Donald Trump called the Republican national primary system “a rigged, disgusting, dirty system,” as he addressed a near-capacity crowd of supporters in Albany on Monday night.
Pointing to state party conventions that elected delegates who favor his opponents even in states he won, Trump furthered an assault against the prevailing wisdom that Republicans could withhold the nomination from him at a contested convention this summer.
Within moments of taking the stage at the Times Union Center in Albany, Trump dug harshly at his chief primary opponent Sen. Ted Cruz’s comments that Trump represented “New York values.”
“This character said with disdain and actually with hatred,” Trump said of comments the Texas senator made during the Iowa caucuses. “We have the greatest values, nobody has values like us and the country loves New York.”
The Republican frontrunner’s speech, which lasted around 50 minutes, touched on the major themes of his campaign: make better trade deals, reinvigorate American manufacturing, strengthen the military, and build a wall on the southern border with Mexico. He also said America was going to win at everything it does.
“We are going to win so much you may even get tired of winning, and you will say please, it’s too much winning, we can’t take it anymore,” Trump said as he drove his supporters to a fever pitch at the end of his speech.
But his supporters at the rally — pegged at just over 15,000 by Bob Belber, TU Center general manager — couldn’t get enough of the billionaire presidential candidate, who has turned the 2016 presidential race upside down.
A handful of protesters who, every few minutes, tried to disrupt the event were shouted down by supporters who chanted, “USA! USA!” and jeered as Trump security removed them from the arena. At one point, a small scuffle broke out and a punch was thrown before the Trump supporter and protesters were pulled away from one another.
After every disruption, however, Trump deftly steered the excitement of the crowd back to his central message that he would make America stronger, richer and more powerful than it ever has been.
How? He would work with the smartest people in the country to cut better deals. He would make countries like Germany, South Korea and Saudi Arabai reimburse America for its military support. He would repeal and replace Obamacare.
But the attacks went deeper than the policy proposals.
Trump didn’t spare Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton from harsh criticism either.
He said he didn’t think an FBI investigation into her use of a private email server would deal a devastating blow, because “Democrats are protecting her.” But he said she “does not have the judgment to be president.”
“You look at her decisions, they have been so bad and so wrong,” Trump said before attacking her character outright. “Her life has been a big fat, beautiful lie; everything about it has been a lie.”
Before Trump arrived, a pair of sophomores from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School — not old enough to vote in this year’s primary — waited patiently on the stadium floor for their favorite candidate. They said they liked that Trump “tells it like it is.”
“He speaks his mind, he says things that make sense,” Jake Russell said. “He’s not an average politician that says this, that and this and then elect me for president.”
After keeping a relatively low profile last week, Trump returned to the campaign trail in upstate New York, holding a rally in Rochester on Sunday night and in Albany on Monday.
The controversial candidate has dominated the race since he announced last June, but he hit a slew of setbacks this month. His campaign manager was cited for allegedly battering a female reporter, he angered activists on both sides of the abortion divide, and Cruz trounced him in the Wisconsin primary.
Trump’s Albany event came as the cap to a week full of presidential campaign action in the Capital Region. As the candidates in both parties turn their attention to New York for its April 19 primary, Trump hopes to bolster his delegate lead, staving off the threat of a contested Republican nominating convention.
Both of Trump’s opponents — Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — and the large “never-Trump” contingent of Republican strategists, donors and voters, however, are eyeing a contested convention this summer as the best chance to take Trump down.
In a handful of recent polls, Trump had a significant lead over his Republican primary opponents, scoring over 50 percent support in many of the polls.
Cruz stopped at Mekeel Christian Acadamy in Scotia last week, arguing that he was the only Republican alternative to Trump and had a better chance of winning a general election.
Kasich told a small group of reporters at the Capitol on Monday that he was “the person that can beat Hillary [Clinton]” in a general election. Kasich has yet to gain traction in primaries other than in his home state and he significantly trails Trump and Cruz in delegates.
For his part, Trump is trying carefully thread a needle in the coming months as he looks to win the nomination outright with a majority of the delegates heading into the July convention, or position himself to win on multiple ballots.