He had them at “make America great again.”
No matter what Donald Trump said Thursday in the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark in Billings, he could do no wrong. Before a crowd of several thousand, Trump riffed on oil, immigrants, trade deals and guns, never sticking with one subject long enough to see it to the end. He was the current champion of political scat jazz, the crowd floating The Donald’s stream of consciousness.
“When you go along and you have all these people running, it’s the largest field,” Trump said. He was describing his unexpected rise to presumptive Republican presidential nominee. “I think it’s the largest field. I don’t know. I think it’s the largest field. John, is that the largest field? Ask Campaign Carl. Is this the largest field ever to run? Please tell us. If Campaign Carl says it, it’s true. Unless he’s talking about me, understand no one knows more about politics.”
And then he was on to a different subject, punctuating his vignettes with unexpected shout-outs to the most unlikely of people to set foot in Montana’s largest city for a campaign rally.
“Harold Hamm, are you here? Harold, where the hell are you?” Trump said. And there was Hamm, the fracking pioneer who turned the Bakken into the Saudi Arabia of the Northern Plains, standing in the back of the room, grinning. “Oh, he’s got money. He knows more about energy in his finger than these other people.”
The oil magnate had played a key role in Trump’s energy speech earlier Thursday in Bismarck, N.D. Barry Switzer, the former coach of the Oklahoma Sooners and Dallas Cowboys got a shout-out, too, along with former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz.
At one point, while talking about his victory in Florida, where Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush were mistakenly thought to be home-state shoo-ins to win, Trump abruptly paused and acknowledged a water bottle that had fallen from his podium and a hat thrown by a woman in the audience.
“Jeb, are you here?” Trump said, to laughs.
At other points he was more serious. Trump warned that the U.S. Supreme Court could see the replacement of three to five justices during the next presidential term. If a Democrat were to pick all the departing justices it would change the United States for decades.
“The court will never come back, and I’m not talking one issue or two issues, I’m talking about many issues,” Trump said. “We will become Venezuela,” which has replaced Greece as conservative America’s favorite cautionary meme of socialism’s dangers.
When he got to U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., Trump belted, “Where the hell is he, my man! He’s supported me from the very beginning, but it’s more his wife, right?” Lola Zinke was on the Trump train first, he said. It was a subtle way to pull both Zinkes into his speech.
Montana’s lone congressman introduced Trump to the crowd, warning the audience that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be disastrous for national security. He cited the terrorist attack on Benghazi as a Clinton failure and predicted worse to come under the Iran nuclear arms agreement.
The crowd loved it. They loved it when Trump proclaimed President Barack Obama as a gift to President Jimmy Carter’s reputation.
“He is the single best thing to happen to Jimmy Carter,” Trump said, “Because a lot of people are no longer looking at Jimmy Carter as our worst president."
Eating up Trump’s every word was a different kind of the Red Hat Society, mostly males, mostly white, with the words “make America great again” emblazoned above the bills of their ball caps. They were an audience of true believers, insisting like teenage fans of a red hot rock band that they were with Trump from the start, long before his meteoric rise to the top of the political charts.
When they were asked not to rough up protesters, should any surface, they chuckled. When he promised to build a wall across the nation’s southern border, they roared like a May storm dropping golf-ball-sized hail.
He was the billionaire they’d wanted to have a beer with, because they swore he was more like them than any of the other 16 Republican candidates who ran for president this election. And in the process of becoming presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Trump like many of them, had been counted out.
“He’s a businessman. We’re business people,” said Terra Pierce, who owns the Stadium Club in Billings Heights with her husband, Rich Wrobel.
Wrobel was wearing a red Trump cap and sporting a giant red foam hand displaying an index finger pointed sharply in a No. 1 pose. Pierce said she bought it last fall after Trump flew into the Iowa State Fair in a helicopter to promote his candidacy.
“You can’t spend more money than you take in. You can’t spend money you don’t have,” Wrobel said, echoing a business truism he said Trump shared. “We don’t have a revenue problem in this country. We have a spending problem.”
After a 45-minute verbal sprint, Trump wrapped up by promising the crowd what has become his modern-day promise of not just a chicken in every pot, but more chicken than a pot can hold.
“We’re going to win. We’re going to win so much. We’re going to win at trade, we’re going to win at the border. We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning, you’re going to come to me and go ‘Please, please, we can’t win anymore.’ You’ve heard this one. You’ll say ‘Please, Mr. President, we beg you sir, we don’t want to win anymore. It’s too much. It’s not fair to everybody else.’” Trump said. “And I’m going to say ‘I’m sorry, but we’re going to keep winning, winning, winning, We’re going to make America great again.”
Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and former President Bill Clinton, stumping for his wife, Hillary Clinton, have both made appearances in Billings. The Montana primary election is June 7.
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