WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail Monday as his party's official nominee, but there was one major difference: his entourage.
Ahead of Trump's rally here on Monday night, several of North Carolina's highest-ranking Republicans took turns firing up the crowd of several thousand — something that has never happened and signaled that the campaign seems to have finally pivoted from fighting for the nomination to focusing on the general election. These politicians joined three of Trump's African American surrogates — a televangelist and two sisters with a popular YouTube channel — who frequently and frankly tackle issues of race at rallies and vouch for Trump's not being a racist, in their eyes
Sen. Richard Burr — who last month criticized Trump's comments about the heritage of a judge assigned to one of his civil court cases, saying it fit the definition of racism — said the country needs a Trump administration. Rep. Mark Meadows prompted the crowd to chant "Lock her up," the latest anti-Hillary Clinton refrain that caught on at the Republican National Convention last week.
As North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) was introduced, an announcer for the campaign praised him for boosting the state's economy, even though later in the night, Trump would say that he has three pages of statistics showing that the state is not doing well economically and would benefit from his proposed trade policies and job-creation promises. McCrory took the stage and immediately started acting like a flight attendant.
"All right, let's be safe now. We've got a big crowd, so if you need to leave suddenly, we've got exits this way, exits this way and exits this way," McCrory said, motioning straight ahead, to his right and to his left. "And if any of you need to use the restrooms ..."
McCrory paused as the crowd of several thousand laughed and cheered his reference to legislation passed earlier this year that requires individuals to use the restroom that matches the gender they were born with, not the one they identify with. In April, Trump criticized the North Carolina Republicans for passing the controversial legislation, which prompted many large corporations to stop investing in the state. Trump said the state should have left things as they were and that transgender individuals are free to use whichever restroom they want at Trump Tower in Manhattan.
McCrory waited for the applause to die down, then continued.
"And if you have any questions, go to the Philadelphia convention where all of the Democrats are," McCrory said as the crowd again cheered.
McCrory praised Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who came running onto the stage and bear-hugged his fellow governor. The warm exchange between the two hinted at Pence's role in adding the establishment lineup to the rally.
The warm-up set also included three repeat Trump defenders: Mark Burns, a pastor and televangelist from South Carolina known for screaming on stage about Jesus Christ, and YouTube personalities Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, sisters who live in North Carolina, speak in rhyme and go by the stage names Diamond and Silk.
"And to my black brothers and sisters," Hardaway said to the mostly white crowd, as her sister dramatically bobbed around, "just because you're black doesn't mean you have to vote Democrat. You can come off that Democratic plantation. You don't need anyone feeding you a narrative."
"That's right," Richardson said.
"You don't need anyone handing you the crumbs," Hardaway continued. "You don't need anyone giving you an Obama phone. Vote for the businessman. Vote for the businessman — you will get a job where you can buy your own phone."
"Oh yes, baby," Richardson said as her sister shook her finger at the crowd.
"Don't allow 'Crooked Hillary' to take and lure you in with a bottle of hot sauce," Hardaway said.
"Don't do that," Richardson said.
"Running around doing the Nae Nae, and she's not even concerned about your next payday," Hardaway said, referring to a type of hip-hop dance. "Now, 'Crooked Hillary' keeps saying she wants to build bridges. Well, since you're so good at building, how about you build yourself a prison cell and you get in there, along with the chairman of the DNC. Get inside of it!"
Richardson chimed in: "Get inside of it! Get inside of it! Yeah!"
The sisters were soon replaced with Burns, who brought along his family and immediately began talking about "Blue Lives Matter." He then took a minute to thank Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) for not endorsing Trump and showing the world "the real person who he really is," and he led the crowd in an anti-Clinton chant: "Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!" As Burns shouted out the chant, his young children pumped their fists in the air.
Burns criticized the Democratic Party for inviting the mother of Michael Brown — the 18-year-old killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, sparking the Black Lives Matter movement — to speak at their convention this week. As he said this, Burns's six relatives made a thumbs-down gesture.
"I mean, really — somebody say, 'Really?'" Burns said.
The crowd responded: "Really!"
"I mean, they really should be ashamed of themselves because making Michael Brown's mother to speak at the Democratic convention is a sign to every black person that they are reaffirming that we should be afraid of the police force," Burns shouted. "The devil is a liar!"
"Because the fact of the matter is," Burns continued, "if the police say, 'Stop,' what do you do?"
The crowd answered: "Stop!"
"You stop! I'm from the South — I'm from the great state of South Carolina. And I'm a black man, married to a beautiful white woman here with me," Burns said, gesturing to his wife, who curtsied. "And I have never been beaten up by the police. Oh, my God. Oh, my God! Really! I never."
Burns said that he has been pulled over before, noting that it's "probably too many times." His wife dramatically giggled, as someone in the crowd shouted out and asked whether he had a "lead foot," which Burns confirmed was true.
"It's all about simply obeying the instructions of our law enforcement officers," Burns said.
Burns added that Trump will not "pander to one race" and then accused Clinton of doing that. He declared, "It is not racist to be proud to be an American," then he went after the president.
"President Obama has divided us more than ever. He is part of the reason why the whole world thinks that it's okay for blacks to be angry at whites and whites to be angry at blacks," Burns said. "President Obama is a racist."
Burns's family smiled and clapped as the rally crowd loudly cheered. Burns hovered near his wife and laughed about what he had just said.
"Yeah, I said it," he said. "Yeah, I said it. You can get mad at me all day long. I said it, and I'll believe it."