President-elect Donald Trump delivered an encore performance Tuesday night of the raucous rallies he brought to North Carolina during the 2016 campaign season.
The Fayetteville rally marked his first trip to North Carolina since his victory and the second stop on his tour of states he won in the general election that secured his presidential victory — dubbed the “USA Thank You Tour.”
Trump thanked the thousands in attendance at the Crown Coliseum for their support.
“You went out and pounded the pavement,” Trump said. “You organized your fellow citizens and propelled to victory a grassroots movement the likes of which nobody, nobody, has ever seen before.”
Though Trump bragged about his victories in North Carolina as well as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, he spent much of his speech highlighting his commitment to strengthening the economy and military.
“The military families in North Carolina are a national treasure, and it will be the duty of my administration to ensure that we protect those who protect us,” Trump said.
Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s choice for defense secretary, joined Trump on stage for the rally near Fort Bragg, the nation’s largest military base.
Mattis thanked Trump for the opportunity to serve, and Trump put pressure on Congress to approve his nomination.
“If he didn’t get that waiver, there’d be a lot of angry people,” Trump said. “Such a popular choice.”
Drew Spaulding, 21, who is stationed at Fort Bragg, said he liked Trump’s picks for his cabinet so far, especially Mattis.
“I like what he’s doing with the military. I think he’s going to keep our troops safer,” Spaulding said.
Trump, the Republican real estate mogul and first-time candidate who was widely considered an underdog in the race, was active on the campaign trail in North Carolina. While Democrat Hillary Clinton largely spoke to crowds in the state’s largest cities, Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro, Trump traveled throughout the state. In September, he even campaigned in Kenansville, a town with fewer than 1,000 people. He visited Fayetteville two previous times, once in March and once in August.
North Carolina was considered a must-win battleground state for Trump. No Republican has won the presidency without North Carolina since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. In the end, Trump won the state by 173,000 votes, more than 3.6 percent of votes cast in the race.
Trump’s transition planning process has included numerous meetings in New York with potential advisors and job candidates. He is due to meet Wednesday with N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, who lost his bid for re-election.
In an interview with the News & Observer over the summer, Trump spoke favorably of McCrory and said there could be a potential spot for him.
“Certainly, it would be something I’d consider,” Trump said in the July interview.
Governor-elect Roy Cooper held a victory rally of his own Tuesday evening in Raleigh.
But in Fayetteville, Trump supporters had another chance to celebrate the biggest Republican victory of an election night that also returned Richard Burr to the U.S. Senate and maintained GOP supermajorities in both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly.
Robert Galloway, 40, said he was happy with what he has seen so far in terms of Trump’s Cabinet choices, including the former Republican primary-election rival he chose for secretary of housing and urban development.
“Ben Carson — I’m really happy about that,” said Galloway, a former North Carolina resident now living in the San Francisco Bay Area. “It’s so early in the transition that there are so many rumors, but from what I’ve heard confirmed, I’m optimistic.”
Not all attendees were as enthusiastic about Trump, though. Pembroke resident Carson Mounce, 20, voted for Clinton but decided to come so he could see the next U.S. president.
“Honestly, I didn’t even vote for Mr. Trump,” Mounce said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see a president.”
Susan Hooks, of Whiteville, came with her three children, Dakota, 11, Emma, 13, and Logan, 15. She said it was the second Trump rally the family had attended together.
Hooks, a pharmaceutical representative, said she supported Trump because of his economic positions and determination to bring jobs back to the United States.
“I’m glad Hillary didn’t win because she was going to crush my industry,” Hooks added.
She also said she believes Trump is more mature than Obama.
“Trump has so much more life experience and business experience,” she said. “That means a lot when you’re facing world leaders and decisions that affect the entire country.”
Robert Brake, 56 and raised in Fayetteville, made a 3-1/2-hour drive from Virginia to see Trump. He said Trump would be a champion for the working class and help lower taxes for the middle class.
Trump made several appeals to middle-class workers, saying they would receive tax breaks bigger than under Republican President Ronald Reagan.
Trump returned to a campaign theme of being an outsider able to shake up traditional politics.
“To accomplish our goals, we must reject the failed approaches of the past,” Trump said. “We must move past the tired, conventional thinking of Washington, D.C.”
‘Peace through strength’
Trump emphasized his “America first” agenda, promising to end military interventions that do not directly benefit the national interest.
“We build up our military not as an act of aggression but as an act of prevention,” Trump said. “We pursue and build up arms not in order to seek conflict, but in order to avoid conflict. We want to be strong. In short, we seek peace through strength.”
He added that in order to complete his goal of strengthening the military, he will ask Congress to eliminate the defense cuts known as the sequester in his first budget report to the House.
Trump also seemed to make an implicit reference to the rise of populism in Europe, which was bolstered Sunday when voters in Italy rejected the government's referendum.
“We face many, many challenges, but this is truly an exciting time to be alive in our country, and hopefully to be alive in many other locations because we are representative to a large extent of what’s happening in the world,” Trump said.
Uncharacteristically, he also included a line about the uncertainty of the future, declaring that “the script to what we're doing is not yet written.”
He quickly pivoted to more familiar territory: the news media, which the crowd vigorously booed. His comments on the media were less critical than usual.
“Hopefully, they’re going to write the truth,” Trump said. “We do not know what the page tomorrow will read, but for the first time in a long time, what we do know is that the pages will be authored by each and every one in this room and in our country.”