “They have no documentation. We all have hearts … but you know what, we can’t let this happen. We’ve got a lot of them resettling in Rhode Island. Lock your doors, folks.”
Trump was interrupted four times by protestors who were quickly escorted out. “Don’t hurt him, don’t hurt him – we’ve got to be very gentle,” Trump told the crowd during one of the protests. A recorded announcement before the event had urged those on hand to go easy on any protestors who showed up.
Trump’s Warwick visit came the same day two new surveys showed him with a huge lead over his rivals John Kasich and Ted Cruz in the Rhode Island primary, with both polls pegging his support around 60%. A Brown University poll out Sunday had given Trump a far smaller lead. It also coincided with Trump’s hiring of Ken McKay, a former adviser to Gov. Don Carcieri and Rhode Island Republican Party chairman.
While Cruz’s campaign has kept a low profile in Rhode Island, Kasich has made an effort to contest Trump’s local dominance, visiting on Saturday for a town hall at Bryant University. The two Trump opponents announced late Sunday their campaigns are working together to try to hold down his delegate advantage.
Trump mocked Cruz and Kasich for their joint effort to deny him the nomination – and for plenty of other things, including the way Kasich eats. “I never saw a guy eat like this!” Trump told the audience, to laughter.
Kasich’s team responded on Twitter shortly after the rally ended.
There are 19 GOP delegates available in Tuesday’s primary, but rules set by the Rhode Island Republican Party are relatively favorable to second- and third-place finishers, which limit the upside for Trump unless he hits 67% of the vote.
It was not clear Monday that Trump understands the Rhode Island delegate math – he suggested during his speech that if he reaches 68% of the vote in tomorrow’s primary he will receive all the delegates, which is incorrect. He also said Cruz canceled a planned trip to Rhode Island in recent days, which Cruz campaign co-chair Gio Cicione and Rhode Island GOP Chairman Brandon Bell both said is untrue.
Trump criticized Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton as “Crooked Hillary,” saying she was for “open borders” and aligned with the same interests that have allowed manufacturing jobs to be moved overseas. “Do you think Hillary Clinton is going to bring jobs back?” he said as the crowd booed the mention of her name. “Hillary Clinton will not bring jobs back.”
Like Trump audiences across the nation, the crowd in Warwick was boisterous and high-volume, with many attendees sporting red Trump hats and patriotic garb. Spontaneous chants broke out while they waited for the candidate’s arrival: “Build that wall! Build that wall!” “Lyin’ Ted! Lyin’ Ted!” “U S A! U S A!”
The rally kicked off with welcoming remarks from WPRO talk-radio host John DePetro, who called the state “Trump Island” and said Cruz and Kasich reminded him of a movie that was filmed in Rhode Island: “Dumb & Dumber.” He ticked off local problems including unemployment and bad roads, and said the state has been “invaded by the illegals.”
DePetro was followed by New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, who complained that veterans are offered skimpier medical benefits than those on public-assistance programs such as Medicaid. After Baldasaro came state Rep. Joe Trillo, Trump’s honorary Rhode Island chairman, whose remarks focused on how Trump will handle illegal immigration and job losses.
Voters on hand for Trump generally said they were supporting the candidate because they view him as his own man and able to follow through on his promises. A number of them said they had previously been Democrats but were now with Trump.
Trump took credit for the new energy he sees in the GOP. “The Republican Party has now gone from being sort of staid and stale, going nowhere in terms of presidential, to being the hottest party right now anywhere in the world,” he declared.
Dave Caparco, a 25-year-old father of two from Providence, said he cast his first vote for Barack Obama back in 2008 but had been let down by the president and trusted Trump would be different. “I thought Obama would close down racism,” he said. “But I call him the great divider.” He added: “I think we’ve become too politically correct. He’s standing up for our free speech.”
“He says exactly what everybody’s afraid to say,” added Kayla Cabral, another voter at the rally.
In addition to Trillo, other state lawmakers on hand included Rep. Doreen Costa, a North Kingstown Republican and Trump supporter, and Rep. Jim McLaughlin, a Cumberland Democrat. McLaughlin said he won’t vote for Clinton but is torn between Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders.
Toward the end of the speech, Trump cracked a joke about local real-estate developer Alfred Carpionato, who owns the Crowne Plaza. “He’s from central casting for ownership of a hotel,” Trump quipped.Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram