BY NOAH BIERMAN
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS
ORLANDO – President Donald Trump officially kicked off his re-election campaign Tuesday night with a rally that at times resembled a time warp, reprising all the grievances, slogans and villains that brought him to victory the first time around.
He spoke extensively about Hillary Clinton, his old rival, but barely mentioned the Democrats running in 2020, making two references to Joe Biden, who leads polls of the Democratic race, and one to Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The crowd of about 20,000 gamely recited all the old battle cries: “Lock her up,” “Build the wall” and “CNN sucks.”
Trump cast Democrats as socialists bent on open borders and criminality, and the media as willing accomplices, determined to reverse the progress by which he said he has once again made America great.
The 2016 election “was not merely another four-year election,” he said. “This was a defining moment in American history.”
Trump, speaking for about an hour and 20 minutes, devoted much of the first part of his speech to denouncing what he called a Democratic “witch hunt” — the special counsel investigation that he said was as much about undermining his followers as it was about destroying him and his family.
“Our political enemies look down with hatred on our values,” Trump said. “They called us deplorables. That was a mistake. That was a big mistake.”
The speech came four years and two days after he came down that “beautiful escalator” in Trump Tower in New York to formally announce his first run for the White House.
The tourists and passersby paid to applaud the New York real estate mogul last time have been replaced by passionate Trump fans wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats and millions more voters around the country who have embraced the president’s disruptive policies and norm-busting style.
But the themes have remained constant.
Trump tried to reprise some of his immigration rhetoric in the run-up to Tuesday’s event, tweeting late Monday that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents would next week begin deporting “millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in.”
An administration official said immigration judges have issued more than 1 million deportation orders, and ICE agents will attempt to find and remove as many of those migrants as possible. Experts said, however, that a significant share of those people had legal rights to stay in the U.S.
If the deportations go forward, the effort may give Trump political bragging rights, but ICE is unlikely to locate and remove people at the scale and speed Trump promised.
BACK TO 2016
As he gears up for the 2020 race, Trump has touted the nation’s strong economy and low unemployment, the issues that traditionally motivate the largest swath of voters.
But Trump has returned again and again to immigration, believing it’s the most important issue to his base.
Trump has never ceased talking about the escalator ride and the 2016 campaign, using his unexpected victory as proof that the elite political class and media continue to underestimate him and his supporters’ strength.
“Since the very first day I walked through the doors of the White House, I have never forgotten who sent me there: You did,” he declared at Tuesday’s rally.
Hours before the rally, fans in “Space Force” T-shirts, dresses festooned with Republican elephants and Trump flags draped around their bodies spilled out around the Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic basketball team. The arena seats about 20,000 people, not including the floor space.
Large sections of the streets around the arena were blocked off for crowd control and to allow vendors selling T-shirts displaying Trump’s head on an action hero’s body and MAGA hats in all colors.
ANOTHER CLINTON SHOT
Digital scoreboards were lit up with blue signs inviting supporters to text the campaign, a crucial part of a massive organizing effort that began before Trump took the oath of office. The campaign said it spent the last week holding 1,000 organizing events around the country, training 16,000 volunteers.
Some of Trump’s most prominent spokespeople were also dispatching digital broadcasts from the event, made to look like real news, part of the campaign’s effort to get around mainstream news outlets that air more critical coverage of the president.
On Monday night, Trump tweeted against his favorite network, Fox News, claiming that their public opinion polls “are always bad for me” while taking another shot at “Crooked Hillary” Clinton, his 2016 opponent.
“Our polls show us leading in all 17 swing states,” Trump insisted, contradicting numerous media reports that his campaign’s internal polling showed him trailing major Democrats in the half-dozen or so battleground states that normally decide an election.
MORE GOP HELP
Trump will get far more help this time around from mainstream Republicans, who viewed him with alarm in 2016, but have poured money and enthusiasm into his re-election campaign.
Trump’s Twitter account reaches more than 61 million followers and it’s now joined by a sophisticated digital media operation that is outpacing Democrats.
Unlike last time, his campaign has a professional structure with staff across the country and targeted advertising already underway.
“The Fake News doesn’t report it, but Republican enthusiasm is at an all-time high,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “Look what is going on in Orlando, Florida, right now! People have never seen anything like it (unless you play a guitar). Going to be wild — See you later!”