Former President Donald Trump energized a huge rally Wednesday night in Hialeah, Florida, as his third counterprogramming event to a Republican presidential debate, this one staged in nearby Miami and televised by NBC.
“The last debate was the lowest-rated debate in the history of politics,” Trump told the crowd. “So, therefore, do you think we did the right thing by not participating?”
The former president added: “I’m standing in front of tens of thousands of people right now [and] that’s a hell of a lot harder to do than a debate.”
Trump’s Florida rally came two days after the 45th president testified at a civil trial prosecuted by New York Attorney General Letitia James against the Trump Organization, the family company.
The rally also came a day after off-year elections that saw Republican setbacks in Kentucky and Virginia, and a GOP victory in Mississippi. And it came the same day that a key House panel subpoenaed President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden and his brother James Biden in a growing investigation of influence peddling.
The event included an in-person endorsement by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a fellow Republican who was Trump’s second White House press secretary. Comedian Roseanne Barr, eldest son Donald Trump Jr., and others spoke before the star of the show took the stage.
Trump, running well ahead of his GOP challengers in the polls, thus far has opted to skip the party’s presidential debates. Over the weekend, a New York Times poll found that Trump has a comfortable lead over Biden in most battleground states in his bid for a rematch.
Here are some key highlights from Trump’s alternative to the debate stage.
1. ‘Close to Being in World War III’
Trump made several references to the potential for “World War III” because of Biden’s policies as president. He asserted that if he were still president, Russia wouldn’t have invaded Ukraine and Hamas terrorists would not have attacked Israel.
“We are close to having no country at all,” Trump told the crowd. “We are also close to being in World War III, a war that you’ve never even conceived or thought about. But we are very close.”
“They have a hat I saw the other day. It said, ‘Trump was right about everything.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s a big statement.’ But if you think about it, I sort of was right about everything,” he quipped.
2. ‘Hamas Sympathizers’
Trump talked about the troubling surge of public antisemitism in the United States that has been on display since Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel, which left 1,400 civilians dead and over 200 kidnapped. Americans were among them.
Trump also took a shot at members of “the squad,” the name given a small group of House progressives.
“We cannot have an administration that takes foreign policy advice from [Reps.] Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib,” Trump said of Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who was censured this week by the House for her antisemitic remarks.
“I will also quickly cancel the student visas of all Hamas sympathizers on college campuses, which have been infested with radicalism like never before,” Trump said.
Trump reminded the crowd that when he was president, he implemented travel restrictions on majority-Muslim countries that were known for terrorism.
“I implemented a strong travel ban. They call it the Trump travel ban,” he said.
3. ‘Terminate Every Open-Borders Policy’
Trump suggested that increasing crime is due in part to a wave of illegal immigrants whom the Biden administration has allowed to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This is the kind of monstrosity you would expect from terrorists in the Middle East, but it’s happening right here because of Crooked Joe Biden, right here in Florida and all over our country,” Trump said.
That will change when he wins the presidency again, he added.
“On Day One, I will terminate every open-borders policy of the Biden administration and we will begin the largest domestic deportation effort in history,” Trump said, to cheers. “It’s so sad we even have to talk about this.”
He said law enforcement also would crack down on human smuggling.
“Right now, you have the largest caravan [of illegal aliens] that anyone has ever seen coming through Mexico and making its way into your country,” Trump said. “It’s a disgrace. We will prosecute them for their participation in human trafficking, child smuggling, and every crime that we can find.”
4. ‘Not One Penny’ for Vaccine Mandates
Although Trump has expressed pride before about his administration’s Operation Warp Speed program to develop COVID-19 vaccines, during the rally he voiced opposition to vaccine mandates by governments.
When he is back as president, Trump vowed, he will cut off federal funds to schools that impose mandated restrictions to counter a resurgence of COVID-19.
“I will not give one penny to any school that has a vaccine mandate or a mask mandate,” Trump said, to roaring applause.
Many conservatives strongly oppose such mandates, and Trump has faced criticism on the right for his continued support of the three approved vaccines developed on his watch.
“We are going to make America great again,” Trump said. “It’s not going to take very long.”
5. Inflation a ‘Country-Buster’
In his speech, Trump tied fighting inflation, which rose sharply under Biden, to energy independence.
“Inflation is called a country-buster, and it’s busting our country right now,” Trump said. “You can go back 300 years and you can see why some great empires failed. Many of them failed because of the word inflation.”
Under the Biden administration, he said, the only sector of the economy that has grown is the federal government.
“If you look at Germany and so many other countries, inflation is a country-buster. And it’s busting our country right now, where bacon is five times more expensive than it was just a short while ago. Bacon. Even if I say I don’t want any bacon, it’s too expensive,” Trump said, apparently joking about his wealth.
“But we are going to get it under control and we’re going to do it fast,” he added, “because we are going to have so much energy and the price is going to come down, and everything else is going to follow.”
6. ‘The Cuban Regime, the Biden Regime’
In Hialeah, which has a large Cuban population familiar with the privations of communism, Trump also made several references to his legal troubles. He said that Biden and other Democrats want to make the United States more like communist Cuba.
“Just like the Cuban regime, the Biden regime is trying to put their political opponents in jail, shutting down free speech, taking bribes and kickbacks to enrich themselves and their very spoiled children,” Trump said.
He again alleged that election fraud had led to his 2020 loss to Biden.
“They cheat like hell, I’ll say it. I’ve been indicted for saying it,” Trump said. “Yet they used to say that about me in 2016. ‘The election was rigged, the election was stolen. We’re going to put up a slate of electors against Trump.’”
Trump was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., for his role in an alleged conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election. A grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, indicted him for allegedly conspiring to overturn the results of the election in that state to claim its electoral votes.
He also has been indicted in Manhattan on state charges, and in a federal case in Florida.
“Every time I’m indicted, I consider it a great badge of honor, because I’m being indicted for you,” Trump said. “Thanks a lot, everybody. I appreciate it. I’m being indicted for you. Never forget, my enemies want to take away my freedom because I will never, ever, ever let them take away your freedom. I won’t let it happen.”
Trump went on to talk about a weaponized Justice Departement under Biden and his attorney general, Merrick Garland.
“Joe Biden and the far-left lunatics are desperate to stop us by any means neccessary,” Trump said. “They are weaponizing law enforcement for high-level election interference. That’s what it is. They want to damage our name so we don’t quite get over that little threshold that we have to.”
But, he said, it all will be worth it.
“They put you, me, my family, and our country through hell,” Trump said. “But in the end, they will fail and we will win, because we will never stop fighting to save the America we love.”
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
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