The tremendous, luxurious, incredible spectacle that was Donald Trump's primary eve appearance in Tampa

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click to enlarge The tremendous, luxurious, incredible spectacle that was Donald Trump's primary eve appearance in Tampa - Nick Cardello
Nick Cardello
The tremendous, luxurious, incredible spectacle that was Donald Trump's primary eve appearance in Tampa

There are days, and there are days.

The Monday before Florida's presidential primary was the latter.

Donald Trump was in town for a brief visit in the afternoon as part of a whirlwind tour of the Eastern Seaboard the day before several states weigh in on the presidential primary.

Trump faces three other dudes (Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich) and he is smashing them all in the polls. Thousands of supporters (and a bunch of protesters) came to see him speak and "answer" questions in a town hall style event at the Tampa Convention Center.

And boy, was it a show.

Where in the hell do we begin?

click to enlarge Dover's Yvette and George Wiemann arrived at the Tampa Convention Center around 6:30 a.m. for Trump's 2 p.m. rally. - kate bradshaw
kate bradshaw
Dover's Yvette and George Wiemann arrived at the Tampa Convention Center around 6:30 a.m. for Trump's 2 p.m. rally.
With Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's endorsement of Trump (she has previously been a Jeb Bush supporter, but he's no más)?

With the ejection of numerous protesters throughout the event?

With those surprise stump speeches from Sarah freakin' Palin and Chris freakin' Christie?

It's all too much, man.

Trump was scheduled to go on at 2 p.m., though he was over an hour late, just having flown from another event in North Carolina. 

The line for attendees to get in formed early, and by the time doors opened at 11 a.m. it was looooong.

click to enlarge Spring Hill resident and Trump supporter Peter Chianchiano. - kate bradshaw
kate bradshaw
Spring Hill resident and Trump supporter Peter Chianchiano.
Dressed in camo head-to-toe, Spring Hill resident Peter Chianchiano was holding a Trump sign attached to an American flag pole near the front of the line. The Vietnam veteran said one key reason he supports Trump is his hardline position on illegal immigration.

“We have severe problems in the country with murders and rapes, which is the truth," he said. "I lived in Los Angeles and I used to campaign out there for the American flag, and these people would drive by and point guns at me. In our own country. It kind of woke me up.”

There was also a decent number of protesters.

Earlier in the day a group protested Trump's immigration policy positions, among other things, near the convention center.

Protesters also set up a piñata made in Trump's likeness, which was filled with Dum-Dum lollipops.

The crowd filed in shortly thereafter; the venue could only fit around a thousand people, so hundreds (if not thousands) of people had to be turned away.

As they filed in, a revised rally playlist eschewed Trump's former extensive list of Elton John tunes in favor of Billy Joel, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Johnny Cash and the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack" wafted throughout the room.

Near the front row off to stage left, Dunnellon resident Velvet Lenier sat with family members eagerly anticipating Trump's arrival. She said she admires the man for his  "courage," "strength" and "love for America."

click to enlarge Tim Heberlein of "Organize Now" helps lead protester from the site of the proposed Trump Towers to the Tampa Convention Center. - kate bradshaw
kate bradshaw
Tim Heberlein of "Organize Now" helps lead protester from the site of the proposed Trump Towers to the Tampa Convention Center.
"He speaks for Americans and what he's going to do to get America back where it needs to be. [It's] where it should have never, ever got," she said. "I love his disposition as a husband, a father, a businessman, and an incredible love of America. I'd stand out there 24 hours if I had to.”

Closer to center stage, Muriel Giorgi waited with her grandson, who drove her to the event all the way from Merritt Island.

“I like everything about that man," she said. "I like what he stands for, what he says, I believe everything that he says. ...To me he hasn't changed that much. He's always been forward, he says what's on his mind, and I like that about a person. None of this mamby-pamby politics. It's baloney.”

Working in Trump's famed slogan, "Make America Great Again," she said a spate of issues concerned her, immigration chief among them.

click to enlarge Dunnellon resident Velvet Lenier. - Kate BRadshaw
Kate BRadshaw
Dunnellon resident Velvet Lenier.
“I don't want any more in here. We have enough. We're paying too much now. We still have welfare and health service and everything else. Plus, with ISIS those people that came in. Not all Muslims are bad. I'm not saying that," she said. "It's like we have no morals, principles. They don't speak up for the right thing anymore. They have to make someone miserable. I don't know why that is today, but it seems like the morals is going down the toilet. And Trump stands for that, can make America great again. And I don't care what they say, this country is going in the toilet if they keep going the way they're going. And I know Trump, he would get us financially out of the hole, along with Social Security and everything else. And jobs.”
click to enlarge Activist Kelly Benjamin holds a Dum-Dum-filled piñata of Donald Trump as people come up to "disengage" it. - kate bradshaw
kate bradshaw
Activist Kelly Benjamin holds a Dum-Dum-filled piñata of Donald Trump as people come up to "disengage" it.
Serving as something of an emcee was Joe Gruters, Vice Chair of RPOF, Chairman of Florida Trump campaign, who told the crowd Florida's primary would be a "death nail" for Rubio's campaign (given that this is his home state and he's not polling very well).

Then came Marine Kat Gates-Skipper, who is known for shattering gender barriers in the military (when she mentioned how the military used to be segregated by gender, a couple of people clapped). She encouraged the crowd to go to the polls tomorrow if they hadn't already.

“It's actually faster than going to the drive-thru at McDonald's,” she said.

The show came alive moments later when Gruters (who had alluded to a "special guest" possibly taking the stage) announced the next speaker: none other than former Alaska Governor and vice-presidential contender Sarah Palin, a Tea Party firebrand.

