Donald Trump called on Texas Republicans Thursday to rally behind his fiery, unconventional campaign to keep Hillary Clinton from moving back into the White House.
And the New York billionaire — in his first Texas political rally since becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — told North Texans that he hopes disenfranchised Democrats who supported Bernie Sanders will come along for the ride.
“We love Texas,” he told an enthusiastic crowd of thousands that packed into Gilley’s nightclub, many of whom waited hours in near triple digit temperatures to see him. “We’re going to win Texas so big!”
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Trump spoke to supporters here for more than an hour Thursday night, during a rally that had just been scheduled one day before, about issues ranging from the recent Orlando mass shooting to his hair to taxes he says he will lower and Clinton will raise.
As protesters gathered outside the nightclub, a handful of them made their way inside, periodically interrupting Trump’s speech, including one who yelled: “You’re being fooled. He doesn’t care about you.”
All protesters were escorted out by police, but Trump didn’t let them interrupt his rally.
“The safest place there is is at a Trump rally,” he said, commending Dallas police on their speed at removing protesters.
There was one minor injury reported when photographer Danny Fulgencio, who was working for The Advocate magazine, was hit in the head by a rock. “I was standing on the steps taking photographs when I got clocked by what appeared to be a stone,” said Fulgencio, who walked under his own power to get medical attention from paramedics and was back at work again within minutes.
Trump noted that he was sharing a significant anniversary — one year to the day from when he announced his presidential bid — with the rowdy and supportive Texas crowd.
“We are hopefully going to make it a worthwhile year,” he said, adding that if elected, “you’re going to be so proud of your country and hopefully very, very proud of your president.”
Trump attended a private fundraiser before the rally, helping raise money for his presidential bid and for other Republicans running for office.
His next campaign stops include private fundraisers in Houston and San Antonio, as well as a public rally Friday night at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center near Houston.
Democrats, who noted that Trump’s visit coincides with their convention, which runs through Saturday in San Antonio, took the time to criticize the candidate.
“Donald Trump’s message to the Latino community is clear: You are not American,” said Julian Castro, U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary. “In Trump’s America, Latinos wouldn’t be welcome, our LGBT brothers and sisters wouldn’t be able to marry who they love, and Americans would be discriminated against because of their religion.
“As Trump visits Texas over the next few days, let it be clear that his hateful rhetoric is not welcome in our community. Let it be clear that we will raise our voices against him in November.”
Trump noted during his speech that the LGBT community “is starting to like Donald Trump very much lately.”
John Rhodes showed up at Gilley’s around 10 a.m. Thursday, determined to not miss his chance to see Trump three times in a row.
The Red Oak man said he just wanted to show support for Trump.
“I think he’s what we need to turn this country around,” said Rhodes, who was at the front of the line of supporters waiting to hear Trump speak around 7 p.m.. “Our current administration has failed us in many ways.”
Trump said he will be a change for Americans.
He said he’s confident he will win in November, partly because he plans to pick up the Latino vote “because we are going to bring jobs back.”
“Hillary is going to do nothing for them.”
He talked about his primary wins, and how he was the last Republican standing from a crowd of 17.
He said he will protect Second Amendment rights, unlike what he believes Clinton will do, and called the Orlando mass shooter a “sleazebag.”
Before and during the speech, supporters yelled “Build that wall.”
Trump finally told the crowd, “We are going to build that wall.”
Then he asked, “who’s going to pay for that wall?” After the crowd yelled, “Mexico,” Trump responded: “And they’ll be happy to do it.”
During his speech, supporters at times interrupted him by yelling “I love you” and “”I love your hair.”
“It is my hair,” he said with a smile at one point. “Can you tell?””
And when he noted that he liked seeing cowboy hats in the audience, but preferred his “Make America Great Again” baseball style hats, he was struck by a new marketing idea.
He wants to put his slogan on cowboy hats.
“It’s going to sell well in Dallas,” he said.
Janet Evans, a 54-year-old Hurst woman, said she believed Thursday’s rally would be a historic event. That’s why she brought her two sons with her to hear Trump, who she believes could make a difference in the country if he’s elected to the White House.
