RICHMOND — A half-full coliseum erupted into Indian war whoops as Donald Trump called a U.S. senator “Pocahontas” Friday at a rally here, where the mogul-candidate was back to his teleprompter-free ways.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee expressed tongue-in-cheek remorse for calling Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “Pocahontas,” a jab at her claim that she is of Native American descent.
“I”m doing such a disservice,” he said, “to Pocahontas.”
Warren, whose heritage claim was questioned in her run for Senate, has been an outspoken Trump critic and is often mentioned as a potential running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump made the remark in a free-wheeling, 55-minute speech, giving up the scripted version he tried out recently in a bid to look more conventionally “presidential.”
The crowd rewarded him with chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA! USA!”
The event drew about 6,000 fans to the 12,000-seat Richmond Coliseum. Trump noted that they had come together on about day’s notice. The rally also attracted about 200 protesters, whose clashes with Trump supporters outside led Richmond Police to detain five people, arresting one on a charge of disorderly conduct.
“No KKK, no fascist USA, no Trump,” the protesters chanted.
A confrontation broke out after a small group of Trump backers with “Wall” signs ventured into a crowd of protesters. Some started shoving and striking each other. Officers pulled at least two Trump backers over a barricade and led them away with their hands bound.
Inside and outside of the coliseum was evidence of the polarizing candidate’s unpredictable push and pull on voters in this key presidential swing state. Trump had drawn in some hard-core conservatives while repelling others. He had pushed an on-the-rebound Bernie Sanders voter over to Clinton. And he had turned a middle-aged guy with zero interest in politics into a passionate volunteer.
John Bloom, donning a Ted Cruz shirt and hat, found himself in the unusual position of protesting alongside people shouting to protect abortion rights and a bearded man wearing a sack and passing out flowers. He said a Clinton presidency would be better for the conservative movement, since he believes the billionaire businessman would cut deals with Democrats and sully the name of the conservatism.
“If Trump wins the election and Democrats control Congress, America loses,” said Bloom, a 54-year-old laid off ship worker from Newport News. “There won’t be any difference between him and Hillary.”
Yet Trump won a hearty on-stage endorsement from state Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun), one of the legislature’s most prominent Christian conservatives. Black, who made international headlines recently by meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, warned that Clinton would “stack the United States Supreme Court with Marxists.”
Allison Maurer, 23, was among the young Bernie Sanders voters coming to terms with the Vermont senator’s primary loss to Clinton. She calls the former Secretary of State “wishy washy” and unprincipled, but doesn’t want to help deliver Virginia to Trump.
“I will most likely vote for Hillary, though I’m cringing at the thought,” said Maurer, who held a sign outside the rally calling for an end to misogyny and ignorance. “There’s just no way in the world I would vote for Donald Trump. He’s going to regress this country.”
Yet Trump had managed to get Lee Coleman interested in politics for the first time in his life. At 48, the free-lance sports photographer and IT worker from the Richmond suburbs has voted in just one presidential election. In 2000, he cast his ballot for George W. Bush at the behest of his very Republican father.
“I was the last hanging chad,” he said.
When Trump got into the race, a new world opened up for Coleman.
“I used to watch a lot of ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’” he said. “I can’t wait to see who he fires first in the White House.”
Throughout his speech, Trump hit on familiar campaign promises, such as his vow to address illegal immigration by building a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico. Even the Pocahontas line is well worn.
But it was notable that Trump would revive the insult Friday — at the rally and earlier in the day on Twitter — because he was in the midst of a backlash over another racially charged comment, about the “Mexican” judge presiding over a fraud case against the defunct Trump University.
Trump has contended that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants, is biased against him because of the candidate’s hard line against illegal immigration. Many Republican leaders have expressed dismay over Trump’s comments, with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) calling them “the textbook definition of a racist comment.
Trump did not repeat his attacks on judge in his speech. He did say that as president, he would address African-American and Hispanic unemployment. He offered no details beyond plans to tweak his campaign slogan: “Make American Great Again — for Everyone.”
“I am the least racist person that you’ve ever seen,” he said. “I mean, give me a break.”