US President Donald Trump on Tuesday launched his re-election campaign much the same way he rode to power in 2016 — with a raucous, nationalist rally stirring fear of illegal immigration and vowing to fight for blue-collar workers.
Lashing out at his Democratic opponents as radical leftists fueled by “hatred” and out to “rip your country apart,” Trump promised an “earthquake at the ballot box” next year.
“We did it once and we’re going to do it again,” he promised about 20,000 ecstatic supporters in Orlando, Florida. “And that is why tonight I stand before you to officially launch my campaign for a second term as president of the United States.”
There were no substantial new ideas or plans for the future in Trump’s nearly 80-minute speech in the Amway Center in Orlando, where the crowd formed a sea of Trump campaign red baseball caps, chanting “USA” and “four more years.”
Instead, the unconventional Republican made his re-election pitch by touting economic gains and renewing his long-standing vow to build a wall along the Mexican border.
In a speech filled with his customary boasts and rhetorical exaggerations, Trump did say — although giving no detail — that he would oversee cures for cancer and AIDS and pave the way to send US astronauts to Mars.
However, the meat of his address aimed at the grievances and fears of the same white working and middle-class voters who underpinned his surprise victory as an utterly inexperienced politician against the former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.
Striking a dark note, Trump repeatedly encouraged the crowd to boo journalists covering the event, calling them “fake news.”
Trump then turned on the Democrats, whom he said have “become more radical, more dangerous and more unhinged than at any point in the modern history of our country.”
“They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it,” he said to roars of boos. “Not acceptable. It’s not going to happen.”
Even if dismal early poll numbers show he faces a difficult race, Trump goes into his fight buoyed by this fiercely loyal right-wing base.
Trump — himself accused by opponents of a slew of serious crimes — told the crowd that together they had formed “a great political movement” that had “stared down a broken and corrupt political establishment.”
“We are going to keep America great again,” Trump told the packed arena. “Oh, we will keep it so great.”
Supporters lined Orlando’s downtown sidewalks all day, waiting in tents and chairs overnight to be the first in the door.
“This is a historic event, we would not miss this for anything,” David Meloney told reporters.
Florida would be one of the key swing states next year if Trump is to defeat the nominee chosen from a field of 23 Democratic hopefuls.
Trump’s strongest card is the health of the US economy, which he described as “the envy of the world.”
However, Trump said that the “American dream” itself is in peril from illegal immigrants, insisting that his stuttering Mexico wall project would still go ahead.
A wide range of polls show Trump lagging far behind the Democratic frontrunner former US vice president Joe Biden, who is campaigning on a promise to return the country to what he portrays as the calmer, gentler days of former US president Barack Obama.
Another big Democratic candidate, left-wing US Senator Bernie Sanders, scorned Trump after the Florida speech.
“Listening to Trump made me feel very much like he is a man living in a parallel universe ... and is a man who must be defeated,” Sanders said.
A Quinnipiac University poll released on Tuesday showed Biden leading Trump 50 to 41 percent in Florida, while Sanders is up 48-42 percent over the president.
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