TAMPA — Billionaire presidential candidate Donald Trump delighted more than 10,000 fans Friday night, savaging President Barack Obama, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is trailing Trump badly in state polls.
Trump took the stage at the University of South Florida’s Sun Dome 40 minutes late. Screaming fans didn’t seem to care, however, cheering for “The Donald’s” familiar themes such as building a wall between the United States and Mexico and abolishing Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act.
“We’re going to win again,” Trump said, spreading his arms to signal the scope of his ambitions. “We’re going to start winning with the military. We’re going to win with health care. We’re going to terminate Obamacare.”
Trump took Obama to task continually, painting the president as un-American, incompetent and weak-kneed. He criticized the White House’s recent deal with Iran to slow that country’s nuclear weapons program as a giveaway. He said the United States gave Iran $150 billion and got nothing but four hostages in return.
“We get zero,” Trump said.
Actually, Iran is getting $100 billion in revenues from sales of oil it produced. The United States froze those assets in 2012 and the money has been sitting in foreign banks since then.
Trump joked about Clinton’s problems with a private e-mail server that she is accused of using to send and receive classified information.
“What I don’t understand with Hillary — when you see 19,000 and 2,000 (e-mails) and how do you have that many?” Trump said. “What is she doing?”
But the flaxen-haired New Yorker saved special venom for Bush, whom Trump labeled “gutless” and “a total stiff.” He noted that Bush has spent over $100 million on ads, many of them attacking Trump, but remains low in the polls after finishing fourth in Monday’s New Hampshire primary.
“Jeb, ugh. He’s asleep at the wheel,” Trump said. “Can you imagine Jeb negotiating with China?”
His supporters ate it up, booing when Obama or Bush’s name came up, and chanting with Trump, “Build that wall,” a reference to Trump’s pledge that Mexico will pay “100 percent” for a border barrier.
“Donald is the only one that’s going to save us,” said supporter Claudia DeGrazia, clasping her hands over her chest. “He really holds my heart. Right from the beginning, I have never strayed from my belief this guy is going to make it.”
DeGrazia and thousands of others stood in lines that wrapped hundreds of yards around the Sun Dome to present tickets they printed online with no guarantee of a seat. They joked and laughed, showing off red “Make America Great Again” hats and Trump signs.
Every one of the 10,500 seats in the arena appeared full, the occupants subjected to detailed searches that included metal detectors.
“As a good American, we’re here to make American great again,” said Stacey McQuestion of Apollo Beach. “It’s nice to see a man speak his mind for once. It’s nice to hear him say what needs to be said. If you ask every person in this line what they want to say, that man is going to say it.”
Kathy Muscillo of Michigan said she respects Trump for the reverence he shows veterans. Several retired service men and women spoke from the stage before Trump. The candidate said several times he loves veterans and blamed Obama for not fixing problems with poor care and long waits at hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“He loves our vets,” Muscillo said. “I want all the money that goes overseas and goes to all the illegals to go to our vets. The hell with all those giveaways.”
Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, whom Trump called a communist, has drawn large crowds of younger voters, but Trump had his share, too.
Jeb Hagewood, 19, of Huntsville, Alabama, said young people attracted to Sanders need to be educated about the cost of the Democrat’s proposed social programs, like free college tuition.
“They like him because he’s going to give out a lot of free stuff,” Hagewood said. “But I don’t think young people are educated about how his policies would work and the repercussions.”
A number of Trump critics showed up to protest, both inside and outside the arena. As many as 70 people outside held signs labeling Trump a racist and a friend of the rich. One sign read, “Build a wall around Donald Trump and make him pay for it.”
There were a number of scuffles between supporters and critics.
Emily Mohr, a 20-year-old USF student, said she showed up to protest because Trump is racist and sexist.
“He’s a terrible human being,” Mohr said.
Shannon Evans, 35, carried her son Liam, 2, and a sign saying that Muslims had accompanied Christopher Columbus on his ship the Santa Maria when the explorer reached the New World. Several people in line booed Evans.
One man said, “I was on the boat trying to sink that boat.”
“Am I sitting here booing? I’m trying to educate people,” Evans said. “If people knew the facts, they would change their minds.”