“Trump is a businessman, not a politician,” she said. “It is time to get somebody in [the White House] who knows how to run a huge business, a corporation,” she said. “Who hasn’t heard of Donald Trump?”
She and the others who waited in line for hours at Gilley’s, where a marquee sign read “Trump 2016, Make America Great Again,” almost didn’t get to see Trump.
The presidential candidate’s quest for a DFW venue became a last-minute drama because it initially appeared he might not find a place to hold a rally.
Officials with several local venues — from the Fort Worth Convention Center to the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie to the Irving Convention Center — said they didn’t have space or time to adequately ramp up security for such a high profile event.
Around noon Wednesday, Trump’s campaign announced that a public rally would be held at Gilley’s, the same site that hosted a political rally for then-Presidential candidate Ted Cruz before the March 1 primary election in Texas.
Alex Cerboni, 19, drove in from Wichita Falls to see Trump.
“I think Donald Trump is the first politician since I was born who speaks for the people,” he said. “Obama doesn’t speak for the people.”
Anti-Trump protests kicked off across the street from Gilley’s about an hour before Trump’s rally is to begin.
By 5 p.m., a few hundred Trump protesters had already gathered on either side of a 1,000-foot-long barricade outside Gilley’s on Dallas’ South Side.
Among them were Uzma Ali of Richardson and Maryellen Oltman of Plano, who said that so far they had only had one tense encounter with a Trump supporter.
“It was a woman wearing an American flag like a cape,” Oltman said.
Ali added: “She said she was a Trump supporter then turned around and gave us the finger.”
The group stood next to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema next door to Gilley’s with messages such as “More Love, less hate,” and “Dump Trump’s racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, toxic ideology.”
The women were part of an effort dubbed “Code Pink.”
Six open-carry advocates showed up outside the Trump rally carrying pistols as sidearms, and brandishing riot shields with the group’s web address: dontcomply.com.
One group member, Matthew Short of north Fort Worth, said the group was keeping an eye on protesters.
“We know these protests have become violent in other cities and we just want to remind people they can defend themselves,” Short said.
As the crowd of Trump protesters grew to about 1,000 people outside Gilley’s Thursday evening, several protesters said they weren’t concerned that a half-dozen open carry gun advocates showed up with sidearms.
“They don’t bother me. I have nothing against them,” said Eduardo Lizarraga, who lives in Cedar Hill and owns a construction remodeling company. “They have a right to be here.”
Taking the bus
Some of the protesters came in by bus from different locations in Tarrant County and elsewhere.
About a dozen people showed up for a bus ride at the Wesley United Methodist Church in east Arlington. Most were Hispanics from the neighborhood who learned on Facebook about their opportunity to voice their beefs with Trump, if not in person at least much closer than their TVs.
Juan Mugartegui practiced the message he hoped to deliver to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee: “Mr. Trump, we are here in order to tell you — No! You don’t qualify for President of the United States of America.”
Immigration was his main concern. “There are millions of hard-working Hispanics who deserve to have residence and then apply for citizenship,” Mugartegui said, standing in the shade of an eve of the church. “We work hard; we deserve it.”
Trump last spoke in Dallas at the American Airlines Center in September, drawing a crowd of around 15,000. In February, he held a rally in Fort Worth that drew thousands to the Fort Worth Convention Center days before the March 1 primary.
On Thursday, John Plummer drove in from Lubbock to see Trump’s rally.
“I wanted to show my support,” he said. “There’s a lot of things he says I agree with.
“I most definitely will not vote Hillary Clinton,” Plummer said. “There’s too much trouble in that. I don’t trust her.
Trump told the crowd that if they will elect him as the country’s next president, things will begin to change.
“Nothing is easy in life,” he said. “But we are going to make our country so great again.
“We are going to start winning again,” he said. “We are going to win at everything. … You are going to be very proud of your country again.”
Staff writers Gordon Dickson, Robert Cadwallader and John Gravois contributed to this report.