Donald Trump mania came to the Nutmeg State Friday, as thousands gathered in the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford to hear the New York businessman and frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination speak.
Trump’s speech — relatively brief, at only a half-hour — touched on the themes his campaign has peddled since he entered the race last June, but with a local flavor. In an area devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs over the last two decades, Trump denounced his opponents’ support for free-trade agreements and pledged to bring jobs back to the working class of northern Connecticut.
“The economy of the state of Connecticut has experienced absolute devastation about manufacturing,” Trump said. “[Ohio Gov. John] Kasich voted for NAFTA — NAFTA has ruined Connecticut, it’s ruined Hartford. You can’t vote for people who voted for NAFTA. It’s no good.”
Trump also made reference to the heroin epidemic currently sweeping through New England, saying a wall on the Mexican border would “stop drugs from pouring in,” a claim he also made throughout his campaigning in New Hampshire earlier this year.
Trump is currently the heavy favorite to win Connecticut’s primary, which will be held on April 26. Prediction markets currently estimate Trump’s chances of victory in Connecticut at 86.6 percent.
Despite multiple disruptive incidents involving protestors, some of the night’s loudest jeers were directed at the press, who spent the evening confined in a media pen. After Trump referred to reporters as “the most dishonest people you’ve ever met,” the crowd turned and hurled insults at the press.
Typical of Trump’s events throughout the country, the rally was marked by intermittent scuffles with protesters demonstrating against what they see as Trump’s racist rhetoric. Before Trump arrived on the stage, a recorded voice told attendees to raise their Trump signs above their heads and chant the candidate’s name if they found a protester in their vicinity. Attendees followed this order several times throughout the course of Trump’s speech, each time giving rise to cheers.
The tensest moments of the night came after the rally’s conclusion, as thousands of attendees exiting the rally were directed by police into the path of several hundred protesters assembled outside. The protesters were a diverse mix, shouting anti-racist slogans and holding up Black Lives Matter signs and some with flags bearing a sigil of Anarchism — a red star against a black background.
What could have boiled into violence instead simmered in tension, as thousands of Trump supporters entered into a collective shouting match with protesters. In response to chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “Bernie,” Trump supporters yelled “Get a job” and “Free stuff,” among other vulgarities.
Whereas a host of state Republican dignitaries attended Kasich’s town hall in Fairfield earlier this month, fewer turned up to Trump’s rally. Trump has met a lukewarm reception among many establishment Connecticut Republicans. State Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven, has announced his dislike for Trump, saying he will likely vote for Kasich. And Jonathan Wharton, the freshly elected chairman of the New Haven Republican Town Committee, has vowed not to support Trump should he win the nomination.
One of those who did attend, though, was August Wolf, a Stamford financier who is currently seeking the Republican nomination against Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73.
Though Wolf said he has yet to make up his mind about who he will vote for on April 26, he had words of praise for Trump.
“He’s making a lot of points that people have been afraid to make,” Wolf told the News. “He’s obviously a very talented individual, and no one in the Republican party took him seriously, and he showed them that he was 10 times better than all their candidates. He is, in many ways, a genius.”
Wolf noted that his moniker for Blumenthal — “Lyin’ Little Dick” — is inspired by Trump’s nicknames for Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio respectively. The nickname, Wolf said, fits what he called Blumenthal’s small physical size and his tendency to play “small-ball” politics.
Trump’s route to the nomination is currently in doubt, with Cruz, his main opponent, boasting a better-organized network of supporters. To remedy that deficit, Annalisa Stravato, the vice chairwoman of the Connecticut Republican Party, urged attendees to engage in get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of Trump, including phone-banking and door-knocking in advance of the Connecticut primary.
“We can win this,” Stravato said. “Donald Trump can be the next president of the United States. What I need is for everyone to be part of the grassroots efforts.”
Polls show Trump holds a commanding lead of 29 percentage points over Kasich in New York — which holds its primary Tuesday — with Cruz sitting in third.