BURLINGTON, Vt. — Donald Trump campaigned in Bernie Sanders’ hometown on Thursday, entertaining large crowds with pro-America statements and trademark Trump humor.
In the morning, thousands of Vermonters gathered outside the Flynn Center, hoping for a chance to see Trump. For the lucky few who got inside the 1,400-seat venue by 7 p.m., the candidate didn’t disappoint.
“When we said we’re going to come up here (to Vermont), a lot of people said, ‘Why?’ Most of the guys are not coming up. They’re afraid to come up here because it has a tendency to be a little bit liberal. And if you look at the candidates, they’re not coming up here. I’m the only one,” Trump said.
“I thought it would be a nice, soft evening. We’ll have 500, 600 people, we’ll sit around a little fireside, we’ll talk, we’ll have some fun. And then I hear CNN all day long: ‘This line is massive’ — so it turned out to be good,” he said.
Trump touched on health care, the Iranian nuclear agreement, immigration, taxes and guns, among other topics, speaking conversationally and engaging the the crowd.
“Who’s going to pay for the wall?” Trump asked, referring to the U.S. border. The audience shouted back, “Mexico!”
“Who’s not going to pay for the wall? Vermont!” Trump said, sparking laughter and cheers.
On Obamacare, Trump highlighted rising costs. “Deductibles are through the roof. You’ll never get to use (the insurance). You have to die to use it,” he said.
He also predicted that the president’s signature health care law would collapse under its own weight.
“Obamacare is a dead duck. … By 2017 it’s dead. It can’t survive. Of course, the Republicans will probably find a way to keep it going. I’m so upset and angry with the Republicans.”
On fighting ISIS, Trump criticized the Obama administration’s unwillingness to bomb oil wells under ISIS control, for fear of causing environmental damage.
“What do you think Gen. Douglas MacArthur (would say) if you said, ‘You can’t really bomb the oil because it’s bad for the environment.’ You think he might say, ‘I don’t give a damn’? We need Douglas MacArthur — we need General Patton. These were incredible people. These are people who won.”
Trump, conscientious about his venture into Bernie territory, spoke kindly of Sanders, but disagreed with his progressive policies.
“We all like Bernie. Do we like Bernie?” Trump said to mixed cheers. “Well, if you want to pay a 90 percent tax. He wants to tax at 90 percent.”
Throughout the speech, protesters stood up and shouted profanities. The audience responded by chanting “Trump, Trump!” at the agitators, and Trump joined in: “Get them out. Throw them out into the cold.”
In one instance, Trump used the disruptions to draw a contrast with Sanders, who lost control of a rally last August when two female Black Lives Matter protesters stole his microphone.
“They came up, screaming at (Sanders), and he retreated, and they made the speech. That won’t happen with me. I promise. That was so embarrassing to watch,” Trump said.
On guns, Trump blasted Obama’s new executive orders on private gun sales — a slam dunk issue in Vermont. “I’ll tell you the one good thing about an executive order is that the new president comes and with just a signature they’re over.”
Audience members had a range of reasons for why they stood in the cold all day to see Trump.
“He speaks his mind and doesn’t beat around the bush. That’s what I really like. He’s not afraid of offending people,” said Shanleigh Provost, a resident of Burlington.
Deb Wells-Stone, also of Burlington, attended Sanders’ campaign launch last May and said she wanted to hear from other candidates.
“I like some of the things he has to say and I want to learn more. I haven’t made up my mind yet. I’m giving everybody an equal chance,” she said.
Justin Smith, of Colchester, said he’s an independent voter who wants to hear from all candidates and parties. “I like to go see each side of the aisle and check out what each candidate has to say. We haven’t had anyone from either side come to Vermont, outside of Bernie Sanders, of course.”
Outside the Flynn Center, a large crowd of protesters shouted slogans, carried signs and held a candlelight vigil. The protest appeared to target Trump’s recent comments about pausing Muslim immigration until the refugee vetting process is reevaluated. Trump made the statement following the Paris and San Bernardino, California, terrorist attacks.
Closing out the evening, Trump vowed to change America’s direction.
“We’re going back to strength in this country. We’re going back to intelligence. We’re going back to common sense. We are going to make America great again,” Trump said, to rousing cheers from the crowd.
Contact Bruce Parker at [email protected]