Donald Trump has officially launched his bid for re-election in 2020, promising a packed stadium in Orlando that he will stand up to a Washington political establishment he said had still not come to heel after two years of his presidency.
During a wide ranging speech in the key swing state, the president took something of a victory lap, praising the work he said his administration had accomplished over the past two years, and built up the case for his re-election over the Democrats vying to take him on next year.
Although he praised his administration’s work — on issues including taxes, stacking the American judiciary, and securing the border — Mr Trump warned supporters the Washington establishment still needed a wake up call.
“The only thing these politicians will understand is an earthquake at the ballot box,” Mr Trump said during a speech in which he bemoaned his treatment in the news media, and claimed Democrats have refused at all costs to work with him
He continued: “We did it once, we’re going to do it again, and this time we’re going to finish the job.”
Mr Trump’s Florida re-election rally comes just a week before Democrats are set to hold their first round of debates in the same state, with 20 candidates taking the stage in Miami hoping to stand out as a leader to take on the Republican who has shaken American politics.
With more than 500 days until the 2020 election day, and more than seven months before the first votes will be cast for the man or woman who will take on Mr Trump, the president wasted no time in attacking the front-runners in that race.
He said that Joe Biden — who is leading Mr Trump by double-digits in some polls — was out of touch with the American people, and placed on him the nickname “One Per Cent Joe”. The name, an apparent reference to the top owners of wealth in the United States who have been attacked for helping erode the middle class, came as Mr Biden attended a fundraiser at the home of an investment firm CEO in New York.
Mr Trump also attacked Bernie Sanders — who also leads Mr Trump in many polls — saying the Vermont senator’s democratic socialist vision had no place in the US. “America will never be a socialist country,” he said, to raucous applause in Orlando’s Amway Centre.
“I just had the extremely unpleasant experience of actually watching Donald Trump for a hour and a half ... That was certainly something,” Mr Sanders said during a planned live-response to the president, which ran online after Mr Trump left the stage in Florida.
For all the accomplishments Mr Trump listed off during his event in Florida, the president faces some bleak numbers as he embarks on the campaign trail. According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, his job approval rating comes in at just 40 per cent, compared to 57 per cent who disapprove.
And, the reception he received in central Florida was not as positive as the thundering crowd inside the stadium, signalling a potential challenge ahead for Mr Trump. For instance, the Orlando Sentinel — a newspaper that generally endorses Republican presidential candidates — greeted the president’s arrival with the headline: “Our endorsement for president in 2020: Not Donald Trump.”
And, just blocks away from the arena where the president spoke, at the Stonewall Bar, a counter-protest with drag queens, a mariachi band, and the giant inflatable Trump baby balloon served to highlight the types of issues that Mr Trump’s detractors are concerned with, from gay rights and immigrant rights, to his general temperament.
“Basically everything that Donald Trump hates, we’re going to have on stage,” Ida Eskamani, the organiser of the event, the Win With Love Rally, said.
But, in spite of those welcomes, the president’s reelection campaign was anything but a dud, and the dedication of his supporters served to prove that.
Some dozens of supporters lined up to get into the event overnight, while thousands more took to the streets in the scorching hot sun — and, briefly, during a thunderstorm — hoping to get a chance to support Mr Trump in the rally. Dozens of vendors set up with all sorts of Trump gear, including pins, flags, and other options.
They packed into the 20,000-capacity arena, filling up most of the seats aside from the nosebleeds high up above the president.
“I’m a big time supporter,” Mike Pandolph, a 27-year-old teacher, said. “He fulfils his promises. The tax break, the taxes. He’s supportive of law enforcement.”
During Mr Trump’s rally, the president illustrated his penchant for the dramatic, and his ability to energise a crowd — and made contrast to the campaign he made in 2015 in Trump Tower Manhattan, where his campaign pulled in tourists off the street to fill a lobby as he announced his bid.
He asked the Orlando crowd a simple question: Should his 2020 campaign rally be “Make America Great Again”, as he’d used in 2016, or should he change it to “Keep America Great”.
He took a poll of the nearly 20,000-strong crowd.
“Make America Great Again?” Mr Trump asked, sending the crowd into thunderous applause.
Next up: “Keep America Great.”
The crowd continued that applause, and stamped their feet in approval. He had a winner.