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U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., flanked by his wife and son, backs Donald Trump at a Billings rally.
Montana is a beef-raising state, and supporters of Donald Trump came to MetraPark on Thursday ready for red meat.
Trump, speaking for about 50 minutes before perhaps 6,000 people in Rimrock Arena, served up several helpings in a characteristically rambling speech that consisted in large part of an account of his remarkable rise from political neophyte to the Republican nomination for president of the United States.
Earlier Thursday, Trump learned that he had wrapped up enough delegates to clinch the nomination before the July convention in Cleveland. He warned that if he doesn’t win, Hillary Clinton as president might appoint up to five U.S. Supreme Court justices.
If that happens, he said, “The country will never be the same. It’ll probably never recover, and if it does recover it’ll be a hundred years from now.” He vowed instead to appoint justices who are pro-life and pro-Second Amendment.
The crowd fell well short of the filled arena that some had predicted. The lower stands were nearly full all around the arena, and the upper tier was full, except at the far ends, on the side of the arena facing Trump. Perhaps only 125 people or so filled the upper tier on the side behind Trump, but hundreds of other people were allowed onto the arena floor to be near the candidate.
The crowd responded with cheers to his one-liners attacking the “dishonest” people in the press, berating former Republican nominee Mitt Romney and belittling President Obama, whom he called the single best thing that ever happened to Jimmy Carter, who might otherwise be considered the worst president in the last half-century.
“Would you rather have the guy that spent the least and came in first or the guy who spent the most and came in last?” he asked.
At one point, he stopped and said he thought someone had thrown something at him. “Is that Jeb?” he asked.
Trump reserved his toughest shots for Hillary Clinton, who is within a hundred delegates of clinching the Democratic nomination for president. Trump blamed her for what he called bad trade agreements, for unrest in the Middle East and for seeking gun controls.
If Hillary Clinton is elected, he said, she will “essentially abolish” the Second Amendment.
But Trump’s speech was relatively light on attacks on others, and typically light on details of policies he would pursue as president. Instead, he gave nearly a state-by-state account of his rise to the top of a crowded Republican field.
“In the history of the Republican Party … I’ve gotten more votes than anybody has ever gotten,” he said, and that’s with 10 states left, including Montana, to decide primary races. That also is despite what he called a rigged system in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
He expressed confidence that he would win Montana in the fall, saying that people had cheered and waved signs as he made his way to MetraPark from Billings Logan International Airport.
He had plenty of support in Rimrock Arena, too. People carried signs saying “The Silent Majority Stands with Trump” “Veterans for Trump” and “Hillary for Prison.” T-shirts carried such messages as “Stomp my flag I’ll stomp your ass,” “Back to Back World War Champs” and “Donald Trump 2016: A president who will fight for America.”
The toughest shots at the rally actually were taken by speakers who preceded Trump, including U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., who has endorsed Trump for the presidency.
“We all know that America is in trouble,” he began, saying that Americans are working harder and earning less, that public schools are failing, that healthcare costs are rising and that the Veterans Administration is broken.
“Overseas we’re in full retreat,” he said. “Our enemies no longer fear us, and our allies no longer respect us.”
Trump, he said, would not abandon Americans as Clinton did in Benghazi, would put the country ahead of the Clinton Foundation, would protect the Second Amendment and would put veterans at the front of the line rather than dying in line waiting for healthcare.
“It is time for us all to do our duty, and it is time for Montana to make America great again,” he said.
If Teddy Roosevelt could build the Panama Canal in the 1900s, he said, America could wall off Mexico in the 21st century.
The United States spent $375 million, or nearly $9 billion in today’s dollars, to build the 48-mile-long Panama Canal, which was completed in 1914. France spent about $234 million, or about $5.7 billion in today’s dollars, in a 20-year effort to build the canal before America took over.
Panama was paid $10 million for allowing the canal to be built.
Tough talk also came from Tammy Hall, a Canadian-born American citizen who has lived in Billings and graduated from Montana State University. She described herself as a Christian first and as an American second.
“I want somebody who scares the people who want to destroy America,” she said.
Stephen Miller, senior policy adviser for Trump, spoke just before Trump took the stage and said, “Hillary Clinton would be the greatest job destroyer this country has ever seen.”
He also accused her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, of using their foreign policy connections to enrich themselves through the Clinton Foundation.
“Hillary Clinton has no compassion whatsoever for the American people,” he said, adding, “She’s going to fight for the people lining their pockets.”
Some of that downbeat language appeared in Trump’s speech. He said, “We are the country that doesn’t win anymore” and warned that with increasing national debt, “We will become Venezuela.”
As a way to “make America great again,” he laid out a series of familiar but vague policy proposals, including building a wall between the United States and Mexico, support for veterans and police, imposing a 35 percent tax on products made in foreign countries by U.S. companies that have moved operations there and halting illegal immigration and admission of Syrian refugees.
He also promised to make stronger trade deals with other countries, saying that Montana has lost one in eight of its manufacturing jobs in recent years. He also said that building a wall would cut methamphetamine and heroin trafficking that has resulted in an increase in the homicide rate in Billings.
“I’m not knocking China,” he said, “and I’m not knocking Japan, and I’m not knocking Mexico. I’m knocking our leaders.” Obama has said that the prospect of a Trump presidency makes foreign leaders nervous, but Trump said, “That’s good that they’re nervous.”
Unlike some Trump rallies, Thursday’s rally went off without violence or disruptions. The crowd was warned in advance not to harm any protesters.
“This is a peaceful rally,” the announcer said.
Outside after the rally, John Musselman of L&G Concessions was packing up after what he called a good day of selling pro-Trump buttons, T-shirts and other memorabilia. Musselman said Billings was a much more pleasant place to work than Albuquerque, N.M., where protesters disrupted a Trump rally on Tuesday.
Musselman said the business follows Republican candidates around during election season, deploying as many as 15 concession stands to sell items for the candidates. Out of election season, he said, they follow championship sports events.
“It’s a living,” he said, “but not much more.”