What was billed as an opportunity for Donald Trump to connect with minority voters at a gathering of black entrepreneurs Wednesday in North Charleston, instead left many in the audience baffled to be attending a campaign rally for the Republican presidential front-runner.
“I was kind of confused, I don’t know what I just sat through,” said John Gethers, of Walterboro, a member of the S.C. African-American Chamber of Commerce, which co-hosted the event at the Charleston Area Convention Center.
The crowd of around 450 was predominantly white, and most appeared to be diehard Trump supporters, cheering loudly for the New York real estate mogul and reality TV star, waving signs and wearing baseball caps emblazoned with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Gethers said he expected Trump to pass on his business acumen to an audience eager to hear about getting access to business capital, acquiring positive bonding rates and creating job opportunities.
“I didn’t hear any of that,” Gethers said of the business agenda he expected.
Instead, Trump went after his Republican and Democratic rivals, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Democrat Hillary Clinton,
The closest Trump came to discussing business was telling the crowd to be tough negotiators, and recounted several anecdotes about being sued as a landlord.
“When you’re known as a sucker, you’re known as a patsy,” Trump said, saying that it’s his strict position never to give in to a lawsuit.
Trump’s North Charleston appearance was the first of two in the state Wednesday. Later in the evening, he participated in a town hall in Columbia hosted by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. Trump also filed to officially appear on the South Carolina Republican primary ballot in February.
Trump’s hundreds of supporters at the convention center applauded and laughed loudly when he took jabs at his opponents. During the nationally televised debate Sept. 16, Trump said Christie and Rubio, in particular, were feeling the heat.
“That room was hot. I mean poor Chris Christie,” he said. Of Rubio, he said, “I’d never seen a young guy sweat that much.”
He also didn’t spare Clinton, the former first lady and secretary of state. Her campaign “is coming down like a really sick rocket,” he said.
Trump was unapologetic about what he was bringing to the GOP race. “My tone?” he asked, looking out toward the crowd. “We need an energetic,” he said of himself. “We need people with energy. We need people who are unpredictable.”
He also touched on foreign policy, promising to be tough in dealing with China and illegal immigration.
Some in the audience said they were disappointed Trump wasn’t more specific about how he would run the country or how they could get ahead in business.
Donna Newton, of Mount Pleasant, said Trump was entertaining but “didn’t say how you got ‘there’ or how you become anything.”
Pleshette Grant of North Charleston, a nurse who has a side business providing nail care for the elderly, said she has read Trump’s books and has followed his economic advice so closely that she calls him her “Uncle Trump.” But, she is not sure she can support him for the White House, saying his loose and combative tongue remains a concern.
“He speaks his mind,” she said, “but to me it’s a safety issue.”
Later, at Scott’s town hall, Trump maintained he had a “great temperament,” despite what his critics have said. “I think I will get along great on a world basis,” Trump said. “And I think I will also bring our country together.”
Trump’s appearance in Columbia had a more personal feel, with Scott asking him questions.
Trump announced he’d be releasing a tax plan next week that will help the middle class and make corporations happy, but would anger hedge fund managers.
He also vowed to bring jobs back from China and Japan, proclaiming, “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
Staff writer Cynthia Roldan contributed to this story. Reach Schuyler Kropf at (843) 577-7111.