Speaking in Charlotte on Thursday, a more tempered Donald Trump promised to be the voice of “forgotten Americans” and even said he regrets some past statements.
The Republican presidential nominee didn’t back off strident attacks on his Democratic rival, saying Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama “unleashed” ISIS.
At his first rally since shaking up his top campaign staff, Trump gave a wide-ranging evening speech at the Charlotte Convention Center. Trump, reading from a teleprompter, offered a vision for “a new American future.”
Seeking to reach beyond the Republican base, he appealed particularly to African-Americans and other minorities.
Talking about immigration for example, the man who one threatened to ban Muslims from America said, “Those who believe in oppressing women, gays, Hispanics, African-Americans and people of different faiths are not welcome to join our country.”
Trump called for “law and order,” “extreme vetting” of immigrants and refugees, an end to drug cartels, restructuring or pulling out of trade deals and putting “the American people first again.”
“We need law and order, and without it, we have nothing,” said the New York billionaire, referring to recent unrest following police shootings. “If I’m elected president, this chaos and violence will end, and it will end very, very quickly.”
Trump referred obliquely to recent controversial statements he has made that have drawn unfavorable attention to his campaign.
“Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words, or you say the wrong thing,” Trump said. “I have done that. And believe it or not, I regret it. And I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”
Since the Republican National Convention last month, Trump has come under criticism for his attacks on Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004. The Khans spoke out against him at the Democratic convention.
She (Hillary Clinton) and Barack Obama unleashed ISIS, whether you like it or don’t like it, whether you want to hear it or don’t, that’s what happened.
Trump speaking Thursday in Charlotte.
And last week, he faced a backlash for comments in Wilmington that some saw as an incitement to violence against Clinton. “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said. “Although the Second Amendment people – maybe there is, I don’t know.”
Clinton campaign spokeswoman Christina Reynolds called the apology “simply a well-written phrase.”
“Donald Trump literally started his campaign by insulting people,” she said. “He has continued to do so through each of the 428 days from then until now, without shame or regret. We learned tonight that his speechwriter and teleprompter knows he has much for which he should apologize.”
There were many familiar features from previous Trump rallies, from multiple “Lock her up!” chants to “Hillary for Prison” shirts. The crowd chanted “Build that wall!” when Trump mentioned the Mexican-American border.
“We will build the wall, believe me, we will build it,” responded Trump.
And Trump didn’t soften his criticism of Clinton and President Barack Obama, who he’d previously said founded the terrorist group Islamic State. Trump later said he was being sarcastic with those comments – but Thursday he returned to the topic.
“She and Barack Obama unleashed ISIS, whether you like it or don’t like it, whether you want to hear it or don’t, that’s what happened,” Trump said in Charlotte, drawing boos from the crowd.
45.3 percentHillary Clinton’s support among N.C. voter’s
43.3 percentDonald Trump’s support
The rally was Trump’s latest appearance in North Carolina, a key battleground state, in an election that’s seen both Trump and Clinton, as well as their running mates, rally supporters from one end of the state to the other.
Supporters began lining up early outside the Convention Center Thursday as Trump returned to Charlotte for a pair of fundraisers and the evening campaign rally. Tables of merchandise vendors were set up along College Street, displaying “Hillary For Prison” T-shirts and “Bomb the S--- Out of ISIS” buttons, as well as water bottles with Trump’s face on them.
Trump headlined a 6 p.m. fundraising dinner at uptown’s Westin Hotel, where Gov. Pat McCrory and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani also spoke. He had a midday fundraiser at Trump National Golf Club in Mooresville, and visited a Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Iredell County, where, according to reports, he shot an M4 assault rifle.
“I just met with our many amazing employees right up the road at my property,” Trump told the crowd, referring to Trump National. He quipped: “They like me very much. I guess I pay them too much.”
Trump’s visit to Charlotte comes amid a shakeup in the campaign. He’s also buying his first TV ads in North Carolina, with $838,000 worth of ads set to run in the state from Aug. 19 to 29, according to NBC. Of that, $347,000 is set to target the Charlotte market.
