By Dale Liesch and Gabriel Tynes
President-elect Donald Trump returned to Mobile Saturday, victorious after a campaign that springboarded to success following his first speech in the city in August 2015.
“This is where it all began,” he told an enthusiastic crowd at a half-full Ladd-Peebles Stadium on an overcast day on the last appearance of his brief “thank you” tour. “I said I’m coming back to see you in Alabama, and this is our last rally, our last stop, and I just want to thank the people of Alabama,” Trump said. “We’re thanking the people of Alabama and we’re thanking the people of the South because, boy, did we do well in the South … You propelled a victory — a grassroots movement the likes of which the world, frankly, has never seen before.”
Trump won every Southern state with the exception of Virginia in November’s general election, and 54 of Alabama’s 67 counties, with the exception of Jefferson County and the Black Belt.
But Trump’s ties to Alabama are deeper, as Sen. Jeff Sessions has been nominated as Trump’s attorney general. Sessions was the first member of the Senate to endorse Trump in the campaign — particularly touting his tough language on immigration — but he has been relatively quiet since his nomination.
Sessions spoke briefly about his and the state’s support of Trump, recalling the speech at Ladd 16 months earlier.
“It was an eye-opening event for the entire world and certainly the United States political establishment and I don’t think there is any doubt Mobile played an historic role in the momentum that built, there’s just no doubt about it. I think people began to see this was more than a normal campaign, but a movement … ,” Sessions said.
“Thank you all for the honor you’ve given me, the opportunity to perhaps have a different role in my life. If that was to occur I would give my honest and best effort every day to make you proud and the American people proud, to serve everybody with equality and justice.”
Sessions then addressed Trump. “But I want to tell you, this country needs hope, they believe that you have the ability to lead us in a new way. I think they are encouraged by the new and fresh cabinet you’re assembling, putting people in there that have courage and dedication.”
Before Trump’s arrival, a cavalcade of well-known state and national conservatives lined up to take the stage and introduce the nation’s next president. The message was consistent; many of the speakers said they believed Trump was ordained by God to run for and then be chosen as president. The Rev. Franklin Graham was one.
“Since the election there has been a lot of discussion about how he won,” Graham said. “I don’t have a stack of emails to read to you, I have an opinion. I think it was God.”
Graham added that God “answered the prayers of many in the country” with Trump’s election victory.
State Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, also invoked God in his introduction of Trump.
“I believe he’s ordained by the Lord to be here,” Moore said. “I really believe that.”
Others, like the campaign’s Alabama co-chairman Perry Hooper, spoke more about the journey to the presidency. For instance, Hooper mentioned Trump’s first Mobile rally, where his campaign seemingly got a shot in the arm.
“You started the Trump movement, Mobile, Alabama,” he said. “Jeff Sessions was on this stage with you. He’s the best senator … and soon to be the the best attorney general ever.”
Hooper, who has announced his own campaign to replace Sessions in the Senate, took the opportunity to speak vaguely on what he believes will be aspects of Trump administration policy.
“President Trump and Attorney General Sessions will restore law and order in America,” he said. “[Trump] believes in a strong military and peace through strength. He’ll stand up for the military and first responders.”
Hooper added that Trump would cut waste, taxes and regulations to help bring jobs back to the state.
With more on policy, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said he’d spent his time in office trying “to find some way to sue the Obama administration.” He said under Trump that effort could come to an end.
“We’ll now go on offense,” Strange said. “We’ll work with [Sessions] to make sure laws will be enforced.”
Hooper and other speakers also touched on the issue of immigration law, which was an important topic for what seemed like most in attendance.
“He will secure our borders and build the wall,” Hooper said to the delight of the crowd. “And who’s going to pay for it?”
At that point the crowd yelled “Mexico.”
Strange, another candidate to replace Sessions in the Senate, also mentioned illegal immigration.
“Our immigration laws will be enforced,” Strange said. “There will be no more sanctuary cities. There will be no more following only the laws we want to follow.”
