ORLANDO — With Donald Trump in the third year of his presidency, we have officially entered the reruns.
Trump launched his reelection campaign in Orlando on Tuesday night, after a daylong festival to entertain the thousands of people who had come from around the country to be there at the official start of Trump 2020.
“I want to see history in the making, what his outlook is going to be,” said Carlie Paquette, 18, executive director of the College Republicans at the University of South Florida, as she waited for Trump to take the stage. She said she was tired of hearing about Trump’s much-touted border wall, though she supported it. “I want to see new ideas.”
She must have been disappointed.
Running a reelection campaign is never easy, but especially when your first was predicated on tearing down the system you are now part of. So, after opening remarks by daughter-in-law Lara Trump (“It gets hard sometimes to be a Trump supporter”), son Eric Trump (“His life is worse running for office than if he weren’t in office”), Donald Trump Jr. (“I know you are not sick of winning yet!”), and, finally, Vice President Mike Pence (“It’s on everybody, time for round two”), Trump ran through his greatest hits. He praised the number of people who had shown up and bashed the media, which elicited a huge reaction from the 20,000-strong crowd.
(A sort of rhythm has set in at Trump rallies — at any mention of the media, the crowd turns toward the platform hosting the dozens of reporters there to film and photograph the event, and they boo and flash thumbs down signs, many of them smiling or laughing. In the early days, this was something the US had never seen before, and it sent shockwaves through the journalist community and the country. By the fifth round of boos Tuesday night, some journalists were smirking. Others didn’t look up from their phones. It’s become old hat.)
What else got people going? Mentions of moving the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and tearing up the Iran deal get applause, but mentions of Cuba and Venezuela, and their attendant socialism, are what really get the crowd going. Mentions of job creation and unemployment will get cheers for sure, but nothing like when Trump said that “the country must care for its own citizens first.” When Trump mentioned Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and said that “he did nothing wrong,” a few people applauded, but have him let loose on how “the Democrat agenda of open borders is a moral betrayal” and the crowd will go wild.
“America is special for a reason,” said Brian Smith, a 38-year-old from Orlando wearing a newly purchased Space Force T-shirt. “If everyone can come here, it will lose that special.”
But still, two and a half years after Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, nothing will get him — or his crowd — going more than a mention of Hillary Clinton. The shouts of “lock her up” began well before he even mentioned her, and they continued throughout the hourslong rally.
And that begs the question of what the next year and a half of campaigning will be like. Trump toyed with jabs at former vice president Joe (“Sleepy Joe”) Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and those will sharpen as the Democrat frontrunner becomes clearer. But for now he has Hillary, and his supporters do too, and that seems to be going fine for them.
Because many people in the crowd probably weren’t there to hear concrete ideas, but to see the man who has given them an entire identity to build around. They wore an eclectic array of gear and T-shirts — MAGA hats and Trump socks, yes, but also T-shirts like “Deplorable Lives Matter” and “Trump 2020: Fuck Your Feelings.” A twentysomething guy wearing a #MakeLiberalsCryAgain T-shirt stood next to another twentysomething guy wearing a shirt emblazoned with INFOWARS.COM. Nearby, a woman was explaining to a few people she’d just met how John McCain did not die from a malignant brain tumor (he did), but was executed by a secret military tribunal.
“It’s just being around everyone else — with the same mindset, the same goals,” said Dion Potaracke (a Floridian wearing the Fuck Your Feelings T-shirt).
Around the stadium there were neon signs reading “Keep America Great.” Trump appears to be struggling with whether to have that slogan lead him into 2020 or stick with “Make America Great Again.” He asked the stadium to vote. “Is it going to be MAGA, which is possibly the greatest theme in politics? How do you give up the number one theme?”
But then he kind of liked Keep America Great. Isn’t the point that he has, in two and a half years, made America great? But he was worried! “If I lose, people will say what a mistake that was. But I’m not going to lose so that’s not going to happen.” People voted with cheers and stomps, and Keep America Great undoubtedly won. But at the end, after he touted some accomplishments, and accused Democrats of wanting to destroy the country, and assured the crowd that America would never be socialist, and took the brave stance of coming out against executing babies after birth, Trump said: “We’re gonna keep on fighting, and keep on winning, winning, winning.”
And also? “Make America great again.”
Carlie Paquette’s name was misspelled and the name of the University of South Florida was misstated in an earlier version of this post.