PHOENIX — Donald Trump lavished praise on former Arizona governor Jan Brewer (R) at a Saturday afternoon rally, asking her to stand and be recognized by his crowd of several thousand.
"She's an amazing person," Trump said, as Brewer stood in a small penned-off area for VIPs. "And, you know, it's not nice to say about a woman, but you are tough. Aren't you? Huh? She is tough. She's smart."
When asked why it is "not nice" to say that a woman is tough, Trump's spokeswoman forwarded this comment from him: "She's tough and she's smart and she was a great Governor of Arizona."
The presumptive Republican nominee has acknowledged that his support from female voters is not quite as strong as it is from men, a disparity that he has said he wants to correct. Trump has said that he would better represent and support women than presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a promise that he repeated at the rally at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The crowd laughed at Trump's comment about Brewer, almost as much as they laughed when he called himself a "supermodel" because he has been on so many magazine covers. Joanne Walton, 57, said that she agrees that Brewer is tough — and that in this day and age of political correctness, people just make up the rules about what you can and can't say.
"I'm tough, and I don't mind being called tough," said Walton, who lives outside Phoenix, in Gilbert, Ariz. "You have to be tough to survive these days."
Despite weather that hovered near 110 degrees, several thousand people showed up to the rally, and the security line moved quickly, unlike at other rallies this week. In a speech in Las Vegas earlier Saturday, Trump berated the security team for not screening his supporters quickly enough. The campaign provided hundreds of free bottles of water to those waiting outside, and organizers set up large pool-style umbrellas to shade the winding line. The crowd was mostly decked out in red, white and blue gear and included two guys wearing T-shirts with this message on the back: "Italian lives matter."
Inside the coliseum, the crowd became especially fired up when Trump, or those who spoke before him, mentioned cracking down on immigration, and there were chants of "Build that wall! Build that wall!" Trump was joined by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a controversial local leader who has used his office to crack down on illegal immigrants and who has long supported Trump. When Arpaio arrived Saturday, reporters quickly surrounded him, and the crowd chanted: "Joe! Joe! Joe!"
Off-duty police Officer Adam Rodriguez, 43, said he supports Trump's stance on immigration because immigrants need to enter the country legally. He called Trump's idea of a building a wall more symbolic than practical, but he said it emphasizes that there needs to be a change.
"I see immigrants with criminal backgrounds slipping through the cracks," he said.
About four blocks away from the rally, a group of about 50 protesters held a demonstration beside a 20-foot-tall inflatable Donald Trump dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Somos America, an immigrant-advocacy group, chose the location to avoid confrontation with Trump supporters, said Margarito Blancas, a member of the organization.
"While we believe in the freedom of expression, we believe Trump's rhetoric has become toxic," he said.
A smaller group of about two dozen protesters gathered on a corner outside the rally. Supporters traded barbs with protesters over Islam and the truth behind Trump's message.
One protester, Andy Hernandez, 60, said he was surprised that the Hispanic community in Arizona did not come out in greater numbers and confront Trump supporters over what he said are racist policies.
"I believe my people should riot," he said. "That's what America understands."