Republican Donald Trump rallied supporters in the heart of NASCAR country Monday, taunting rivals, mocking protesters and advocating waterboarding – or “worse” – for America’s enemies.
Trump spoke to more than 4,000 cheering supporters at the Cabarrus Arena & Events Center, where his 40-minute remarks were interrupted at least eight times by protesters.
“Aren’t Trump rallies fun?” he asked as security officers escorted out one group. “Aren’t these fun?”
Trump’s appearance came little more than a week before North Carolina’s March 15 primary. He will hold a similar rally Wednesday in Fayetteville.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The New York businessman continues to hold a wide lead in state polls over his GOP rivals. He leads by an average of 10 points in recent surveys, according to Real Clear Politics.
Monday’s event came as anti-Trump efforts have accelerated, particularly since weekend wins by U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida.
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina called Rubio, “not Trump, the best candidate to win the White House and keep the Senate.” And last week former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney called Trump “a phony” and “a fraud” while ridiculing his business record.
Such sentiments didn’t sit well with Trump supporters. Pidge Miller of Iredell County said she’s sorry she voted for Romney in 2012.
“All I can say is the American people want Trump,” said Miller, 70. “They’ve heard all the bad about him … and they still support him because he tells it like it is.”
Allan King, 75, of Cabarrus County said “the establishment should shut up.”
“The establishment is trying to subvert the process,” he said. “The whole process needs to work from the bottom up, not the top down.”
‘Little Marco’ and ‘Lyin’ Ted’
As he has elsewhere, Trump continued to tout polls that show him leading Republican rivals, including “Little Marco Rubio” – who Trump said “couldn’t be elected dogcatcher in Florida” – and “Lyin’ Ted Cruz.”
“I thought real estate people were tough,” Trump said. “But I’ve never seen the lying that goes on in politics.”
Calling for tougher trade policies, Trump blasted decisions by Carrier, a U.S.-based manufacturer of heating and air-conditioning systems, and Nabisco to move jobs to Mexico. He promised to slap tariffs of 35 percent on products shipped back to America.
“We’re going to have great trade deals,” he said. “We’re going to bring our jobs back to North Carolina.”
Trump also called for a stronger military, building it up “100 percent.” As with trade, he offered few details or specific policies. But he pledged to “knock the hell out of ISIS” and repeated his support of waterboarding, a form of torture that simulates drowning.
“We absolutely need it. We should have it, and if we can have it, we should have worse,” he said. “Now there are laws … and we want to obey the laws, the rules and regulations, even though ISIS doesn’t. It’s really hard to defeat people when you’re playing by different rules. … They cut off heads. …
“But I want to see if we can expand those laws and make them much more severe. … We have people out there who want to destroy us. They don’t have rules. They don’t have regulations.”
Earlier, Trump had advocated killing the families of terrorists. Many lawmakers and intelligence officials condemned such calls. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden has said “if he were to order that once in government, the American armed forces would refuse to act.” Trump has since said he would abide by the law.
The protesters, sometimes in groups and sometimes alone, frequently interrupted the candidate. “I didn’t know you had people like this in North Carolina,” he said of one. “Get him out of here,” he said of another.
As Bo Carlson, a Myers Park High School student, was escorted out, Trump said, “Looks like a nice little guy.”
“Go home to Mommy,” he added. “Tell her to tuck you in bed.”
Trump, who’s been endorsed by NASCAR Chairman Brian France, was joined on stage by retired driver Mark Martin.
“Donald Trump has my vote,” Martin said. “Let’s bring those greatly needed jobs back to the country, and build that wall. And make America great again.”
Dave Miller of Iredell County said he’ll back Trump, even if Republicans nominate someone else and Trump runs independently.
“If the party does that, they’re hurting themselves,” said Miller, 48. “The American people have spoken.”
Cruz rally Tuesday
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz will rally supporters at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Central Baptist Church, 1810 Moose Road, Kannapolis.