Calling the 2016 presidential election one of “competence, not niceness,” Republican Donald Trump on Friday night ripped President Barack Obama, Democrat Hillary Clinton and even Washington Republicans.
“We can no longer be the stupid country,” he said to more than 6,000 people who packed Winthrop Coliseum. “We’re led by – I used to say incompetent – we’re led by stupid people.”
Trump said that Obama and Clinton, former secretary of state, had fostered the rise of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. He promised a different approach.
“We’re going to kick the s--- out of ISIS,” he said to loud applause. “And it’s going to happen fast.”
The appearance by the New York billionaire came seven weeks before South Carolina’s Feb. 20 GOP primary. Polls show him leading all other Republican candidates in the state.
Trump was interrupted several times by shouting protesters. One was Jibril Hough, a Muslim and spokesperson for the Islamic Center of Charlotte, who was forcibly removed by police and security.
“By the way,” Trump said as protesters were ushered out, “isn’t a Trump rally more fun than those other stiffs? You go to a Jeb Bush rally, you fall asleep almost immediately.”
The candidate spoke for nearly an hour, his remarks seeming to be a stream of consciousness. “Somebody asked me if I had a speech,” he said. “I don’t have one. I speak from the heart – and the brain, by the way.”
Supporters began lining up as early as 8 a.m. for the 7 p.m. event. Trent Galloway took the day off from his job as a high school teacher in Athens, Ga.
“He’s the first candidate in my voting days who’s saying what we all feel,” said Galloway, 30. “I feel like the other candidates pander to the crowd. He would be the strongest leader of all of them.”
Like several other supporters, Rocky Barrett, 60, a Rock Hill car dealer, said Trump “doesn’t believe in political correctness.”
“Political correctness has brought this country to its knees,” he said.
‘Folks are angry’
Days after Obama issued new executive orders on guns, including requirements for more background checks on buyers, Trump ridiculed the move.
“We have a president who wants to destroy the Second Amendment,” he said. “Hillary Clinton, she wants to take away your guns.”
Trump touched on other issues, though just generally.
He promised to build “a big, beautiful wall” on the Mexican border. He pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which he called “a disaster.” He criticized current trade agreements and said he favors “intelligent trade,” saying he would turn such issues over to people such as investor Carl Icahn.
And he promised to save Social Security and Medicare, criticizing rivals who he said would not. What he lacked in detail, Trump made up for in style.
“We’ve got to have a tough tone,” he said. “And we’ve got to be unpredictable.”
But the lack of substance bothers some people.
“Absolutely,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land, a supporter of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. “(But) maybe I’m not his target audience.
“ ‘I’m-gonna-do-good-deals’ is not a policy. It doesn’t preclude policy, but it’s not a policy.”
Mulvaney said Trump is attracting South Carolinians for one main reason.
“Folks are angry,” he said. “They’re angry at President Obama. They’re angry at the Republican establishment. They’re looking for the angriest (candidate).”
Swain Sheppard, a 65-year-old certified public accountant from Rock Hill, said Trump is “just something the country needs now.”
“He’s himself. He’s brash,” Sheppard said. “We need a wake-up call. Same-old, same-old just isn’t going to cut it anymore.”
LuAnne Cox, a retired teacher from Rock Hill, bristled at some characterizations of Trump supporters.
“I don’t like the fact that they say the only people voting for Trump are uneducated,” she said, “because I’m educated.”
No sliding in polls
A Winthrop University Poll last month showed Trump with the support of 24 percent of likely Republican voters in South Carolina. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was next with 16 percent. That’s consistent with other surveys. Real Clear Politics shows him with an average lead of 11 points in S.C. polls.
Citing new polls that showed him continuing to lead, Trump took digs at rivals.
“Bush is down low, man,” he said, holding his hands down. “(Sen. Marco) Rubio is down low, wow.”
Trump’s rally came as the presidential race is becoming more visible in the Carolinas.
Dr. Ben Carson drew more than 100 people to a fundraiser Friday at Charlotte’s Myers Park Country Club. He campaigns Saturday in Columbia. Cruz plans to stump in Fort Mill and elsewhere in the state next week.
And all the GOP candidates will be in North Charleston on Thursday for a debate sponsored by Fox Business Network. Democratic candidates debate Jan. 17 in Charleston. That debate will air on NBC.
State Rep. Ralph Norman of Rock Hill supports Bush, who polls show mired in single digits in the state.
“Everybody kept thinking Trump is going to start sliding in the polls,” Norman said. “It just hasn’t happened.”
Norman said that like others who are backing different candidates, he’ll support Trump if he wins the nomination.
“That’s pretty much the feeling,” he said. “Anybody but Hillary.”