PENDLETON, S.C. — Before Donald Trump took the stage for his first major rally since winning the New Hampshire primary, the Rev. Mark Burns led the crowd in a prayer that sounded like a pep talk -- and then gave a pep talk that sort of sounded like a prayer.
"Father God, in the name of Jesus, we're truly thankful for the life of Donald J. Trump," Burns said during the prayer segment Wednesday night. "We're thankful that you have created a man through the spirit of the Holy Spirit to give him the boldness to say what other people will not say, to do what other people will not do, to stand for our conservative rights."
Burns, an African American pastor in South Carolina who produces a gospel television show, ended the prayer by telling the crowd of several thousand people, “In Jesus’s name, if you believe it, shout ‘Amen!’ ” The crowd shouted “Amen!”
The following pep talk included jabs at the media and at Trump’s rivals Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in the same sentence that Burns declared, “The Devil is a liar.” Burns’s voice went from a shout to a scream as he told the crowd, “This is why I am asking you! South Carolina! To help me elect! The next president of the United States! Of America! Donald! J! Trump!” The crowd erupted in cheers and then a chant of “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
This is the scene that welcomed Trump to South Carolina. This is the scene that explains why Trump’s campaign staff is confident he will win here. This is the scene that marks the first of 10 days of campaigning before South Carolina’s Feb. 20 Republican primary.
Trump took the stage in a black overcoat and enough confidence and swagger to criticize his own rally venue — a dirt-floored livestock arena at Clemson University that lacked heat and featured two massive John Deere tractors.
“What the hell kind of a building is this?” Trump said with a wide smile. “What is this? It’s beautiful... Little bit on the cold side. I don’t usually do this” — he grabbed the lapels of his coat and shook them — “but figure we might as well.”
Speaking for about 50 minutes, Trump told the crowd that it is okay to be angry about how the country is run. He called his win in New Hampshire “an amazing experience” and noted that his South Carolina poll numbers are “through the roof; we are high.” Trump bragged that he was running on just an hour of sleep, complained about all the alleged lying in this election season and attacked former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has been lagging in the polls. Trump listed many of his campaign promises: building a wall along the southern border; saving Social Security and Medicaid; jump-starting the economy with more jobs; and strengthening the military so that no one will mess with it. He took a handful of questions from the audience and often stopped mid-sentence to remark on the beauty of some members of the crowd.
“People are tired of losing in this country — we’re losing all the time,” Trump said. “People are tired of stupidity, incompetence. We’re not going to have it any more; we're not going to have it.”
Trump reminded the crowd that he is using his own money to finance his campaign, along with small donations -- unlike his Republican rivals who have allied super PACs. Trump said it has been difficult for him to turn down major donations but that he will put his passion for greed to work for the country.
“Money, money, money, I love money,” Trump said, as the crowd laughed.
Trump promised his audience that he is “going to be with you almost all the time” in the coming 10 days. Trump has about a dozen staff members in South Carolina who have been heavily using social media to reach potential voters. In addition to four offices, the campaign has three recreational vehicles that function as mobile offices and have been dispatched to rural parts of the state.
South Carolina was Trump’s first stop after New Hampshire, but he is leaving for a couple of days, with rallies scheduled for Baton Rouge on Thursday night and Tampa on Friday. He is scheduled to return to the state for a GOP debate Saturday and will host a large rally in Greenville, S.C., on Monday night and two rallies in the state Wednesday.
In the livestock arena, Trump presented himself as not just a candidate who can win the Republican nomination but who can beat Democrats Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in a general election.
“We are going to do something special,” Trump said. “Okay, so are you ready? Common Core, we're going to keep. Trade, we’re going to make great. Military... we’re going to make it so great. All of the things that I said. Obamacare, we’re going to repeal, we’re going it replace -- it’s a disaster.”
In that comment, Trump appears to have misspoken, as he has long criticized Common Core education standards and promised to kill them. Earlier in the night, Trump called Common Core “a total disaster” and alleged that “Jeb Bush loves Common Core.” But the Cruz campaign's rapid-response team quickly seized on Trump’s mistake and circulated a video clip. Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler was one of several staffers and supporters to tweet out the comment:
— Rick Tyler (@rickwtyler) February 11, 2016
Trump’s defenders at first accused the Cruz campaign of selectively editing a video of Trump’s comments on Bush's position on Common Core. Trump — who often functions as his own rapid-response team and his own spokesman — seemed to latch onto this explanation and tweeted:
I was referring to the fact that Jeb Bush wants to keep common core.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2016
But as reporters and others reviewed video of the rally, it became clear that there was no creative editing — Trump really had said that.
He tweeted again:
I have been consistent in my opposition to Common Core. Get rid of Common Core--- keep education local!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2016
As Trump wrapped up the rally after about 50 minutes on the stage, he again reminded his crowd to vote Feb. 20.
“Hey, did we have a good time tonight?” Trump asked as the crowd cheered. “Considering the fact that the subject matter is a little bit depressing, believe me: If you vote for Trump — and again, I don’t want your money, I want your vote — if you vote for Trump, we win here, we’re going to run the table. If we win here, after winning so big in New Hampshire, all of these characters are going to give it up. We’re going to run the table, and we will make America great again. That I can tell you.”