TURNBERRY, Scotland — Donald Trump celebrated Britain’s stunning vote to leave the European Union on Friday during a visit to Scotland, saying that the people of the United Kingdom have “taken their country back," musing that it could benefit his Turnberry resort and arguing that running a nation is a lot like running a golf course.
“I think it’s a great thing that happened," Trump told reporters shortly after his helicopter landed at Trump Turnberry. “People are angry, all over the world. People, they’re angry.”
“When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly,” Trump added during an afternoon news conference. “For traveling and for other things, I think it very well could turn out to be a positive.”
He also suggested that running a golf course was comparable to running a nation: “You’ll be amazed how similar it is. It’s a place that has to be fixed.”
Trump's two-day visit here comes during a historic and tumultuous moment for Britain. Voters defied the political establishment Thursday by formally deciding to cut ties with the European Union. But in Scotland, a majority of voters backed staying in the E.U. — a stark disconnect that prompted Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to suggest a second referendum on Scotland's membership in the United Kingdom.
For a candidate who has struggled to prove that his grasp of foreign policy matches that of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, Trump could have used the moment to substantively address a momentous global event. Instead, he provided a widely broadcast infomercial for his newest luxury golf club, standing in front of a bagpiper and wearing a white “Make America Great Again” cap. Resort staffers were instructed to wear red caps reading, “Make Turnberry Great Again.”
As reporters pressed Trump on the referendum, it was not clear if Trump fully understood what had just happened. He declared the outcome “fantastic” and “great” because it reflects the anger of voters, and said that the plummeting value of the pound could positively benefit the country.
When asked if he was traveling with his foreign policy advisers or consulting them, Trump said that he had been in contact with them but "there's nothing to talk about."
In answering questions, Trump remained closely focused on the similarities between the referendum vote — called Brexit — and his own unexpected rise to becoming the likely Republican nominee.
“They’re angry over borders. They’re angry over people coming into the country and taking over. Nobody even knows who they are,” Trump said, echoing the populist pitch he has made in the United States. “They’re angry about many, many things. They took back control of their country. It’s a great thing.”
In addition to Turnberry, Trump is expected to also visit a golf resort he owns near Aberdeen on the eastern coast. Scotland is the birthplace of his mother, who immigrated to New York as a teenager.
Trump briefly mentioned the Brexit vote at the beginning of his remarks before pivoting sharply to discussing the golf resort and the steps his family took to overhaul the grounds. Marking the formal opening of the refurbished development, Trump said it was in honor of his mother and his children; he later said he took time away from his presidential campaign to attend the opening in order to support his children, who took charge of the renovation.
“I think it’s going to be one of the great hotels of the world. It already was, but it was in somewhat dilapidated shape,” Trump said. “We have something that is very special.”
Reporters pressed Trump on the Brexit vote during a question-and-answer session after remarks by Trump and two of his children.
“I really do see a parallel between what’s happening in the United States and what’s happening here,” Trump told reporters. “You just have to embrace it; it’s the will of the people."
Trump has displayed little knowledge or interest in the E.U. referendum, even though he owns two golf resorts in Scotland that he has portrayed as teaching him about working with foreign nations. When asked a few weeks ago about the referendum by the Hollywood Reporter, Trump seemed to not understand the question.
"Huh?" Trump said in the interview, which was published on June 1.
"Brexit," reporter Michael Wolff repeated a second time.
"Hmm," Trump said.
"The Brits leaving the E.U.," Wolff prompted.
"Oh yeah, I think they should leave," Trump said.
The morning started quietly in the tiny village of Turnberry as dozens of reporters showed up at a muddy parking lot to be transported to Trump's resort about half a mile down the road. There was a cool wind off the Irish Sea, and the temperature hovered in the mid-50s.
Just ahead of Trump's arrival, guests and resort staff members wearing red caps lined up on the grand stairwell leading from the street to the resort on a hilltop perch. A handful of men wearing dark suits and ties stood watch at the resort's various driveways, but there was no heavy police presence as expected by locals — and is usually seen at Trump's political events in the United States. But unlike those rowdy rallies, this event featured two bagpipers.
