Donald Trump’s rally Friday erupted into a fierce war of words between the Republican front-runner and relentless protesters, branded as “young, spoiled kids” who should “go home to mommy.”
Trump, speaking at the downtown Peabody Opera House before a raucous audience of 3,000 people, turned the protests to his political advantage.
“Can I be honest with you? It adds to the flavor,” he said after hecklers disrupted the rally for nearly seven minutes. “Isn’t this more exciting than listening to a long, boring speech? You can hear that from the other candidates. They don’t say anything anyway.”
Trump’s appearance came as Republicans in Missouri, Illinois and three other states prepare to vote in primaries Tuesday. Polls say Trump would win all five.
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Seven people were removed from the historic St. Louis venue, and 32 people were reported arrested, after protesters interrupted Trump six times during his one hour, eight minute talk. Outside the building, dozens of protesters gathered as lines of police kept them away.
Trump reveled in the chaos. Inside the building, one group of hecklers held up the rally for nearly six minutes. Trump first told the police “get ‘em out,” and tried to stand quietly at his podium. But he often could not resist.
“They are all writing about us, folks, and they’re saying there’s nothing like a Trump rally,” he said. He tried to continue but the crowd keep booing the protesters. He took the mike and led chants of “USA, USA.”
Trump stood at the podium, watching the fracas unfolding in front of him. “Go home and get a job,” he said. The crowd roared. The scene was more like a sports event than a political rally. There were more “USA” chants.
“These are not good people, folks, just so you understand,” Trump said. “These are not the people that made our country great. … These are the people that are destroying our country.”
He vowed to bring people together. “They add nothing, believe me. … There has to be some decorum. There has to be some law and order in our country,” he said. “The hatred in this country is incredible. The divisiveness is incredible. We’re gonna end it.”
Then, though, he quickly became less collegial, praising those who fought the hecklers.
“Was that exciting?” he asked them. “You had a good time, right?”
That was the back-and-forth, hard-to-explain tone of the Trump rally. He speaks in a stream of consciousness, offering listeners whatever happens to be on his mind. He came to the rally fresh off an endorsement from one-time Republican primary rival Ben Carson, basking in accolades from Thursday night’s debate when he acted far more civil than usual.
The gentle tone seemed to prevail, at least briefly. Conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly warmed up the audience, declaring “He’s a real conservative and I ask you to support him.”
After Trump took the stage, he addressed talk that should he sweep Tuesday’s primaries, the debates could be over. “Maybe, let’s just put the debates away. We’ve done just fine,” he said.
Let’s all unify, he urged. He cited “the love that’s in the room,” explaining, “We’re not angry people. I’m not an angry person. You’re not angry, but we do get angry when we see the stupidity with which our country is run.”
He went into his rationale for running, first blasting Hillary Clinton, once President Barack Obama’s bitter political rival, for embracing him.
Obama, he said, is “destroying this country,” and “she is becoming him.”
About nine minutes into the speech, the first heckler surfaced. “Get him out of here, get him out,” Trump insisted as the crowd roared. “He’s all mouth, he’s all mouth. Throw him out.” The audience chanted “Trump, Trump,” as police escorted the protester out.
Trump brushed the incident off half-jokingly, saying, “We’ll have to stop for a couple of minutes, we’ll have a good time.” He appreciated the hecklers: “I like it because (it’s) the only time the cameras show how many people are there.”
The gentler tone didn’t last. As the speech continued, he would blast the media, saying they’d write about how a policeman laid a finger on a protester, and that would be enough to get the officer fired. “The most dishonest people on earth,” he said of the media, “the worst.”
The audience kept cheering; at one point Trump led them in their “USA, USA” cheers. The old Trump was emerging; he spoke about “lying Ted” and “little Marco,” his belittling of rivals Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. He branded Democrat Bernie Sanders a “communist.” He spoke about “political hacks” negotiating with China.
In trademark Trump style, he and his supporters were having a great time.
“This has been pretty exciting,” he said. “I think I set a record today with these wise guys.”