Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump didn’t fail a Hickory audience hungry Monday for tough talk on lost jobs, illegal immigrants and entrenched politicians.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who shocked the GOP establishment by throwing his political weight behind the billionaire, served as moderator of a question-and-answer format at Lenoir-Rhyne University.
Several hundred protesters stood outside the auditorium where Trump spoke, along with more than 1,000 supporters who were turned away because the 1,450-seat hall was full.
Fifteen to 20 protesters were escorted outside after interrupting Trump’s 50-minute appearance three times. Police cited six people on charges, including disorderly conduct and resisting an officer. No injuries were reported.
Trump defended his rallies, which regularly draw protesters and sparked scuffles at an appearance in Chicago last week that was later canceled.
In Hickory, Trump’s supporters erupted into chants of "USA!" and "Trump!" each time protesters were escorted from the auditorium.
"It’s a movement; it’s a love fest," Trump said of his campaign. "There’s anger everywhere you look at the United States, and it can’t win anymore."
Trump drew some of his biggest cheers, in a furniture-making region that has lost thousands of jobs, for his remarks about undocumented immigrants. Police removed nearly a dozen protesters when Trump promised to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
"Illegal aliens have in many cases gotten better service and are being taken better care of than veterans," Trump said.
That resonated with Cherryville resident Michael Oaks, 50, who said he was pushed out of his furniture job in Hickory two years ago after a 28-year career.
"Stop the illegal immigration and bring those jobs back into this country," he said after Trump’s appearance. "You’ll make wages go up because they work for less. They’re making money and not paying taxes."
Outside the rally, protesters sang about peace and love. Among them were church groups, Bernie Sanders supporters and people carrying messages with Bible verses.
"I’m here to support my people and to say I’m here to stay," said Josefina Cazares, 23. "No matter what, he can’t deport 11 million people."
Tim Taylor, a Lutheran pastor from Raleigh, said "we’re called to care for one another, to love one another and to find ways not to divide one another. There are enough things that divide us, we don’t need to think up more."
Trump’s supporters answered the protesters’ hymns with "Build that wall!"
Trump’s appearance was the first of three presidential candidate visits in the Charlotte area Monday. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders were each scheduled to address Charlotte rallies. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz rallied more than 3,000 supporters Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord.
A Public Policy Polling survey released Sunday showed Trump with a wide lead in North Carolina among Republican candidates. Trump had 44 percent to 33 percent for Cruz. Ohio Sen. John Kasich and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who have not campaigned in North Carolina, were trailing: 11 percent for Kasich and 4 percent for Rubio.
Trump used his own Trump National Golf Course on Lake Norman as an example of the business acumen he would bring to Washington. He said his Washington hotel in the historic Post Office tower on Pennsylvania Avenue is a year ahead of schedule in development.
"It would be great if when we do the (federal) budget, it would on-time and ahead of schedule," he said.
Trump repeated themes now familiar to his supporters.
U.S. foreign policy, he said, has made the nation "the whipping boy of the whole world."
Fellow Republican candidate Cruz "comes out and holds up the Bible and then he goes out and he lies."
Christian voters’ "voice is being taken away, and we’re going to give their voices back."
The American dream "is dead, but when I win, I’m going to make it bigger and better and stronger."
His biggest applause line may have been with his assessment of Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate for president.
Clinton "doesn’t have the strength, and she doesn’t have the energy to be president," he said. "I’m doing it because this country has been so good to me, and it’s in such serious trouble."