Turnberry was built more than a century ago and purchased by Trump in 2014. The property has undergone extensive renovations and reopened June 1.
The journey is the latest example of the fuzzy, and sometimes invisible, line between Trump the presumptive GOP nominee and Trump the businessman — an arrangement that many ethics experts, including many fellow Republicans, view as inappropriate or worse. They say Trump should take formal steps to separate himself from his business and financial holdings, both domestic and foreign, as he seeks to enter the White House, just as Mitt Romney and other candidates have done.
Trump dismissed such criticism during the news conference.
At about 9:15 a.m., Trump's helicopter appeared in the cloudy Scottish sky. Down below were dozens of reporters and resort staff members. The white helicopter, with the word "Trump" written in bold red letters, landed on the grass in front of the crowd. The staff and resort guests burst into cheers as Trump stepped off the chopper and made his way inside, shouting out a few comments to reporters.
A handful of curious locals watched the spectacle, including one man with a pro-Trump sign who said that the millionaire has pumped money into the region.
About 20 minutes later, after everyone had gone inside to escape the cold, a bus filled with protesters from Glasgow pulled up. About 50 people disembarked and handed out pink and yellow signs reading: "No to racism. No to Trump." The group refused to stand inside a gated pen that police set up for them, instead insisting on lining the road in front of Turnberry. More than a dozen local police officers soon arrived, along with four on horseback. About 20 minutes later, two more buses pulled up, bringing the number of protesters to a couple hundred.
The protesters chanted a number of things, including "Trump go home!" and "Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!" An organizer on a megaphone belted out: "Trump always plays the racist card at all times!"
While many of the protests of Trump’s political rallies in the United States have focused on his controversial comments on illegal immigrants from Mexico and Muslims, the protesters here called for compassion for refugees, who have been pouring into Europe from Syria and other war-torn countries.
Robbie Easton, 29, traveled on a bus to Turnberry from Glasgow so that he could challenge Trump’s "poisonous rhetoric."
"Scapegoating whole religions of people, scapegoating whole populations of people fleeing war zones and destitute people, families drowning in the Mediterranean and referring to these people as cockroaches?" said Easton, a student who voted Thursday for the U.K. to remain in the E.U. "I see this getting worse throughout the world... It's really quite frightening."
Just as Trump started to speak at the press conference, he was interrupted by a man with unruly hair wearing a Turnberry sweater who made an announcement. Comedian Simon Brodkin, who often plays a character he calls Lee Nelson, said he forgot to pass out a new series of golf balls to guests of the ribbon-cutting, throwing out red balls featuring a swastika design.
“Get him out,” Trump said as security surrounded Brodkin and led him away. Trump then proceeded with the press conference, still surrounded by the small red balls.
In addition to the protesters, there was also a handful of Trump supporters and curiosity-seekers who gathered to watch Trump’s helicopter land on the grassy lawn of his resort.
Mike Ross, 48, wore a T-shirt featuring Trump's face and this message: "Donald Trump, Making Ayrshire Great Again." He carried a sign with the same image and message. Ayrshire is a Scottish county.
"I like him. I like the way he's changing politics and the stuffy political correctness," Ross said of Trump. "He's breaking all of the protocols. The leave vote was part of that. People are fed up."
As he talked with a reporter, a protester walked by and shouted: "Are you a racist as well, man?"
Andre Zaisluik, a 65-year-old retiree who lives about three miles from Trump's resort, ventured down the road to see the wealthy businessman's much-hyped arrival. Zaisluik said he did roadwork for 50 years and cannot afford to golf at Turnberry, but said he appreciates all of the money Trump has put into renovating the resort.
"He has spent a lot of money here. He has done wonders," Zaisluik said.
Zaisluik said that on Thursday he voted for Britain to remain in the E.U. — like most Scots — and he was surprised by the outcome of the vote. "I don't know what the future's going to be. I haven't a clue. There's a lot of fear-mongering," he said.
DelReal reported from Washington.