Donald Trump extolled New York values, bashed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on trade and the economy, and had a few almost-kind words for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during a speech Friday at a half-empty civic center in Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Roughly 2,000 Trump fans showed up at the Crete Civic Center and stood on the artificial turf — the arena doubles as an indoor soccer pitch — and cheered wildly when the Republican presidential candidate appeared shortly after 3 p.m.
They trained their cellphones on Trump and pushed to the front to see the real estate mogul and reality TV star. They were clearly enthused that he had swooped into the rural North Country to show them some love heading into the New York presidential primary Tuesday.
Trump promised progress on many fronts if elected president. He pledged to revive the local economy, “knock the hell out of ISIS” and to “save the Second Amendment, which is under siege.” He also said he'd dump Obamacare.
That big wall he'd build between the U.S. and Mexico on Mexico’s dime? It would have a “big door in it” so legal immigrants could gain entry, he said.
“We want people to come into the country, but they have to come in legally,” Trump said. Supporters chanted: “Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!"
Trump lambasted Cruz and threw a few darts at Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, but empathized with Sanders, suggesting he is a victim of a “phony” electoral system.
Molly Walsh/Seven Days
Awaiting Donald Trump at the rally
“He wins, he wins, he wins, he keeps winning,” Trump said. And then pundits say: “Bernie can’t win.”
Trump said he wasn’t a fan of Sanders but felt sorry for him given the way the system works. "It's a rigged system," Trump said.
Molly Walsh/Seven Days
Plattsburgh State students Madelyn Egan, left, Mike Fish, center, and Kayleigh Church take a selfie at Trump rally.
The crowd ranged from old to young. Many students from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh attended. They offered various reasons for supporting the Donald.
"His hair, he's got great hair," said freshman Kayleigh Church, 19, from Albany.
Her friend, Mike Fish, a 20-year-old junior from Albany, summed it up this way: "I like how eccentric he is, I like the positivity he brings to his speeches, which is why I'm here."
Madelyn Egan, an 18-year-old freshman from Albany, likes Trump’s blunt talk. "A lot of people see him as ruthless. I just see him as honest."
Others praised Trump's promises. "Obamacare is a disaster," said Richard Walker of Plattsburgh, a 36-year-old cellphone salesman who attended with his 5-year-old daughter, Olivia. He also likes Trump's views on immigration. Too many illegal immigrants commit crimes and get back into the country after being kicked out, Walker said. "I don't think he's against the Muslims or Mexicans," he said. "I think he's trying to bring safety to the country."
Trump spoke with few interruptions, other than applause. Protestors interrupted once and police escorted them out. Outside after the speech, about 30 protestors waved anti-Trump signs to people driving away.
While most of the audience was clearly Trump-friendly, some attended to watch and shake their heads in dismay.
“I’m voting for Bernie Sanders, not Donald Trump,” said Ryan McLennon, a 20-year-old sophomore at SUNY Plattsburgh who hails from New York City. “The rise of Donald Trump means America is supporting bigotry.”
After Trump’s speech, McLennon still wasn’t sold. “He has no policies, just talk,” he said on the way out.
Trump’s operation clearly expected a bigger turnout. People had to reserve tickets online and the doors opened three hours early, presumably to screen a sellout crowd that never materialized. Those who did attend roamed the civic center, chatted and swayed to Trump’s rally playlist — heavy on the Rolling Stones, with a little bit of Elton John sprinkled in — and even some opera.
Trump arrived a tad late so the crowd got to hear Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” at least three times.
Some of the merchandise sold in the parking lot and worn by Trump fans did not conjure uptown refinement.
Hawkers shouted the slogan on an anti-Hillary Clinton T-shirt that read: “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica. Trump that bitch.”
Another T-shirt proudly proclaimed: “Donald Fuckin’ Trump; If You Don’t Bleed Red, White & Blue, Take Your Bitch Ass Home.”
Molly Walsh/Seven Days
Trump supporter John Kolowsky
John Kolowsky, a 25-year-old auto mechanic from Altona, N.Y., bought that T-shirt in the parking lot for $20 and wore it inside. He’s definitely voting for Trump.
“We need someone for the people,” Kolowsky said. “He supports our troops, he supports our police officers and he supports us, the people.”