CINCINNATI — Donald Trump has not changed.
At his first rally since being elected president, Trump only occasionally read from his teleprompters, instead entertaining the audience with whatever was on his mind. He recounted in great detail all the ways that he won, noted that world leaders now call him from “their magnificent rooms,” and gleefully reflected on how it was “a lot of fun” fighting Democrat Hillary Clinton, to which the crowd chanted: “Lock her up! Lock her up!”
He complained about his party’s top leaders, prompted the crowd to boo their state governor, referred to a third-party candidate as “that guy” and told the crowd to keep going as they booed “the extremely dishonest press.” He announced his pick for secretary of defense, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, but told the crowd to keep it a secret until Monday. He mocked a small group of protesters as they were led out: “They don’t know that Hillary lost a couple of weeks ago.”
Somewhere amid the insults, grievances and brags,Trump promised to heal this divided country.
“I’ve always brought people together. I know you find that hard to believe,” Trump said Thursday night as he kicked off the “Donald J. Trump USA Thank You Tour 2016” of states he won. “We are going to bring our country together, all of our country. We’re going to find common ground, and we will get the job done properly.”
The election might be long over, but Trump seems intent on continuing to campaign. While many presidents-elect before him have used the weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day to promote policy ideas and reach out to Americans who voted for someone else, Trump fired up his base.
“What presidents-elect often do is they try to create the impression that there’s a healing period now, that there’s a coming together,” said Robert Dallek, a presidential historian. “The impulse generally has been to create a new sense of shared national unity, rather than to show a divided country. That’s why there’s usually not an impulse to hold these rallies.”
After George W. Bush was first elected in 2000, he held a series of roundtable discussions that focused on themes of his campaign, such as tax cuts, education reform and faith-based initiatives. In 2009, President-elect Barack Obama took a whistle-stop tour on his way to the inauguration, following part of the route taken by Abraham Lincoln on his way from Illinois to the 1861 inauguration.
The speech rolling on Trump’s teleprompters focused on policy and promises of unity — but he couldn’t stay on script. After being cloistered away in his skyscraper and private clubs for more than three weeks, Trump was clearly excited to be back on a rally stage, feeding off the energy of the half-filled US Bank Arena. At one point, his oldest son tweeted: “He is having a good time tonight.”
Although Trump was his same self, everything had changed. He is now the president-elect. His words are now even more scrutinized. And security is even tighter — leading law enforcement to shut down several bridges leading into the city for nearly two hours during rush-hour traffic, angering many Cincinnatians. Trump blamed the gridlock for his smaller-than-expected audience.
“I didn’t know what came with this position,” Trump said upon taking the stage, “and I didn’t know that they closed down the roads.”
Trump lost the Republican primary here to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who refused to endorse Trump or attend the party’s convention in Cleveland in July.
“In the great state of Ohio, we didn’t have the upper echelon of politicians,” Trump said, as the crowd booed their governor. Trump told them that Kasich did call him after the election to offer his congratulations.
But, Trump repeatedly reminded his crowd, he still won — even though he claims the media was against him. Trump said he didn’t understand why it took so long for news outlets to declare him the winner. Or why they predicted he wouldn’t break through the “blue wall” in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“We did break it. We shattered that sucker,” Trump said. “That blue wall is busted up.”
Meanwhile, a few dozen protesters stood guard outside, chanting “love trumps hate” and “2.5 million,” Clinton’s margin over Trump in the popular vote. Throughout the night, they yelled at Trump supporters.
“Thanks for making life hell for women! Really appreciate it,” yelled Michelle Frigault, 53, a geriatric social worker. “Thanks for taking away women’s rights.”
Frigault said that she has cried every day since the election, feeling like she lives in “an alternate world.” She and her wife now “physically feel afraid” for their safety, and they worry about their friends who are immigrants or live in poverty.
“I think he’s got other concerns than having people come and say how great he is,” she said. “This is a waste of his time. He is now the president-elect of the United States.”
As Trump neared the end of his speech, he returned to his teleprompter and shared words of inspiration.
“I’m asking you to join me in this next chapter of this unbelievable and unprecedented movement,” Trump said.
But he was distracted by a man in the crowd, stopping mid-sentence to say: “He’s a believer. You’re a believer, right? He’s a believer.”
Trump told the crowd it is “an exciting time to be alive” and that “the script is not yet written.” He told them that he is just their messenger, “although I’ve been a very good messenger, let’s face it.”
He thanked Ohio, “an incredible place.” He again called his victory a “landslide” and called reporters “extremely dishonest,” seemingly unwilling to end the rally .
He finally concluded: “We are going to come together and make America great again.”
As the Rolling Stones’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” began to play, Trump stayed on stage, clapping and waving, extending the night just a couple more minutes.
Anu Narayanswamy in Washington and Kevin Williams contributed to this report.