At nearby rally, Trump makes clear he doesn’t regret dodging debate
By Michael Gold
Former President Donald Trump was onstage at a rally in Hialeah, Florida, for nearly 25 minutes on Wednesday night before he mentioned the Republican debate that his rally was meant to overshadow.
He called the debate a waste of time. He denigrated his Republican opponents — who minutes earlier had been asked to explain why they would make more suitable presidents than him — as weak, ineffective and unwanted.
Then he paused and surveyed the crowd of thousands who packed into the soccer stadium where he was speaking. “So,” he asked them, “do you think we did the right thing by not participating?”
They affirmed him with a resounding cheer.
Trump’s event was staged about 30 minutes down the road from the debate, but it might as well have been a world away. For those gathered here, Trump’s position as his party’s standard-bearer was not in question.
“We want Trump, the MAGA-dor to kill the goddamn bull,” actress Roseanne Barr, who was one of several speakers at the rally, said from the stage.
Over the last several months, Trump has largely delivered speeches at smaller events or gatherings hosted by others. His campaign has billed many of those appearances as “remarks” rather than rallies, denoting smaller-scale events with less verve and production value.
The event on Wednesday was a kind of return to the full-scale political rallies that marked his first two campaigns.
Trump largely hewed to familiar themes, though he tailored his speech to the home crowd in Hialeah, a solidly Republican, working-class enclave outside Miami, where 94% of residents identify as Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Early in his speech, he compared President Joe Biden’s administration to “Communist Cuba,” noting the number of “great Cubans” in the audience.
He went on an extended riff that compared Biden’s America to Fidel Castro’s government, concluding by accusing Biden, who is Catholic, of persecuting Catholics.
The Republican National Committee debate was the third Trump has dodged. During the first, he took part in a livestreamed interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. During the second, he spoke at an auto parts factory in Michigan, the day after Biden had visited a picket line with striking autoworkers.
The Wednesday evening rally resembled a kind of Make America Great Again festival. Food trucks lined the periphery of the stadium. Vendors sold Trump look-alike rubber ducks and T-shirts with his campaign slogans.
And the former president made it clear that he did not regret skipping the debate, even as some of his primary opponents have accused him of lacking the gumption to exchange words with them onstage.
Trump referred to that criticism at one point during the rally.
“Well, listen, I’m standing in front of tens and thousands of people right now, and it’s on television,” Trump said. (His crowd estimate could not be confirmed.) “That’s a hell of a lot of harder to do than a debate.”