Illegal immigration was one of the most important issues for audience member Linda Bookout, of Loxley, when she voted for Trump last month and during the primary. Specifically, she said she wanted taxpayers to stop paying to educate children of undocumented immigrants.
“We could educate every child in America if we stopped,” she said.
Her twin sister, Brenda Simmons, also of Loxley, agreed. She said illegal immigration and health care were the two biggest issues for her.
Excited for change
Others in attendance said they were excited about the change Trump will bring. Kathy Gulley, who drove down from Hueytown with her husband, Larry, for Trump’s last tour stop, said she believes his message can resonate with everyone and that’s what won over the one-time Ted Cruz supporters.
“We felt more and more confident about him,” Gulley said. “We’re tired of politicians promising and never doing it. We were ready for change.”
Alicia Lindsey, of Mobile, said she felt Trump would be a good change from the current administration. She and her husband, Mike, voted for him.
“We’re just excited about it,” she said. “We feel like it will be good for the country.”
Mike Lindsey said he liked the way the stock market was reacting.
“Everything seems to be positive now,” he said.
Rickey Hudson, of Mobile, said he voted for Trump both times because the “country has been on the wrong track for a long time.”
“I do believe he’ll put us on the right track,” Hudson said. “The way it used to be. We used to be No. 1 in everything and now you’ve got countries like Iran; they’re laughing at us.”
Hudson said he believes Trump’s toughness will change the country’s global standing for the better.
“There are not many countries that respect us anymore,” he said. “I think Trump will turn the situation around.”
Trump’s return to Mobile
Hudson said he believes Mobile will be in a good position under Trump, who credits the city and his 2015 rally for giving his campaign momentum.
“We helped put him on the map,” Hudson said. “I think we’ll have a great relationship with Trump and I think Jeff Sessions will help with that.”
Hudson said he didn’t attend the first rally, but watched it on television.
Alicia Lindsey said she appreciated that Trump came back to Alabama before taking office.
“He seems to genuinely appreciate the people who voted for him,” she said. “For him to come and say ‘thank you’ is huge.”
During his roughly hour-long speech, Trump largely revisited the campaign and antagonized pundits, pollsters and the media, but also touched on job creation, crime, radical Islam and illegal immigration — issues he hopes to address after his inauguration Jan. 20. The crowd got involved at times, chanting “build the wall” when Trump mentioned the border, “lock her up” when he mentioned his general election opponent, Hillary Clinton.
But Trump did offer some goals, saying he intends to lower the business tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, eliminate “job-killing regulations, and lift the restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale, oil, natural gas and beautiful, clean coal — we’re going to put our miners back to work. We’re also going to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure.”
On jobs, Trump said his administration would “follow two rules: buy American and hire American.”
“At the center of our agenda is fixing our absolutely terrible trade deals,” he continued. “We have bad deals with every country and that is going to change fast.”
Trump suggested with new legislation, companies that move manufacturing overseas would be penalized with heavy import tax.
On crime, Trump said “We are going to support the incredible men and women of law enforcement and we’re going to bring this terrible crime wave to an end … I have a message for the drug dealers, the gang members and the criminal cartels terrorizing all of our citizens in cities all around the United States and the message is, ‘your days are numbered, we’re getting you out.’”
Regarding ISIS and the threat of terrorism, Trump said, “I am going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.” He also repeated a campaign promise to “drain the swamp” of political corruption and encouraged the crowd to support his agenda.
“This country has such potential,” he said. “You watch — things are going to happen like you haven’t seen happen in many, many decades. This is truly an exciting time to be alive. The script is not yet written, we do not know what the page will read tomorrow, but for the first time in a long time, we do know the page will be authored by each and every one of you.
“Together, we will raise incomes and bring back our jobs, we will repeal the disaster known as Obamacare and create new health care reforms, we will re-establish the rule of law, defend the Second Amendment … protect religious liberty and appoint justices to the United States Supreme Court who will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. We will heal our divisions and unify our very, very divided country. When Americans are unified there is nothing we cannot do. No task is too great, no goals are beyond our reach.”