ORLANDO, Fla. ― President Donald Trump formally launched his reelection campaign at a packed-to-the-rafters rally in Orlando on Tuesday, officially moving to continue one of the most divisive administrations in modern history for four more years.
“We’re going to keep on fighting for every man, women and child across this land. We’re going to keep [America] better than ever before,” Trump said to a chorus of cheers. “That is why, tonight, I stand before you to officially launch my campaign for a second term as president of the United States.”
During his announcement, the president brushed off any residual damage from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the 2016 election and praised his supporters for defending him throughout what he referred to as a “great hoax” and an “illegal witch hunt” meant to erase their votes.
He hit many familiar talking points during the event, championing his efforts to install conservative judges around the nation, lambasting former Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton and drumming up support for his wall along the southern U.S. border. At times, the crowd of 20,000 joined in with chants and jeers, waving Trump 2020 signs while sporting red MAGA hats.
“Our future has never, ever looked brighter or sharper,” the president said. “The fact is the American dream is back, it’s bigger and better and stronger than ever before. 2016 was not merely another four-year election, this was a defining moment in American history.”
Throughout his speech, Trump brushed off any potential challenges from the crowded field of Democrats hoping to unseat him, declaring the party “more radical, more dangerous and more unhinged than at any point in the modern history of our country.”
“No matter what label they use, a vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream,” Trump said. “So don’t ever forget this election is about you, it’s about your family, your future and the fate of your country.”
“I have news for the Democrats,” he said earlier. “We are not going back, we are going on to victory.”
Thousands of Trump supporters waited for hours in the heat and rain Tuesday to get inside the Amway Arena in downtown Orlando. Some, like 37-year-old Daniel McQuarrie and his daughter, even slept outside the arena overnight so they could get front row seats for the president’s official campaign kickoff.
“I just wanna be a patriot and support our president,” said McQuarrie, a Disney employee from Port St. John, Florida. “It’s something historic that we’ll never forget.”
McQuarrie, who wore a T-shirt from the conspiracy website InfoWars, added that he thought Trump is “doing his best to drain the swamp” and fight “the globalists.”
There was certainty among many of the president’s supporters that Trump is sure to win in 2020, the most recent polls be damned. Almost none had Trump winning in 2016. Why trust them now?
Before the president took to the stage Tuesday, his adult sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., took turns riling up the crowd.
Trump Jr. lashed out at the media, lamenting how his dad gets “95 percent negative coverage.” The crowd jeered and broke into chants of “CNN sucks!”
“If you’re a Democrat, you get a pass on everything,” Trump Jr. said, adding that “it’s not even close to a fair fight.”
Tuesday’s announcement has been a long time coming.
While the Orlando visit has been touted as a “kickoff,” Trump’s reelection campaign actually began on Jan. 20, 2017 ― the day of his inauguration —when he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. No other presidential victor has kept his campaign alive in this fashion. Barack Obama did not start his reelection campaign until April 2011 and George W. Bush waited until May of 2003.
Trump also broke with precedent in other ways, holding his first campaign-style rally as president three weeks after he took the oath of office, on Feb. 18, 2017, at a Melbourne, Florida, airport hangar, just 68 miles away from downtown Orlando. He’s held more than 60 rallies around the country since, many before the 2018 midterm elections.
Trump’s paperwork renewing his campaign committee allowed him to collect donations and spend money for an election three years and 10 months away. It also permitted him to continue diverting some of those donations into his own private businesses, which he still controls and from which he still profits.
In that same time period, the Republican National Committee, which Trump effectively took over at his nominating convention in 2016, spent $690,181 at Trump’s golf resort in Doral, Florida; $403,259 at his hotel in Washington, D.C.; and $289,335 at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.
In all, the Trump campaign and the RNC together have funneled $4,341,083 to Trump businesses since Trump took office, with some of that going directly into the president’s own pocket.
S.V. Date contributed reporting.