Marco Rubio may have the backing of S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, but Donald Trump kicked off his most recent Myrtle Beach rally with an endorsement from the state’s second in command.
Lt. Gov Henry McMaster, speaking to a crowd of about 12,000 Friday afternoon, said the nation is “living in dangerous times.”
“We need a man who speaks the truth, a man who says what he means, and says it in a voice that everybody can understand,” McMaster said.
These people are not going to get you to the promised land; they’re politicians. Every single person on stage with me, they’re all controlled by industries, by companies, by lobbies or special interests.
Donald Trump, referencing his opponents
For McMaster, that universal voice is the New York businessman topping the polls in South Carolina. Trump’s love affair with the Grand Strand began in January 2015 when he gave the keynote address to the S.C. Tea Party Convention in Myrtle Beach.
Since then, Trump has made his was down the coast several times. He spoke for about an hour at the Myrtle Beach Sports Center, then made his way to Pawleys Island for a town hall at 3 p.m.
“It’s a movement, we have a movement going on,” Trump said. “We have to go out tomorrow, we all have to go out and vote.”
People lined up hours before doors opened, and officials began trickling people in at 10 a.m. Bob Bonneville, a snowbird from Pennsylvania, made sure to get to the sports complex early so he could grab a seat. Bonneville said he’s previously seen Jeb Bush in person, but Trump’s rally was unlike anything he’s ever seen.
‘It’s quite different. But it’s a good way to get informed, so that when we get back home we’ll know who to vote for,” Bonneville said.
Bonneville and his wife have been in Myrtle Beach for three weeks – “ground zero for all the political stuff,” he said – and hasn’t missed any of the buzz surrounding Trump’s campaign. He’s confident that the frontrunner can sustain his lead with the help of the South.
“He’s got something about him,” he said.
South Carolina’s Republican primary is Saturday, Feb. 20.
Trump spoke for about 20 minutes at his Pawleys Island address to a packed Pawleys Plantation Clubhouse. He answered a handful of questions ranging from college affordability, personal property rights and the future of the coal industry.
Unlike the Myrtle Beach event, which drew several thousand people, Trump’s Pawleys Island rally was much more intimate. Trump still hit on all his major points – health insurance, job creation and his opposing candidates – but was able to interject a more personal vibe.
He stuck around to sign autographs, take selfies and shake hands after both events, which helped seal the deal for Elhamy Ibrahim.
Ibrahim, a Muslim and Myrtle Beach resident, made it to the front row after Trump’s first event. Ibrahim told Trump he was a Muslim supporter, to which Trump excitedly took several pictures.
“He speaks from the heart, and we need someone like that for president,” Ibrahim said.
Earlier this week Gov. Haley endorsed Marco Rubio for president, adding to Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Tom Rice’s approvals. Trump didn’t sound worried about his chances in South Carolina, especially with the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Part of me likes what [Trump] says, and part of me can’t see him as president. I’ve got to get over one of those feelings.
Bob Bonneville, who attended Trump’s Myrtle Beach rally
The additional endorsement from Sheriff Joe Arpario, of Arizona, improves his chances as well, Trump said.
“And when you have Sheriff’s Joe endorsement, you know you’re the toughest on the border,” Trump said.
Trump’s hour-long speech touched on the usual issues of immigration, military strength and repealing and replacing Obamacare. Most of his points circled back to creating jobs and, per his slogan, “making American great again.”
“America needs a businessman,” said Carolyn McClientick, of Murrells Inlet.
McClientick has been a Trump fan for decades. She’s attended two of his rallies decked in a blinking stovetop hat, red scarf and plenty of Trump buttons.
“I told my husband 30 years ago that Trump should run for president, and here we are,” she said.
You see how I’ve cleaned up my act? I don’t use bad language anymore.
McClientick doesn’t think Haley’s endorsement of Rubio will hurt Trump’s chances. She was surprised the governor endorsed Rubio – who was scheduled to visit Pawelys Island Friday morning but had plane trouble – but didn’t think it would matter much in the end.
“I know so many people that don’t like [Haley] anyway,” McClientick said.
One protestor was escorted out of the rally about halfway through Trump’s speech. Trump’s supporters cheered and chanted throughout the disruption, and the candidate jumped right back into his speech.
Trump wrapped up his stump by vetting himself as the best candidate to create jobs, improve healthcare and “build a wall around Mexico.”
“We’re no longer going to be the stupid people, folks,” he said. “We’re going to be smart, and we’re going to win.”
Claire Byun: 843-626-0381, @Claire_TSN