WALTERBORO — Families parked as far as a mile away trudged past hat vendors and sheriff’s deputies for a glimpse at presidential front-runner Donald Trump in rural Colleton County on Wednesday.
The roar of the campaign rally crowd greeted latecomers from the treeline at an expansive property owned by White Wood Inc., a local lumber company.
“We’re gonna build a wall, and who’s gonna pay for the wall?” Trump said, riling up the audience from a camouflage-bedecked stage framed by deep woods and logging trucks.
“Mexico!,” many in the crowd shouted back, followed by loud cheers.
Unlike Trump’s watershed December speech onboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown at the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, which saw the New York tycoon earn both scorn and admiration for his call to ban Muslim immigration, Trump’s brief speech Wednesday centered mainly on foreign trade issues.
The call for a border wall along the Rio Grande came up during a discursive tirade against the illegal drug trade, and Trump vowed to levy a 35-percent import tax against companies like air conditioning giant Carrier, which relocate from the U.S. to Mexico.
Trump also predicted that Boeing, which has a Dreamliner assembly plant in North Charleston, would relocate all of its plane-building operations to China within five years. He said the devaluation of Chinese currency is making it “impossible” for U.S. manufacturers to compete.
Trump said at the event that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning and that, among the candidates, “nobody’s more conservative on the Second Amendment.” With no career in politics, Trump does not have a voting record on either matter.
Some in the crowd saw Trump’s lack of governing experience as a selling point.
“For me, he’s not a career politician,” said Shawn Newsome of Harleyville. “I don’t think he’s got any agendas, and I think he’s doing what it takes to get the country back the way it needs to be.”
Chris Johns and Katie Orr, residents of Smoaks, said they first saw Trump at his York-town event and came away impressed by his bold stances.
“It was more of a celebrity thing for me in the beginning,” said Orr. “It was exciting just to see him then, and then becoming more politically charged.”
Others in the crowd were less impressed. Gabrielle Villacres, an eighth-grader at the private University School of the Lowcountry, said she wasn’t sure how Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the Rio Grande — at a Trump-estimated cost of $12 billion — would even work.
“It doesn’t make any sense that he would ask a country that isn’t proposing the idea to put up a wall,” Villacres said. “He’s insulting them and then saying, ‘Oh, I know exactly how to get them to pay for the wall.’ ”
Sixth-grader Conor Seng said he thought the wall plan sounded “imperialistic.”
“It imposes strength in a way that might be bullying. It just seems almost unfair to that nation,” Seng said.
Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.