Rhode Island has continued to ride a wave of attention from presidential candidates in the midst of primary season as the small state was visited Monday by Republican front-runner Donald Trump. The businessman hosted a rally at the Warwick Crowne Plaza that was interrupted by several protesters who condemned his statements about turning away refugees and his rhetoric describing women.
Trump’s arrival in the Ocean State followed an announcement by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, that they would coordinate their campaigning in an effort to block Trump from receiving the Republican nomination.
In his 50-minute speech, Trump mocked his opponents for “colluding” against him and mentioned the way Kasich masticates his meals — “I never saw a guy eat like this!” he said to a laughing crowd.
After throwing a few more swings at his opponents, Trump went on to describe the loss of industrial jobs in places like New England in light of other country’s entrances into the global market. Trump argued that he would place a 35 percent tax on imports from countries like Mexico and China to incentivize employers to reintroduce jobs on domestic soil.
“The jobs have been ripped out of our country, folks,” he said. He listed several statistics describing the Rhode Island economy to a wave of groans from the crowd. “I didn’t even want to read it because it’s too depressing,” he added.
Trump’s rhetoric has appealed to mostly white, lower-class voters who have experienced economic hardship since the 2008 recession. Outside of the tent, which housed a crowd of nearly 800, about 200 people stood, many of them arguing that illegal immigrants had taken jobs away from them and their family members.
“I feel as though (illegal immigrants) are ruining our country and taking all of our jobs,” said Terry Hannagan, a Rhode Islander. He said that he has seen some of his jobs as a construction worker go to illegal immigrants who could be paid less than himself.
Trump supporters “have anger, and that’s justified. But they’re going about it the wrong way, targeting immigrants and other minority groups,” said Nnamdi Jogwe ’19, who was protesting outside of the rally.
Trump criticized Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton for her “open borders” policy and claimed that her interests aligned with those who would like to see industrial jobs move overseas.
His visit coincides with the former secretary of state’s, who visited Central Falls, Rhode Island Saturday. Kasich, too, visited Rhode Island Saturday, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-VT, held a rally at Roger Williams Park in Providence Sunday.
But among Republican voters in Rhode Island, Trump prevails. According to a poll released Sunday by the University, Trump leads the Republican nominees — of the 164 Republican voters who were surveyed, 38 percent responded that they would back Trump, with only 25 percent backing Kasich and 14 percent backing Cruz. Many voters — 17 percent — were undecided as of Sunday.
Some voters outside the rally still expressed indecision but gave into the fired-up spirit of the rally.
“I just came because it’s lit,” said Zach Eldridge, a Warwick, Rhode Island resident. Though he was undecided before attending the rally, he felt that the “community” behind Trump had strongly convinced him to vote for the businessman.
“I just get a really positive vibe out here,” he said, as crowds behind him yelled “Go back to Brown” at a group of students hoisting a “Feel the Bern” sign.
“Bernie’s a pervert!” yelled one man wearing a “Make America Great Again” shirt.
“People yelling at each other, that’s natural,” Eldridge said. “People never really get along. This obviously isn’t the proper way to (have dialogue), but that’s just the way our country is now.”
“We need the United States back to normal — strength, jobs, less welfare, honesty, the wall,” said Kathleen Decubellis, a resident of Kingstown, Rhode Island.
Brandon Robinson, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, agreed. “This country needs to be run a little bit more like a business.”
The rally was punctuated by groups of protesters and rally attendees making impassioned arguments against one another. When a group of Brown students held signs and chanted, “black lives matter,” Trump supporters overpowered them with chants of “all lives matter.”
As a group of student protesters wearing bright colors and holding a “Tranniez 4 Trump” sign walked by, several Trump supporters called out, “Which bathroom do you use?”
“I came here because frankly Donald Trump is terrifying,” said Noraa Kaplan, a Providence resident and one of the protesters. “The fact that this could be the reality of our country is really scary to me.”
But Cole Dotter, a Rhode Island voter, said that Trump’s message is one of “love and peace.”
Still, Ellen Quaadgras, a Unitarian minister, attended the event to send a message of love to counteract “messages of hate” that Trump encouraged, she said. “There’s been a lot of rhetoric against people of different faiths, … and I’m concerned that encourages violence against people of different groups.”
“I think a lot of the candidates are pretty similar to Trump,” said Lily Zwaan, a protester. “But he’s the most overtly homophobic, sexist and racist.”
— With additional reporting by Kyle Borowski