RALEIGH — Addressing a crowd of thousands at Orlando’s Amway Center, President Donald Trump officially launched his 2020 campaign for re-election Tuesday night.
Trump painted a disturbing picture of what life would look like if he loses in 2020, accusing his critics of “un-American conduct” and telling the crowd that Democrats “want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”
A boisterous crowd of thousands of Trump supporters, many in red hats, began gathering outside the arena on Monday and spent Tuesday braving downpours and listening to a cover band as part of a “45 Fest” the campaign organized to energize the crowd.
“Trump has been the best president we’ve ever had,” said Ron Freitas, a retired Merchant Marine and registered Democrat from Orlando.
Close by, anti-Trump protesters clapped and took photos when a 20-foot (6-meter) blimp of a snarling Trump baby in a diaper was inflated.
Trump aides scheduled the kickoff near the four-year anniversary of the day when the former reality TV star and real estate mogul launched his longshot campaign for president with a famous escalator ride.
Trump spoke fondly of his 2016 run, calling it “a defining moment in American history.” And he said that, in the years since, he had fundamentally upended Washington, staring down “a corrupt and broken political establishment” and restoring a government “of, for and by the people.”
Trump is hoping to replicate the dynamics that allowed him to capture the Republican Party and then the presidency in 2016 as an insurgent intent on disrupting the status quo. Back then, he successfully appealed to disaffected voters who felt left behind by economic dislocation and demographic shifts. And he has no intention of abandoning that mantle, even if he is the face of the institutions he looks to disrupt.
Across North Carolina, local Republican Parties, candidates, and politically-focused groups hosted watch parties for the televised launch. In Randolph County, local commissioner Kenny Kidd hosted a group of about 20 to watch the event on a big screen and enjoy a meal together. In Cabarrus County, the Republican Women hosted a watch party that included Republicans from the Charlotte metro region.
Newly elected N.C. GOP Chairman Michael Whatley attended the rally in Florida and called the event an “awesome night” in a Facebook post. “The energy and enthusiasm in the arena were simply amazing,” said Whatley.
Whatley also noted that across the state, local and state GOP groups hosted 104 watch parties to celebrate Trump’s announcement. Whatley said N.C. had more official watch parties than any other state in the country.
Trump underscored that on the eve of the rally in the must-win swing state of Florida, returning to the hard-line immigration themes of his first campaign by tweeting that, next week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement “will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.” That promise, which came with no details and sparked Democratic condemnation, seemed to offer a peek into a campaign that will largely be fought along the same lines as his first bid, with very few new policy proposals for a second term.
Early Democratic front-runner Joe Biden said Tuesday that Trump’s politics are “all about dividing us” in ways that are “dangerous — truly, truly dangerous.”
Another leading Democratic contender, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, said Trump had delivered “an hour-and-a-half speech of lies, distortions and total, absolute nonsense.”
But those involved in the president’s reelection effort believe that his brash version of populism, combined with his mantra to “Drain the Swamp,” still resonates, despite his administration’s cozy ties with lobbyists and corporations and the Trump family’s apparent efforts to profit off the presidency.
Trump tried to make the case that he had made good on his 2016 promises, including cracking down on illegal immigration and boosting jobs.
Near the end of the rally, Trump ran through a list of promises for a second term, pledging a new immigration system, new trade deals, a health care overhaul and a cure for cancer and “many diseases,” including the eradication of AIDS in America.
North State Journal staff contributed to this report.