SAN PEDRO, California — Business mogul Donald Trump, the unexpected and sustained frontrunner in the GOP presidential field, continued to defy the laws of political gravity Tuesday night, delivering an address in Southern California billed as a major national security speech that was light on details but nonetheless thrilled hundreds of ardent supporters.
Speaking aboard the regal USS Iowa, a decommissioned battleship, and framed by the sun setting on the Port of Los Angeles, the closest Trump came to policy specifics in his 12-minute speech was proposing an alternate private health care system for veterans in light of the scandals beleaguering the Department of Veterans Affairs
“We’re going to take this system apart and if they’re not doing their jobs, the veterans are going to go to private doctors, private hospitals and we’re going to reimburse those doctors and those hospitals and you’re going to get the greatest service of any veteran in any country because you deserve it,” Trump said.
The real estate tycoon also interjected one of his favored topics — illegal immigration — into the same subject.
“Right now and you know it, we have illegal immigrants that are treated better by far than our veterans,” Trump said, reiterating his promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that would be paid for by the Mexican government.
But Trump vowed that the “silent majority” of fed-up Americans was back and ready to right the state of affairs in the country.
“They’re disgusted when a woman who’s nine months pregnant walks across the border and has a baby, and you have to take care of that baby for the next 85 years,” Trump said. “This is a movement, believe me, and we are going to make our country great again.”
Trump also promised to exert his will on other world leaders in foreign affairs and expand the American military.
“I make good deals, it’s a talent,” Trump said. “I’m fighting some very nice people — even though I’m leading in the polls — but they’re never going to do anything with these countries. It’s an instinct, it’s something that’s special, and they don’t have it.”
The event frequently took on an us vs. them feel, as scores of protestors, largely there to express frustration with Trump’s rhetoric on immigration, gathered outside the ship and attempted to drown out his speech with cries of “Si se Puede” and “He’s a racist.”
Trump supporters responded in kind, chanting at times “Build a wall.”
Trump began his campaign in June by saying Mexico is sending its criminals and rapists to the U.S. The comment sparked outrage from Hispanic civil rights groups and others.
Ernie Sigala, 60, a rally attendee from East Los Angeles, said he admired Trump’s willingness to speak the unvarnished truth whether or not it fit in with political conventions.
“He didn’t hesitate, he didn’t sugar coat it, and if it hurts someone’s feelings, it’s only the truth,” he said.
Of the protestors, Sigala added: “Maybe they’re people who are used to getting a free lunch. It’s a shame that everyone has gotten so used to getting free stuff from the government.”
But it was exactly that stereotype of government-dependent immigrants that 52-year-old Trump protestor Alicia Rivera, an immigrant herself, came to combat.
“It’s not good for someone who wants to be the president of the United States to be spreading hysteria and hate against immigrants,” she said, carrying a sign reading, “No human being is illegal.”
Rivera noted too that she believed Trump was pitting veterans against immigrants for his own political gain.
“I am in favor of veterans getting everything that they deserve,” she said. “But it’s not true that immigrants get better services — it’s just another way to say hateful things about us.”