ORLANDO — Four years after he descended the escalators of Trump Tower as a businessman to launch his insurgent 2016 White House bid, President Donald Trump walked onstage at the Amway Center on Tuesday to kick off his re-election campaign as the commander in chief.
Speaking to a capacity crowd at the 18,500-seat arena Trump declared: “The American dream is back.”
Amid chants of “USA! USA!” Trump revived some of his long-standing talking points — declaring the special counsel’s Russia probe “a witch hunt,” taking aim at his 2016 Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, and all while promising to deliver a “stronger” southern border wall.
“Exactly four years ago this week I announced my campaign for President of the United States ... it turned out to be a great political movement because of you,” Trump said to the crowd, many of whom waved signs provided by the campaign that read “Four More Years.”
Trump largely stuck to listing the campaign pledges that ushered him to victory in 2016, with little mention of new agenda items for a second term. He vowed to “eradicate” AIDS and pull back troops from the Middle East, even as his administration announced plans to deploy 1,000 additional troops to the region amid rising tensions with Iran.
“I can promise you that I will never ever let you down. I won’t,” Trump said, later suggesting his campaign adopt "Keep America Great!" as its 2020 slogan.
While the rally was billed as the campaign’s kickoff, Trump officially launched his re-election bid on his first day in office, filing his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 20, 2017. Since taking office, he has headlined dozens of “Make America Great Again” rallies in key swing states and has had a two-year fundraising head start over the growing field of Democratic presidential hopefuls.
Trump’s choice to formally launch his re-election campaign in Florida, the nation’s largest swing state, comes as a series of recent polls show him trailing behind some of the top-tier Democratic contenders including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Trump, who narrowly won the state and its 29 electoral votes in 2016 with a 1.2-point margin of victory, currently trails Biden by 9 points in Florida, according to a Quinnipiac Poll released on Tuesday. Trump trails Sanders by 6 percentage points, according to the poll that surveyed 1,200 registered Florida voters. The poll, conducted June 12-17, has a margin of error of 3.3 points.
Throughout the rally, campaign surrogates, including Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, sought to discredit the reliability of polls and took repeated digs at Biden, while ignoring the more than 20 other Democratic contenders looking to take on Trump.
“They weren’t right in 2016,” Lara Trump told rallygoers, referring to the polls at the time that showed Clinton leading Trump. Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes but was bested by Trump in the Electoral College votes.
Almost an hour into his speech, Trump himself took a dig at Biden, calling him “Sleepy Joe” and knocked Sanders, briefly calling him "crazy." Trump sought to cast Democrats as a whole as "socialists" and "radical," accusing them of "wanting to destroy our country as we know it.”
Vice President Mike Pence, speaking to the crowd before Trump’s arrival, also made the pitch for a second term, saying: “It’s going to take at least four more years to drain that swamp.”
First lady Melania Trump vowed her husband “will work on behalf of this country as long as he can.”
The loudest applause of the night was directed at outgoing White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who Trump brought onstage to chants of “Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!”
Among the crush of red-cap-wearing supporters who lined up for hours in anticipation of the rally, several said they remained loyal to Trump because he continued to press for stricter immigration enforcement policies, and were unmoved by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and alleged attempts by Trump to obstruct the investigation.
Paul Geronimo, 60, a retired firefighter from New Rochelle and now living in Central Florida, said he believed Trump remained unchanged by Washington’s political culture.
“He’s not a politician, he’s still shaking things up,” Geronimo said.
Marc Vigilante, 52, a real estate agent from Palm Beach County, said he supported Trump’s immigration policies amid a surge in asylum-seekers at the southern border.
“We all came here from other places, but you need to do it right,” Vigilante said. “People can’t just come in without following the rules. I really feel for the people ... but they have to do it right.”
Trump’s rally and an accompanying outdoor festival dubbed ‘45 Fest’ held just outside the arena were the products of a campaign operation that has grown in scale since 2016.
While Trump relied largely on a close-knit circle of family and Trump Organization employees to get his 2016 campaign off the ground, his current campaign staff is stacked with veteran GOP operatives who in briefings with reporters have said the campaign plans on increasing its social media outreach in 2020.