CAYCE — After arriving an hour late because Air Force One could not land in a lightning storm, President Donald Trump electrified a crowd packed inside a sweltering high school gym outside Columbia on Monday night as he leapfrogged through criticisms of the media, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, Chinese tariffs and "unfunny" late-night talk show hosts.
During his free-wheeling, hour-long speech intended to boost Gov. Henry McMaster's GOP primary runoff bid, the president characteristically diverted to a litany of unrelated topics on his mind.
He said the "fake news" did not offer proper portrayals of his negotiations with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un over nuclear weapons and that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton got off easy on her email investigation, leading the crowd to chant "Lock her up!"
Trump went into details of how the U.S. was on the wrong end of trade issues with China and the European Union and how Democrats were hurting efforts to stop undocumented immigrants. He ruminated on how his former reality TV show, "The Apprentice," failed without him and he feared director David Lynch would not work in Hollywood again because he said recently Trump "could go down as one of the greatest presidents in history."
After offering prayers for Katie Arrington, a South Carolina lawmaker injured in a car wreck after defeating U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford in a GOP primary this month, Trump hit at Sanford, saying "I can’t stand that guy."
Trump also criticized "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert, a Charleston native, calling him "unfunny" and "a low life” for criticizing the president on his program. He complained about "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon apologizing for humanizing Trump by ruffling his hair during the 2016 campaign to make sure it was real.
Then Trump offered, “If it’s not your hair, don’t run for office, folks."
As the headliner of a rally for McMaster, he appealed to supporters in a state where he won in the 2016 presidential election handily.
“Everybody here works hard, pays taxes. You’re smarter. You’re better. You’re more loyal,” Trump said, as opposed to what he called the “elites.”
He dubbed Trump fans the “super elites.” He added, "The forgotten men and women of country are not forgotten anymore."
Trump urged the crowd of about 2,500 at Airport High School in Cayce, with another 1,000 in an overflow room, to vote for McMaster in the Republican runoff for governor on Tuesday so the “fakers” in the media would not call out the president for losing the race to political newcomer John Warren, a Greenville businessman.
Trump praised McMaster for endorsing his presidential campaign early on.
“So, please, get your asses out tomorrow and vote,” Trump said. "But, honestly, not for that reason. He’s a great man or I wouldn’t be here."
Trump brought McMaster on stage after the governor waited out the thunderstorms for Air Force One to land at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
"We’re watching these forces of nature with the lightning and thunder and rain," McMaster said of the delay. "Then it cleared and the real force of nature got off the plane.”
Trump said the thunderstorms got so bad on his way in that pilots at one point suggested they turn around. But he insisted they keep going because he wanted to be there to support McMaster.
The governor also got a shout-out toward the end of the hour-long speech where Trump touted his values as a reason to vote for McMaster.
"There was nobody else. Henry was there at the beginning," Trump said. "He’s a fighter. He’s tough. He’s strong."
The bulk of Trump's speech moved between complaints, such as accusing pollsters of suppressing his actual level of support, and self-congratulation, saying “I don’t think any president has done what we’ve done in 500 days.”
About 45 minutes into the rally, Trump pointed out that he hadn't been using his teleprompters.
“Oh, by the way, I have these stupid teleprompters," he said. "You don’t mind I haven’t used them all night, do you?”
Trump's visit came just hours before voters in South Carolina head to the polls, where Republicans will choose between McMaster and Warren in the GOP primary runoff for governor.
Warren, a 39-year-old Marine combat veteran, spent the day flying around the state to greet voters and fending off any notion that Trump's support of McMaster should decide Tuesday's election.
Trump first endorsed McMaster at a Greenville fundraiser in October — months before Warren entered the race in February, as the challenger often notes.
The president has since reiterated his support for the incumbent governor multiple times in tweets, and he dispatched Vice President Mike Pence to Conway on Saturday to rally support in anticipation of his visit.
On Monday, hundreds of Trump supporters curled around in lines outside the high school throughout the day, waiting for hours in sweltering heat for a chance to see the president.
After the speech, Trump signed hats, shirts, signs and other Trump memorabilia for about five minutes in a corner of the gym with a raucous crowd reaching out over barriers to try to touch him or give him their stuff. McMaster stood next to him as he did so, grinning eagerly and giving the crowd a thumbs up.
“God bless you, Donald!” shouted one man in the crowd. “2020!” yelled another.
Andy Shain and Seanna Adcox contributed.