President Donald Trump's appearance in South Carolina last night was billed as a campaign rally for Governor Henry McMaster before today's Republican primary runoff against challenger John Warren. Trump did call McMaster to the stage briefly, but the event mostly was a chance for the president to tout his own achievements before a crowd of faithful supporters.
Trump spoke for an hour to a crowd of more than 1500 people in a high school gym in west Columbia. He claimed lots of successes, on tax cuts and job growth, tariffs and trade, and his recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“I don't believe, and I don't even think it's close, that any president has done what we've done in 500 days,” Trump said, prompting applause.
Trump's appearance was delayed an hour because heavy rains prevented Air Force One from landing on time. That didn't seem to bother most who packed a high school gym in West Columbia. And they were the lucky ones - hundreds more were still in line outside when the doors closed. Some were able to watch on video from an overflow room, but most more were turned away entirely, like Adam Waters of Columbia.
“Honestly, we just came for the show," Waters said. "Wanted to see some protesters, wanted to see the Donald, see whatever was gonna happen. See some Secret Service guys, FBI guys. But we couldn't get in. It's overflow."
Trump did spend a few minutes doing what he came for — pumping the governor's campaign. McMaster was the first major Republican politician to come out for Trump before the 2016 election. This was his reward.
“And right from Day One, when I came down here … Henry McMaster … I said so why are you with me. He said because I like what I see. I agree. We need strong borders. We're talking about it now, and we have,” Trump said.
That brought cheers, and a familiar chant at any Trump rally, "Build That Wall."
Trump invited McMaster to the stage, and the governor invoked the weather to deliver his own endorsement of Trump, calling him a force of nature as he stepped off the plane.
“Donald Trump has kept every promise that he's made. We love him, we're for him, he's gonna make America great again, we're gonna help him do it, and we're gonna do it right here in South Carolina,” he said.
HILLARY AND FAKE NEWS MEDIA
There were plenty of other applause lines, and cues for other chants, like "Lock Her Up" when Trump mentioned his 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Trump's speech was rambling at times — he even joked about ignoring the teleprompters as he skipped back and forth to topics that brought the biggest reactions.
None worked better than his repeated digs at what he calls the "fake news media" — the crowd of TV cameras and reporters in the back of the room.
“Now you know we have a lot of fake news back there, these fakers,” Trump said.
The crowd turned around and booed.
“And you know that if a horrible thing happened, and we weren't lucky enough to have Henry win, you know they won't talk about it,” Trump said. And then the president drew one of the biggest cheers of the evening when he went off color.
“So please get your asses out tomorrow and vote.”
The president also took on another media target — late night talk show hosts.
“Does anyone think they're funny?” he asked at one point.
“No!” yelled the crowd.
SAFER WORLD, TIGHTER BORDER
Trump smiled as he recounted his achievements so far, including the agreement with North Korea. He said it will lead to the destruction of North Korea's nuclear facilities and an end to nuclear tests.
“The world is gonna be a safer place, and North Korea is gonna be a much better place,” Trump said.
The actual agreement says only that North Korea is committed to "working toward" denuclearization. The country has gone back on agreements like these in the past.
And then there was border security. Trump alluded to his desire — tweeted earlier this week — to deny illegal immigrants a hearing before a judge. Instead of hiring more judges, Trump wants to turn immigrants back at the border.
“I said today I don't want judges. We're gonna have more ICE and border patrol agents,” he said.
Trump said he welcomes immigrants — but only if they come in through a legal process.
ALL AGES CROWD
The crowd was a mix of young and old from around the state. Many wore red "Make America Great Again" caps and Trump t-shirts, though there were signs and t-shirts saying "I Back Henry Mac."
Linda Jackson came from Irmo northwest of Columbia. Like many, she came mainly to see the president.
“I love President Trump, and I'm voting for McMaster. Because he supports Donald Trump. And I'm hoping that Mr. McMaster will make South Carolina great again, cause it's got a lot of work to do,” Jackson said.
Brenda Geentzler of Lexington was there to hear Trump in person for the first time, and said it was "fabulous."
“You know Trump, he always brings out the main points, the wonderful things that he has done nationally. And it's because the press does not really cover the wonderful things that he does,” she said.
Polls for today's primary runoff will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.