Republican Party activists from all over North Carolina headed to Greenville over the weekend for the N.C. GOP’s annual convention, where former President Donald Trump spoke Saturday night.
It’s only the second public appearance for Trump since he left the White House in January, after losing the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump took the stage at 8 p.m., praising North Carolina Republicans and those who had gathered for the convention.
“I love you too,” he said to the crowd as he received applause and cheers from the audience.
The former president began by attacking the Biden administration, stating that it was pushing “toxic critical race theory and illegal discrimination into our schools.”
Critical race theory has been a target for North Carolina state lawmakers in recent months, with House Republicans advancing a bill last month that would place additional restrictions on what public schools can teach students about race and history.
“Republicans at every level should move immediately to ban critical race theory in our schools,” he said. “And we should ban it in workplaces, we should ban it in our states, and we should ban it in the federal government.”
His comments on critical race theory received a standing ovation from those in the audience — one of only three subjects of the night to receive such praise, alongside his recognition of Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and his suggestions that the U.S. take a tougher approach in its relationship to China.
Trump pointed to immigration policy as another failure of the Biden administration, and stressed the need for Republicans to win back House and Senate seats in the 2022 midterm elections.
Trump went on to again tease a potential 2024 presidential run, saying he looks forward to the year.
“I stand before you today, confident that the people of North Carolina will decisively reject Joe Biden,” he said.
Trump endorses Budd, attacks Democrats in Congress
Alluding to the upcoming Senate race, Trump invited his daughter-in-law Lara Trump to the stage. A North Carolina native, Republicans in the state have been waiting to see if she would announce a campaign for retiring Sen. Richard Burr’s seat.
But she said Saturday she would not run in 2022.
“I’m saying no for now, not no forever,” Lara Trump said, citing the difficulties of raising her young children and an inability to commit fully to the race.
The former president went on to endorse U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, one of five Republicans in the running for the seat.
“You can’t pick people who have already lost two races,” Trump added in an apparent jab at former Gov. Pat McCrory, who is also running for the Republican nomination.
Among the other targets of Trump’s speech were U.S. House Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.
Though he mentioned multiple members of Congress in his speech, Trump slowed down and added emphasis when pronouncing the names of Tlaib and Omar, both of whom have been frequent subjects of the former president’s attacks.
“She comes from a country that’s done a wonderful job running their country,” he said with sarcasm, referring to Omar, an American citizen who came to the U.S. from Somalia as a child. “Now she’s telling us how to run our country.”
Trump received criticism in 2019 after supporters at a campaign rally in Greenville chanted “send her back” with reference to the Minnesota congresswoman.
The chants followed a string of comments from the former president that critics denounced as racist, with Trump accusing the congresswomen of hating America and suggesting they leave.
GOP gather ahead of Trump’s speech
Several hours before Trump was scheduled to speak, hundreds of GOP faithful attending the convention had begun lining up outside the Greenville Convention Center while on a nearby street corner, a crowd gathered to wave Trump flags and hoist signs about the election being illegitimate.
Outside the convention center, someone had prominently parked a brand new Chevrolet Corvette, emblazoned with a “G.I. Joe”-themed paint job and the words “Trump: A real American hero.”
On the sidewalks leading in, vendors hawked “Don’t Tread On Me” shirts and stickers with phrases like “Trump 2024: Take America Back.” Another sticker used a derogatory name to refer to Vice President Kamala Harris.
On Friday night the party tapped several politicians including Robinson and U.S. Rep Madison Cawthorn — both political newcomers and conservative hardliners popular with the religious right — to give speeches on the future of the party here.
According to The East Carolinian, ECU’s student paper which covered those speeches, they focused heavily on social issues like abortion, “drag queens,” and concerns that schools might become too political when teaching students about America’s history of racism.
Robinson disparaged the idea that women who are victims of rape or incest should be allowed to have an abortion, invoking Darwinism and the theory of natural selection, The East Carolinian reported. Cawthorn said the U.S. Department of Education should be abolished, citing concerns about schools possibly teaching “critical race theory.”
Then on Saturday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem delivered a lunchtime speech in which she praised Trump, criticized Biden and spoke about her actions during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The first time you heard my name was because the liberals were busy kicking me in the head for all the decisions I was making in South Dakota,” Noem said. “… But I want you to know something. My people are happy. And they’re happy because they’re free.”
South Dakota under Gov. Kristi Noem
Noem’s state experienced one of the deadliest coronavirus outbreaks in the country after she closely followed the anti-mask, anti-shutdown politics that Trump advocated while president. Her approach won her accolades from conservative media, and she is widely considered to be running for president in 2024. On Saturday she did not mention her state’s high death rate but instead focused on South Dakota’s economic indicators, many of which she said are much better than the national average.
“In South Dakota we never once closed a business the entire time,” she said, to a round of applause.
They currently have the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, Noem said, and saw fewer business closures and fewer lost wages than any other state.
South Dakota also has the third-highest COVID-19 infection rate in the country, which Noem did not mention. And for a time South Dakota had such a high death rate that, NBC reported, it was the highest anywhere on the globe.
But the real estate market in South Dakota is booming, she said, and for a while it was hard to rent a car there because, she said, so many people were visiting since they knew businesses weren’t shut down.
In addition to attacking Democratic politicians like Biden and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, Noem also had harsh words for Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top medical advisor for both Trump and Biden who has become the public face of the country’s COVID-19 fight.
She then ended her speech by saying people need to be nicer and more willing to listen to people who might disagree with them.
“This country is addicted to being offended,” Noem said. “We love to be offended, don’t we? By everything everybody says. ‘Oh my gosh, we can’t believe they said that, that’s terrible.’ You know, get over yourselves. You just need to get over yourselves.”
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