In Harrisburg, Trump touts his first 100 days, boasts the fight is 'just beginning'

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President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up to the audience behind him as he finishes speaking at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg, Pa., Saturday, April, 29, 2017.

HARRISBURG — President Trump delivered a slashing, campaign-style speech here to mark his 100th day in office, accusing the media of lying about his success and saying he would rather spend the day with “much better people” in Pennsylvania than those in Washington.

“Make no mistake: We are just beginning in our fight to make America great again,” Trump told a raucous crowd at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex, many wearing his signature red “Make America Great Again” hats. “We are keeping one promise after another and, frankly, the people are really happy about  it.”

He touted his placement of Justice Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and scrapping of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. But he got his biggest cheers with a sustained attack on the media, returning, nearly six months after Election Day, to the same themes that drove his campaign.

While Trump has come under criticism for failing to show progress on some of his biggest campaign pledges, he said the media has refused to give him credit and “deserves a very, very big fat failing grade.”

And in a sign that 100 days in the Oval Office have done little to change him, the president continued to boast about the crowds at his events, declaring that “we have a lot of people standing outside” and that he “broke the all-time record for this arena.” Still, there were rows of empty seats and space on the floor as he spoke.

Trump spoke just 40 miles from Gettysburg, where in October he laid out a largely unaccomplished 10-point plan for his first 100 days in office. The rally also took place as the Capitol press corps mingled with celebrities at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner, a gala that has become a symbol of cozy ties between media, cultural, and economic elites. He had attended in the past but Trump became the first sitting president in more than three decades to skip the dinner.

“There’s another big gathering taking place tonight in Washington, D.C.,” he said to loud boos. “I could not possibly be more thrilled to be more than 100 miles away from the Washington swamp, spending my evening with all of you, and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people.”

Central Pennsylvania was a regular campaign stop during 2016, and in many ways Saturday’s rally was a mirror image of those events. Outside the complex, Democrats gathered to protest what they said would be devastating policies the president hopes to enact and said he had little to show for his first three months in office. Inside, effusive supporters had traveled hours – some from Michigan and New York – to join the rally, chant "U.S.A., U.S.A.!," and roar as the president repeated familiar promises and catchphrases.

He painted a dark picture of dangerous immigrants flooding into the country, of police under siege and Islamic terrorism threatening Americans’ safety, promising to reverse those problems. He urged police to get several protesters at the site  “outta here” as his supporters shouted at those who came to disrupt. Several people were walked out, including one man who shouted “Trump is a traitor” and held a Russian flag. State police held him briefly on the ground before escorting him out.

Despite his approval ratings hovering around 40 percent through most of his presidency, a historically low rating at this point, Trump’s aides have pushed hard to persuade the public his early days have been a major success. His team touted Trump's moves to roll back Obama regulations and strike Syria. As he arrived in Harrisburg he toured a nearby wheelbarrow factory and signed two more executive orders he said were aimed at creating jobs.

“Promises Made. Promises Kept." read one sign prominently displayed inside the Harrisburg arena. The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” a favorite from the campaign trail, played over the loudspeakers.

Many of his biggest promises have languished, but Trump promised his supporters all would be well. “Don’t even worry about it -- go home, go to sleep, rest assured,” he told the crowd, “we’re going to build that wall,” though he has not yet secured funding for it.

He touted his major tax overhaul, released Wednesday on one page, and his plan to finally repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is stuck in the mud in the Republican-controlled Congress.

This, Trump acknowledged, blaming Democrats for standing in the way. “I’ll be so angry at … all of the congressmen in this room if we don’t get that damn thing passed quickly,” he said of the repeal, then again assured supporters that Obamacare “is dead anyway” and will collapse.

His supporters -- including many waiting in a line snaking through the vast farm complex parking lot -- seemed to agree. They remain fiercely loyal and encouraged by his first few months. They blamed setbacks on congressional obstruction and activist judges and said they believed he was keeping his promises as best he could.

“No matter what he’s trying to do, he’s getting stopped,” said Jill Williams, 39, who drove four hours from Groton, N.Y.,  to attend the rally. “He’s the president. He should be able to overrule some things.”

She said she was especially disappointed by federal judges who blocked Trump’s ban on travel from several majority-Muslim countries.

Zachary Adam Perry, a York resident who served in Iraq in 2007, said he hopes Trump can hold his temper on the world stage, but approved of the president’s missile strikes in Syria.

“It’s time we show the terrorists that we are a nation that is forceful now. They see weakness and they jump on it,” said Perry, 30.

Brendon Gaylor, 22, a network technician at the state Department of Health, was attending his first Trump rally. He said he was a member of the alt-right, the far-right nationalist movement that embraced Trump early and fervently.

As for Trump’s first 100 days in office, “I thought it’d be a little easier to drain the swamp," Gaylor said, "but 2018 is around the corner.”

jtamari@phillynews.com
@JonathanTamari
 
awhelan@phillynews.com
@aubreyjwhelan

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