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CINCINNATI — President-elect Donald Trump isn’t quite done with the campaign. His first postelection event on Thursday featured a speech in which he delivered extensive riffs boasting about his performance in the election and airing old grievances.
Trump’s event was the kickoff for what his team is billing as a “Thank You” tour, and his aides are quick to correct anyone who refers to it as a victory lap. All the rallies are expected to take place in key states where Trump scored victories. He told his supporters at the U.S. Bank Arena that there were two reasons for these postelection events — to express his gratitude and unveil plans for his presidency. However, throughout the speech, he focused on replaying triumphs and feuds from his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“I’m here today for one main reason — to say thank you to Ohio. We won the state by almost 10 points!” Trump said. He added, “The second reason that I’m here today, I’m going to discuss our action plan to make America great again. We’re going to discuss it. Although we did have a lot of fun fighting Hillary, didn’t we?”
Even though Trump’s team has backed off his campaign promise to prosecute Clinton, this jab at her set off the chants of “Lock her up!” that were a staple of his campaign rallies.
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Trump’s speech was not only focused on election nostalgia. He rolled out a series of bold promises to revitalize the economy, “destroy” the jihadi group the Islamic State, and even announced a Cabinet pick, confirming that he had decided to offer Gen. Jim Mattis the position of defense secretary. But even in discussing his agenda, Trump steered his remarks back to the presidential race.
“People are constantly telling me and telling you to reduce our expectations. Those people are fools— are fools,” said Trump. “This campaign proved that the old rules no longer apply, that anything we want for our country is now possible.”
As he did at his campaign rallies, Trump also targeted the media — or as he put it, the “extremely dishonest press.” For about eight minutes, he railed against the pundits who predicted that his chances of winning the election were slim. As he spoke, the crowd rained boos down on the members of the media who were observing the event. Trump’s tirade also included shots at one of his lesser rivals, the relatively low-profile independent candidate Evan McMullin, who some pundits thought might take enough votes away from Trump in Utah to win the state’s electoral votes.
“As a Republican, I’m supposed to win the great state of Utah,” Trump said. “Remember when they said Donald Trump is going to lose to some guy I never even heard of? Who was that guy? He’s going to lose to this guy, but the people of Utah were amazing. … And by the way, Hillary came in second and that guy came in third.”
At one point during Trump’s nearly hourlong speech, a group of protesters attempted to unfurl a banner in the arena.
“They don’t know that Hillary lost a couple of weeks ago,” Trump said of the protesters. “You know, a lot of the people that protested, we said, ‘Did you vote?’ ‘No, I didn’t vote.’ They don’t vote. They never vote.”
Many of Trump’s supporters who were in attendance at the event were clearly eager to relive the campaign with him. Drew Powell, an Indiana resident who had driven for about an hour to attend the rally, was wearing a T-shirt proclaiming him a “Proud Member of the Basket of Deplorables.” This alluded to a comment Clinton made during the race in referring to certain Trump supporters. Powell said Clinton’s comments “insulted half the country.”
“I think it was a mistake, and if it helped us win, I’m happy to wear this shirt,” Powell told Yahoo News.
Powell also said that he isn’t necessarily bothered by indications that Trump might abandon his vow to prosecute Clinton, provided that Democrats end their participation in election recounts.
“I think that, if she lets off some of the recount stuff, then let’s try to heal the nation and not make a further divide,” Powell said of Clinton. “But if the Democrats push for recounts that are useless, then maybe that needs to be thought about again.”
Another man in the crowd was dressed as a cross between Trump and the Internet meme Pepe the Frog. He wore green face paint and a Trump-style wig and suit. Throughout his conversation with Yahoo News, the man refused to break character and would not give his real name. “Pepe the Frog” is a cartoon character that has been used in anti-Semitic and racist imagery embraced by many Trump supporters.
Asked about Pepe’s popularity among neo-Nazis, the costumed man argued that he didn’t “control” the character’s image. He also told Yahoo News that he had decided to attend the rally because of his animosity toward Clinton.
“I’m here because Hillary Clinton hates memes. She’s a meme-ist and she calls me deplorable,” the man said. “I don’t like people calling memes deplorable.”
Apparently, not all of Trump’s supporters were as eager to relive the campaign as their candidate. When Trump visited the arena in October, in the final weeks of the race, he packed the house. On Thursday, there were large numbers of empty seats, including the entire upper section of the venue. In his speech, Trump suggested that the rush-hour traffic problems his motorcade had caused might have affected attendance.
“I didn’t know that they close down the roads around the stadium for an hour and a half,” said Trump. “We’ve got to work out a new deal with our Secret Service, but we love them, right?”
Whatever the reason, the atmosphere was clearly different from the campaign rallies at which Trump was regularly able to brag about overflowing crowds. Just prior to the event, one of Trump’s staffers walked up to another and offered a sarcastic assessment of the audience.
“It’s packed,” she said, before twisting her face into an exaggerated grimace.