It was a total surprise; few, if anyone, knew she would be there.

She noted her husband, Todd, is currently in the hospital.

“Thank you guys for your prayers for my husband, who is recovering right now in ICU after a little wreck on a snow machine,” Palin said.

click to enlarge Surprise guest Sarah Palin touts Trump in Tampa. - Nick Cardello
Nick Cardello
Surprise guest Sarah Palin touts Trump in Tampa.
She criticized protesters who have taken to interrupting Trump events with messages of equality and social justice.

"What we don't have time for is all that petty, punk-ass little thuggery stuff that's happening," she said.

She introduced former Trump rival (and New Jersey Governor) Chris Christie, who endorsed Trump last month. Christie praised Florida Governor Rick Scott, who has yet to endorse in the primary (though he has publicly praised Trump). He, too, urged the audience to go to the polls Tuesday.

click to enlarge N.J. Gov. Chris Christie on the stump for Trump. - Nick Cardello
Nick Cardello
N.J. Gov. Chris Christie on the stump for Trump.
"I love the way the polls look. It's great to see our guy on top, but nobody can take anything for granted," he said.

Christie said the party needs Trump in order to take the White House in November.

"There's only one person left in the Republican race who can beat Hillary Clinton, and that person is Donald Trump," he said.

He introduced Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who made public her endorsement of Trump.

“As attorney general I look around this country and this world and it frightens me right now," she said. "And it should frighten all of us. And we care about protection and security of our nation. And we, right now, more than ever, we need to change the world. We need leadership.”

click to enlarge Florida Attorney General announces her support of Trump. - Nick Cardello
Nick Cardello
Florida Attorney General announces her support of Trump.
Like many other Florida Republicans Bondi had previously endorsed Bush, who hasn't been in the race for weeks (and in so many ways is a stark contrast to Trump; wonder what's going on here).

When he finally took the stage, Trump spent the bulk of his time stumping. The event had been billed as a town hall meeting, but he only took a handful of questions from supporters.

He had harsh words for all of his opponents, and talked about how the enthusiasm over his candidacy was changing the party.

“The biggest story in all of politics worldwide today is what's happening in the Republican party," he said. “I've never seen crowds like this. Like, ten blocks long.”

While he didn't have too much to say about his potential Democratic rivals, he had plenty to say about Rubio, Cruz and Kasich.

“I'm not going to say 'little Marco. I refuse to say it. I refuse to say little Marco,'” he said, adding that Rubio "defrauded" Floridians by rarely showing up to vote.

“When you get elected Senator from any place, whether it's Florida or anywhere else, you have to go and vote,” he said.

He referred to his "big, powerful hand,” a shot at Rubio, who weeks ago implied Trump has a small package because of the size of his hands.

Then came Cruz's turn.

“And Lyin' Ted. Lyin' Ted,” he said.

As for Kasich, who may win Ohio on Tuesday, he said the governor was vicious until Trump went after him during one of the first Republican debates.

“I hit him so hard that he never came back at me again,” he said, presumably talking to Palin. “Since then, Sarah, he's been a nice person.”

As for policies, the stump was a smorgasbord.that seemed to bounce among trade (we pity the person involved in a drinking game in which one has to take a shot every time he said "China"), Common Core (which Trump opposes) and immigration (he still wants to make Mexico pay for that border wall).

Perhaps breaking from his supporters some, he said he would impose a 35 percent tax on companies that send jobs overseas.

“Number one, they're not going to leave," he said. "Number two, they're going to pay a hell of a tax."

click to enlarge Activist/organizer Kelly Benjamin being removed from the rally for calling Donald Trump "a fascist." - Kate Bradshaw
Kate Bradshaw
Activist/organizer Kelly Benjamin being removed from the rally for calling Donald Trump "a fascist."
The room at times, especially in the beginning, had a palpable tension, given that activists were seen milling about ahead of his speech. 

Chants erupted a handful of times, mostly toward the beginning of Trump's speech. Each time it happened, media and audience members seemed to brace themselves for a possible altercation, which never happened.

The last protester to be removed was well-known local progressive firebrand and writer Kelly Benjamin, who called Trump "a fascist" before officers removed him.

As for the "town hall" portion of the event, Trump responded to a few questions on the Mexican border wall (“Mexico is the new China, smaller version, okay?”), the Second Amendment  (“In terms of second amendment you're going to be so protected like you've never been protected before”) and the race itself (“If we win Florida and we win Ohio, pretty much everyone agrees it's over”).

Perhaps the most interesting response to a question had to do with business tax; a small business owner asked him how he would help Congress pass bills that would better ease tax woes on small businesses.

"We're the highest-taxed nation in the world," he said (which is definitely not true). "Our businesses are horribly taxed. And that's why Pfizer...is leaving for Ireland. In all fairness to Mexico and China and all these other places I talk about, we're the highest taxed in the world. So I've put in a tax plan where businesses are going to be taxed a much lower rate. Where individuals are going to be taxed at a much lower rate."

click to enlarge The tremendous, luxurious, incredible spectacle that was Donald Trump's primary eve appearance in Tampa - Nick Cardello
Nick Cardello
The tremendous, luxurious, incredible spectacle that was Donald Trump's primary eve appearance in Tampa
He referred the questioner to the campaign's official website for the details of that plan before thanking the crowd and stepping off the stage to glad-hand with throngs of fans and presumably then board his plane to Ohio or wherever (which he very well may lose to Kasich).

In Florida, polls show Trump as the unequivocal winner tomorrow, though politicos — even Christie, for Chrissake — are aware polls are not exactly a divination.

Polling places throughout the state are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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