The last time President Donald Trump gave a big speech in the Sunshine State, he kept a lid on a secret: only days earlier, he’d joined Florida’s ever-growing ranks of New York transplants.
On Tuesday, he returned to Florida — and threw himself a belated ‘homecoming’ party.
Nearly two months to the day after Trump changed his residence from his Manhattan penthouse to his palatial Palm Beach estate at Mar-a-Lago, thousands of his new neighbors gathered at the BB&T Center in Sunrise to fete the world’s most powerful man. The event was meant to be a show of force, a sign of Trump’s dominance in a state he likely must carry next November to win reelection.
“Let’s go to Florida,” Trump, speaking in the arena, said he told his campaign. “Just get me the biggest arena, it doesn’t matter.”
“Look at this!” Richard Rossi, a 63-year-old retiree carrying a Donald Trump Jr. 2024 sign, said outside the arena as crowds flowed past him toward the rally. “Nobody else does this. This guy is set.”
Trump’s move to Florida may have been motivated by taxes and legal issues, as he suggested last month on Twitter. But it has its fringe benefits, further endearing Trump to a key battleground state.
Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, told the audience that the arena — located in Florida’s most Democratic county — was close to its 20,000 capacity. He said a highly mobilized Trump volunteer base in Broward, where there are a quarter-million registered Republicans, would create “a whole ‘nother playing field” in Florida.
“This is an amazing crowd for Broward,” crowed Parscale, a data guru whose operation also uses rallies to accumulate thousands of new phone numbers when voters sign up for tickets. “They said I’m crazy to have a 20,000-person arena in Broward County!”
Many who attended Tuesday’s rally said it was their first time at a Trump rally — events that are part political gathering, part rock concert. Ahead of the rally, Trump supporters who came from as far as Kentucky bought hotdogs grilled on truck flatbeds and purchased “Liberal Tears” t-shirts.
“He’s a genius,” said Nicole Golub, 25. “He’s doing great things for America.”
No recent polls taking the temperature of Floridians have been made public. But a NYT/Sienna poll conducted one month ago found Trump under water in the state, with 39 percent saying they’d vote for him and 43 percent saying they’d vote against him. Trump trailed former Vice President Joe Biden in a head-to-head match up in the state, but was ahead of U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
The same poll found that 49% of voters supported impeachment, but a majority opposed Trump’s removal — and Trump argued Tuesday that support for impeachment is plummeting.
“They’re pushing that impeachment witch hunt and a lot of bad things are happening to them. You see what’s happening in the polls? Everybody said ‘That’s really bullshit!’” Trump said, leading the crowd to chant “Bullshit!”
George Dixon, a 73-year-old retiree who drove Monday night to the arena from Key Largo in a Chevy Avalanche, said he’s watched all the public impeachment hearings. Dixon said the hearings have been “ridiculous,” and questioned why so much of the country views Trump as unfit to be president.
“I just don’t get it. I really don’t,” he said. “We have the strongest economy in the world, the highest employment numbers. We have a great country and he has made it better.”
The president’s campaign on Tuesday touted Florida’s economy under Trump and the state’s unemployment rate, which has dropped a point-and-a-half since he became president. The campaign also said the tax cuts passed in late 2017 brought an average tax cut of $1,340 to Floridians.
Inside the venue, Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez, the co-chairwoman of Latinos for Trump, received a roar from the crowd when she crowed about the president’s harsh economic sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela. She said former President Barack Obama took in a game of baseball in Cuba with Communist Party leader Raul Castro, while Trump “goes to bat for Cuban exiles.”
Across the street from the BB&T Center, near the Sawgrass Mills mall, Florida Democrats pushed back on Trump’s message, inflating a ‘Baby Trump’ balloon and hosting a list of Democratic politicians. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the congresswoman who represents Sunrise, called Trump’s “move” to Florida “another scam.”
“There are a lot of people who pretend Florida is their actual residence,” Wasserman-Schultz said. “It’s not surprising that he would try to fake this. He wants to get a few more rounds of golf in, because that’s what he seems to spend most of his personal time doing.”
But if Democrats were speaking to Trump’s new neighbors who filed into his “homecoming” party, it’s unlikely they were listening. Stacey Bovasso, who drove down from Port St. Lucie with a “Welcome Home” sign, said there’s nothing Democrats can do to convince her that Trump is anything other than a two-term president.
“It’s a joke. It’s a clown show,” she said. “Why wouldn’t anyone vote for Donald Trump?”