Trump addressed thousands of supporters at an outdoor rally in Johnston County on Thursday night, seeking to build excitement in a crucial swing state just days before the election.
Trump was joined onstage at The Farm by a couple dozen retired military officers sporting “Make America Great Again” hats. The officers have endorsed his campaign. Trump’s speech focused heavily on military and national security issues – likely because the rally site was just down the road from Fort Bragg and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
“I stand here tonight among true heroes,” Trump said. “I will never, ever let you down, I will tell you that, and you’ve been let down plenty over the years.”
Trump promised that if he’s elected, he’ll ensure “full and proper funding for all branches of the American armed forces.”
He called for drastic changes to the American military mission abroad. “We will stop trying to build foreign democracies, topple regimes, and race recklessly to intervene in situations where we have no right to be there, folks,” he said. “Instead, our focus must be on keeping America safe and destroying ISIS.”
Trump spoke from a teleprompter and stayed on message, avoiding any mention of recent sexual assault allegations against him or other controversies that have rocked his campaign. He criticized Democrat Hillary Clinton but focused on the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server, calling her “the most dishonest person ever to run for office.”
“We know Hillary Clinton can’t be trusted with America’s security,” Trump said. “She was more interested in keeping her emails a secret than in keeping our classified intelligence a secret. Ending this criminal government corruption is one of the most important reasons you have to go out on Nov. 8 and vote.”
Clinton has said she’s confident the latest review of her emails will have the same result as the FBI investigation that ended in July when director James Comey said her handling of classified information was “extremely careless” but didn’t recommend criminal charges.
Trump also slammed President Barack Obama, who campaigned for Clinton in Chapel Hill on Wednesday and will return to the state Friday for rallies in Fayetteville and Charlotte. “This guy does nothing but campaign,” Trump said, suggesting Obama is neglecting his duties. “Instead he’s campaigning with somebody who’s under FBI investigation.”
Obama’s Chapel Hill speech included strong words about Trump, who the president said is is “unfit to be commander-in-chief” and “brags about how being famous allows him to get away with sexual assault.”
Trump promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, noting that 95 of 100 North Carolina counties will now have only one insurance company selling policies under the health care law.
“It’s horrible health care – you don’t even get to use it,” Trump said. “It doesn’t matter, because if I win, we’re terminating it and you’re going to have great insurance.”
Before Trump took the stage, traffic in the rural area was gridlocked for more than two hours. People rode in the beds of pickup trucks and hung out their windows on Interstate 95 waving signs of every color and size emblazoned with candidate names and campaign slogans.
Two men hopped out of their car in the midst of traffic to sell hats with the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Nearby, Springhill Outfitters advertised the event on its electronic sign along with “hot specials on guns.”
Supporters said their candidate’s name stands for “This Republican Understands My Problems.”
Lisa and Patrick Smelik of Raleigh said they support Trump because they believe he’ll increase the number of jobs and because he’s “a true American.”
“We need jobs and we need lower taxes,” Lisa Smelik said. “He’s the right person for everyone ... He’s going to bring people together because there’s been such a divide.”
“He’s more of an independent,” Patrick Smelik said. “The Republicans have been in too much of a groove.”
Several women at the rally said they weren’t bothered by Trump’s boasts about sexual assault on a leaked “Access Hollywood” tape.
“Any man you meet, that’s how they talk,” said Talia Sutton of Lucama. “My husband talks the same way Donald Trump does. I’m not going to get mad. It’s his politics, it’s what he plans on doing for this country – that’s what matters to me.”
Dennie Johnson, 66, of Wilson County, and his wife, Cora Lee, 54, said they had never voted before this year. Trump got them to the polls, they said.
“I want change,” Cora Lee Johnson said. “And someone who will send the ones who ain’t legal back.”
Janey Lane, Heather Jones and Hunter Lane, of Micro, said they think Trump will support law enforcement officers like Hunter, who is a Fuquay-Varina police officer.
“We need somebody who supports them instead of hanging them out to dry,” Janey Lane said. “Someone who’s not part of the establishment. He’s not part of the good ol’ boys’ club. He’s not scared.”
But Lane said other countries should be afraid of Trump.
“I hope he does have his finger on the button,” she said. “We need the rest of the world to be afraid of us and not knowing what he might do will do that. We need someone who won’t apologize for us.”
Cindy and Joe Thornton of Benson have a drywall business, and their sons own a gym. This was their first political rally.
“It’s so hard for people now,” Cindy Thornton said. “Taxes, health care. People are struggling.”
And the Thorntons said Trump can fix that.
“Lower taxes, a flat tax, abolish the IRS,” Joe Thornton said. “He’s a businessman and I think the country should be run like a business. If businesses gave away everything like the government, they’d fail.”
Thursday’s rally won’t be Trump’s last visit to North Carolina before Election Day.
Trump’s campaign announced Thursday that he’ll hold a Raleigh rally at 3 p.m. Monday in Dorton Arena at the N.C. State Fairgrounds. He’ll also be in Wilmington on Saturday for a 1 p.m. rally at Wilmington International Airport.
Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, will hold a rally in Greenville on Friday.
Staff photographer Chris Seward contributed to this report.