In one of this first speeches since securing enough delegates to win the nomination, presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump rallied supporters at the Selland Arena in downtown Fresno today.
The speech touched on familiar themes but also took on a topic important to the Central Valley.
“Wow! Thank you, everybody! What a crowd. What a crowd,” said the ever-confident Trump as he took the stage, waving, smiling at cheering supporters and giving his signature thumbs up.
Trump opened his more than an hour-long, unscripted speech by promising to bring more water to the Central Valley saying it is, in his words, ‘very, very simple.’
“If I win, believe me, we are going to start opening up the water so that you can have your farmers survive. So that your job market will get better,” Trump said.
Trump said the problem is not the drought but the fact that environmental policy is keeping delta pumps turned off and sending some stored water out to the ocean--issues he blamed on attempts to save the delta smelt.
After opening with water, Trump transitioned to more familiar territory, focusing on national issues and attacking Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama and even some of his defeated GOP rivals.
Trump promised that he is going to make a serious play for California despite most polls showing that would be a mighty feat.
“And you know what? I view it strategically also because if we don’t win it, they are going to spend one hell of a fortune fighting me off. Right? Right?” Trump said.
Trump was interrupted twice by shouting protesters but they were escorted out peacefully.
For the most part, the crowd was lively and receptive to Trump’s message of winning. Many of the people lined up for hours before the speech to get into the arena.
The crowds cheered, waved pro-trump signs like ‘Farmers for Trump’ and played into his call and response routine about building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.
“Alright, are you ready? Are you ready? And who is going to pay for that wall? (Mexico!) That’s right. 100%,” Trump said.
He issued a long string of vague promises on everything from health care to trade that were light on details but heavy on one aspect, winning.
“We are going to keep winning, winning, winning and we are g,oing to make America great again,”
Trump drew the most passionate responses when he attacked the record of both current President Barack Obama as weak and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton as a corrupt politician bought by wall-street who, in his words, just ‘doesn’t like’ the average person.
The speech played well with Alicia Paris who sees him as a breath of fresh air in politics.
“Donald is a real leader. And America needs a real leader for a change. And I think he will bring pride back to America,” Paris said.
While the campaign had expected to come close to selling out the 9,200-seat Selland Arena, it appeared to be only around half full.
Trump did make some national news today saying that he has changed his mind and is no longer willing to debate Democratic candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
“Because you know what? If you are in first place you don’t want to really debate a guy who is in second place. But it could be I will end up with Bernie. But I hear what they are going to do. They don’t want Bernie because he is a socialist. I mean give me a break,” Trump said.
Trump had previously responded to Sanders' debate challenge by offering to square off if the debate was used to raise money for charity.
Not everyone thinks he's winning
Outside the arena, si se puede [yes we can] was the rallying cry echoing throughout downtown this morning—that and another chant involving the f-word. Actually, there were a lot of those. A few hundred protesters gathered to shout, chant and heckle the Trump supporters who trickled into the Selland Arena.
A common reason for protest was, not surprisingly, Trump’s recent comments about minorities and immigrants.
"I am the daughter of two immigrants who came over from Mexico and we have family in Mexico and a family here," said high school junior Isabella Prieto. "We fought so hard to eradicate racism in this country and there is no way that we’re going to let it continue."
Others were more blunt, like tattoo artist Lorenzo Martinez.
"You know, somebody like Trump, I just don’t trust the guy," Martinez said. "The guy's an idiot."
Although many of the demonstrators appeared to be, well, minorities and immigrants, they made it clear that their beef with Trump was beyond personal.
"Trump is someone who uses language that divides people based along with hateful speech,' said Bryson White, a faith-based community organizer. "It’s antithetical to who I understand Jesus to be, and I don’t think he’s the right person to run the country."
To Jesse Ornelas, a recent Fresno State graduate, just as threatening as the presumptive nominee are the supporters coming to hear him.
"A lot of these people are teaching my children, they’re handling our money in our banks, they’re giving loans out to people," he said. "These are people that have some kind of power over us and that’s what scares me the most about them."
Demonstrations were energetic but largely peaceful. Police in riot gear eventually broke up the crowd the blocked the intersection of Ventura and M Streets after the speech.