Donald Trump is already reliving his glory days on the primary trail.
The Republican presidential candidate — who all but won the nomination this week with Ted Cruz’s exit from the race — spent considerable time Friday during an Omaha rally reliving his successes and his bitter battles on the campaign trail.
Trump talked about his “landslide” win in Indiana. He took a casual poke at his favorite punching bag in the race, former GOP candidate Jeb Bush, calling him once again — almost for old time’s sake — a low-energy candidate. And he regaled his audience with a very long and confusing golf story, the point of which was that he won the Florida primary despite having his golf game interrupted by a barrage of anti-Trump TV ads.
In short, Trump reveled in his newfound status as The Last Candidate Standing in this year’s slightly surreal GOP primary race.
“I started out with 17 people and one by one, one by one,” he said, his voice drifting off. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch. So, we had a good time. It’s been an amazing experience for me ... I’ve been a politician for 10 months and these guys have been politicians for 30 years in some cases.”
His 40-minute speech wasn’t entirely a trip down memory lane. He gave his audience plenty of bombastic Trumpisms, and even managed to take a few sly jabs at Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, whose family spent millions funding those anti-Trump ads that embarrassed him on the Florida golf course.
He also yelled at several protesters in his now-familiar, tough-guy, New York persona, after a group of young people began yelling anti-Trump slogans midway through his speech.
“Get ’em out. Get ’em out of here. Go home to Mom,” Trump shouted to the delight of the audience.
And he promised many times over the course of his speech to negotiate tougher trade deals with China and Japan in a bid to create and keep more jobs in America.
“We’re going to win so much. You’re going to say, ‘Mr. President, we can’t take it anymore. We’re so tired of winning,’ ” Trump proclaimed near the end of his speech.
Trump’s Nebraska stop was planned when he was expected to still be competing with Cruz for the state’s 36 GOP national delegates in Tuesday’s primary. Instead, the trip became a victory lap after Cruz dropped out, ceding the nomination to Trump.
It was a gorgeous day for a rally. About 3,000 to 3,500 attended the event at an open-door airplane hangar near Eppley Airfield. It was hardly Trump’s largest audience this year, and there was still plenty of room in the hangar for more people. But the crowd was clearly pumped up. Many said they were thrilled with Trump’s victory, noting that few political commentators had given him a chance when he first got into the race.
Matthew Hudson, 43, was one Trump supporter who said he believed from the start that the unorthodox candidate could go the distance.
“I just saw it from the beginning. I personally saw something in him. I’m convinced he will do everything he can to make America great again,” said Hudson, who described himself as self-employed.
Several longtime Nebraska GOP leaders and elected officials were in the audience to greet Trump and support his candidacy, including State Sens. Tommy Garrett, Joni Craighead and Jim Smith.
Ricketts also was on hand to introduce Trump. The governor had been expected to endorse Cruz before the Texas senator’s sudden exit from the race. On Friday, Ricketts called for Republicans to unite behind Trump.
“Now folks, I went through a contested primary. And then we all came together to support me as a nominee for the Republican Party here in Nebraska. And it is time now that we as Republicans come together to support our nominee for president,” Ricketts said.
Ricketts’ appearance with Trump had the potential to be a little awkward. Ricketts’ parents — Joe and Marlene Ricketts — were two of the major donors behind a super PAC that ran anti-Trump ads. One ad portrayed women reciting sexist quotes attributed to Trump.
Ricketts said he would now urge his parents to get behind Trump. He also praised Trump’s speaking skills.
“I think Donald Trump is probably the most engaging political speech-giver I’ve ever seen,” said Ricketts. “He really connected with that crowd.”
For his part, Trump mentioned the Ricketts family’s opposition to his candidacy several times. But he indicated he may be ready to put that family feud behind him, after meeting the governor.
“I like him so much, I’m starting to like the Chicago Cubs again,” quipped Trump, noting that the Ricketts family owns the baseball team.
In addition to Ricketts, former Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman was in the audience. Heineman is Trump’s honorary chairman in Nebraska, while State Sen. Beau McCoy is the chairman.
Heineman said Trump has won the GOP nomination “fair and square,” and that the time had come for the party to get behind him as its standardbearer. He also dismissed Nebraska U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse’s call for a third-party candidate.
Sasse has said he would never vote for Trump and he is hoping that a third candidate will enter the race, giving people like him another option.
Heineman dismissed that idea as impractical, saying it was too late for a third-party candidate to get on the ballot in many states and to run a viable campaign. “That’s fantasy world. Ben Sasse is a good friend of mine, OK. But that’s fantasy,” said Heineman.
Not everyone was happy to see Trump. Numerous protesters popped up periodically throughout the speech, shouting slogans like “Dump Trump.” They kept police officers and security officials busy escorting them out of the hangar. In all, more than 15 protesters could be seen leaving the rally with police officers.
Whenever a protester yelled, the pro-Trump crowd would drown them out with “Trump! Trump!” chants. At one point, an older man began to yell into a protester’s face and had to be held back by police officers.
After the rally, pro-Trump and anti-Trump forces clashed in what was described by witnesses as a pushing match. Four people were arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct, police said.
Besides the protesters at the rally, up to 60 others gathered at an intersection near Eppley to wave signs and chant at rally-goers.
Dale Gutierrez, a military veteran, said he felt compelled to stand in protest against Trump. “I feel like it’s my moral duty to stand up to the neo-fascism, the racism ... (and) the sexism of Donald Trump,” said Gutierrez, 38.
Amanda Ryan, 25, said she wanted to support groups that Trump has attacked. “How are we saying we are a welcoming community if we are letting someone come in and spew hatred?” she asked.
But inside the rally, Trump supporters were nearly giddy about their candidate’s success and they predicted he would win in November. They argued he was a straight shooter who would build a wall on the nation’s southern border and toughen America’s military defenses.
“I like him because he’s not politically correct,” said Jim Bichel, a semi-retired accountant from Omaha. “He says things people don’t want to hear sometimes.”
Many said they simply liked the way Trump talked to people. He didn’t sound like a typical politician, they said.
“People are liking what he’s saying. They’re relating to him. He’s saying what we’ve been thinking,” said Valerie Pakes, 51, a dental hygienist from Omaha.
Mike Neneman, a carpenter from Omaha, also liked his blunt speech. “He says things that a lot of people say to each other,” Neneman said. “He says what we think and I think a lot of people are tired of hearing the same old, same old (from politicians).”
World-Herald staff writers Alia Conley and Andrew J. Nelson contributed to this report.
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