Trump alternately bragged that he would make America so great people would be bored with his successes and aggressively ordered security to kick out hecklers who interrupted him more than a dozen times. Then he boasted that’s how you handle misguided people.
“Did you get him out of here? Did you get them out?” Trump repeatedly said. “Pretty soon they’re [his security] going to get so nasty, that we will not have any protests.”
The see-saw between Trump’s endless boasts, his smearing of critics and competitors, and his strongman treatment of protesters to show he would do whatever it takes to stay in control, continued throughout his 80-minute speech. Trump briefly attacked Sanders in much the same way he went after the protesters, saying he would love to run against him in the general election—that it would be “a dream come true”—but then said he lost respect for Sanders after the incident in which the senator was interrupted onstage by Black Lives Matters protesters and allowed them to take over the microphone.
“I would never let that happen,” Trump said. “I lost so much respect for Bernie. We can’t let anybody take over our mic. We can’t let it happen.”
Whether it was holding onto the microphone or anything else Trump deemed important—building a wall on the Mexican border, taking Iraq’s oil—he said that only he has the reasonable and strong position, while everyone else is weak, stupid and incompetent.
In many respects, Trump's criticism of Sanders was muted in comparison to his harsh words for congressional Republicans, who he said caved badly during the just-passed federal budget deal with President Obama. But that may not have been the point of Trump's visit to Burlington, where Sanders was mayor for eight years in the 1980s. The Vermont media coverage from Burlington is also broadcast in New Hampshire, where the first GOP primary is held. With Ted Cruz looking like he will win in Iowa, where candidates favored by Republican evangelicals have repeatedly won the first-in-the-nation caucuses, Trump used the Vermont appearance to portray his GOP competitors as weak for not venturing into Sanders’ backyard.
Meanwhile, Trump used his well-honed sense of stagecraft to ensure the event would draw maximum attention. On Wednesday, his staff announced they had given away nearly 20,000 tickets for an event in a theater with only 1,400 seats. That caused local police to fret about crowds, some committed supporters and protesters to get in line as early as 4:30am, and TV crews to be present during the day. The anti-Trump protests in a park across the street from the event included silent vigils, marchers chanting, “Racist, fascist, anti-gay, Donald Trump, stay away!” and “Don’t give in to racist fear, refugees are welcome here.” The pro-Trump side countered from the sidewalk, “Build a wall!” and “USA! USA!”
As the door opened, the Burlington Free Press reported that the Trump campaign was “refusing to admit anyone who isn’t a Trump supporter,” saying that staff were asking people at the door if they were supporters. “If people answer anything but yes, they are turned away. Police officers are escorting people out of the building.”
Trump gave the paper a statement: “I’m taking care of my people, not people who don’t want to vote for me or are undecided. They are loyal to me, and I am loyal to them.” The local police chief told the Free Press they had no choice, because, “They [Trump] have the right to say who’s trespassing in violation of their lease agreement, so when people are asked to leave, police escort them out.”
That’s right, Trump rents the room and gets to censor anyone he doesn’t like. That attitude continued inside the event. After being interrupted more than half a dozen times, Trump started to lose patience. “Get him out of here. We need security to move faster…. Get him out of here,” he said, before launching into a digression about the way he has learned to handle critics.
“The first night when I had these characters, I said I don’t want anybody to get hurt,” he said, adding that he has since learned another approach. “I was wrong. I said get him out of here now… They were swinging… Rough guy, very loud… Next time, I said please remove them. My guys said don’t hurt them… But I got killed the next day. They said Trump was weak.”
Beyond the circus of the Trump campaign, there was bigger news from Vermont. In his final state-of-the-state speech, outgoing Vermont governor Peter Shumlin urged the state’s retirement system to divest from fossil fuel, called for marijuana to be legalized and for tuition to state colleges and universities to be more affordable.