Clinton has a slight edge over Trump in the state, according to the latest average of polls from Real Clear Politics. She’s leading Trump 45.3 percent to 43.3 percent, though an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll last week found her with a 9-point lead.
Politico reported Thursday that N.C. Republicans say Trump has failed to consolidate the GOP base in the state. “Trump’s in serious trouble here,” Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius told Politico. He said Trump is getting “crunched” among independents. “I’m in much different shape, but it’s closer than it should be. I’m feeling the impact of the top of the ticket.”
This week, Stephen Bannon, who runs the conservative Breitbart News, was named as the campaign’s chief executive on Wednesday. And Kellyanne Conway, a veteran Republican pollster, became campaign manager.
In Charlotte, Trump also cast himself as someone who would fight for the downtrodden and help minorities, factory workers, veterans and the middle class succeed economically.
“So many are not making it, but they’re going to make it if Trump becomes president,” he said. “America first, remember, America first, America first.”
“I am running to be your voice,” he told the crowd, promising to renegotiate or pull out of NAFTA. “I am glad that I make the powerful, and I mean very powerful, a little uncomfortable now and again, including some of the powerful people in my own party.”
He also made an appeal for African-American voters, a group Clinton has a solid lead with. Nationally, 92 percent of black voters support Clinton, while Trump has only 2 percent, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Aug. 7.
“The bigotry of Hillary Clinton is amazing. … If African-American voters give Donald Trump a chance … the result for them will be amazing,” said Trump. “What do you have to lose by trying something new?”
Jibril Hough, a Muslim activist from Charlotte, said his third Trump rally “had the most moderate tone.” When Trump talked about restricting immigration, Hough said one audience member yelled, “keep Muslims out.” But another gave Hough a hug. “First time I’ve ever gotten a hug at a Trump rally.”
State politics mixed into the day as well.
Outside the convention center, former state Sen. Malcolm Graham held a news conference to denounce Gov. Pat McCrory for supporting Trump. McCrory was an honorary chair of Trump’s Charlotte fundraiser. McCrory has appeared with Trump before, including last week’s rally in Wilmington.
“Gov. McCrory has shown his true colors,” said Graham, who appeared on behalf of McCrory’s Democratic opponent, Roy Cooper, and the state Democratic Party. At least one Hillary Clinton supporter showed up outside, holding a sign in protest of Trump.
Before the rally started, Rose Hamid, president of Muslim Women of the Carolinas, was escorted out at the request of Trump security. At a Trump rally in Rock Hill earlier this year, she also was taken out after standing in silent protest of the candidate’s comments about Muslims.
“I’m here to put a positive image on Islam and Muslims,” she said Thursday. Hamid had been handing out pens with “Salam,” or “peace,” written on them.
Some supporters waiting outside the convention center said they’ve been to see Trump before. Philip and Diane Ezzell, 67, arrived at 9 a.m. to get to the front of the line. This is fourth Trump rally for the Monroe residents.
Philip Ezzell said he likes Trump because “he’s not bought and paid for,” and called Clinton “a big liar” and “corrupt.”
The Ezzells also like Trump’s position on trade and American manufacturing. He worked in textiles for 33 years, and they moved five times because of plants closing or struggling.
“We lived it,” Diane Ezzell said.
I think this is our last chance.
Philip Ezzell, 67, former textile worker from Monroe.
Fundraisers could bring in $1.5 million
Former Nucor CEO and Trump adviser Dan DiMicco introduced Trump at the Charlotte fundraiser. Former Mecklenburg Judge Bill Belk and Realtor Fred Godley were among the guests. “He says the things I think,” Godley said later.
Ed Broyhill of Winson-Salem, co-chair of both fundraisers, said they were expected to raise about $1.5 million. Tickets ran as high as $50,000.
The money goes to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising effort between the Trump campaign, the national Republican Party and state parties. Such arrangements allow parties to accept more from each donor. Organizers said they expect the money to help fund Trump’s ground game in North Carolina.
Staff writer Rick Rothacker contributed.