Donald Trump's Rochester rally: Furor over anti-Muslim bigotry and a shot at the pope
Donald Trump (AFP)

As Donald Trump entered the Rochester Community Center in Rochester, New Hampshire for a rally in front of 3,000 people, he was greeted by a full high school marching band playing the Europe song The Final Countdown . He left in the midst of media furor over whether he condoned anti-Muslim bigotry. In between, he took a shot at the Pope and attacked a fellow Republican candidate, all on national television. In short, it was just another Thursday night for Donald Trump.

On the home basketball court of the Spaulding High Red Raiders where giant fans spun in an unsuccessful attempt to cool the unseasonable late summer heat, Trump took questions from the audience after briefly taking a victory lap from what he claimed was a win in Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate.

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As the Republican frontrunner arrived to resounding applause, he told attendees to “sit down, you’ll be here for a while.” Trump then gave uncharacteristally short monologue where he complained about the debate, in his words, “it was three hours, felt like more than that” as well as his treatment by cable news networks, “Fox treated me shabbily, CNN a little bit better.”

But not everything was bad for Trump, he bragged that in every online poll (none of which were scientific) he had won. The billionaire read out the precise percentages and exact number of votes that he had received. Trump also kvelled that he had been endorsed by star New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady . Trump told attendees “Great winner Tom Brady. Incredible guy, total champion, didn’t want to tell me about it.” He endorsed me yesterday. When you get Tom you’re getting a champ.”

Trump also went on his usual itinerary of his accomplishments on the campaign. He bragged about the crowds he had drawn, the reception he was receiving and his surprise “I’ve only been a politician for almost three months, can you believe it?” The proud graduate of the University of Pennsylvania also claimed he learned a new word in the course of his campaign. “Incoming’ is a word I never heard before, incoming means really bad press,” he explained to the crowd of New Hampshire residents.

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Eventually, Trump, who didn’t take questions from the media on Thursday night, asked for questions from the audience. He may have preferred to deal with the media in retrospect.

The first person to ask a question told Trump “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one.”

At that point, Trump said “right” uneasily. The questioner then added: “You know he’s not even American, birth certificate man.” At that point, Trump said somewhat resignedly “we need this question” to scattered laughter at the audience.

The questioner eventually wrapped up by noting, “But anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question. When can we get rid of them?”

Trump responded awkwardly to the question. “We are going to be looking at a lot of different things,” he said. “A lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there, we’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.” The Republican frontrunner then quickly moved on.

Related: Donald Trump fails to correct questioner who calls Obama Muslim

By ignoring the fact the questioner called Obama “a Muslim” and “not an American ,” Trump created a furor late Thursday night. A Trump spokesperson emphasized to the Guardian that the Republican frontrunner’s answer was solely in response to the “training camps”, which is a common far rightwing conspiracy theory and not the questioner’s rambling statement before that.

While it drew national attention, it went relatively unnoticed in the high school gym where Trump was speaking. Instead, what drew oohs and aahs, was the Republican frontrunner speaking dismissively of Pope Francis. When asked if he would meet with the pontiff on his upcoming trip to the United States, Trump replied contemptuously, “well, the Pope believes in global warming, you do know that.” Eventually Trump did note “I like the pope. A lot of personality, good man.”

Trump’s comment about the pope wasn’t his only awkward moment with Christianity Thursday night. Rod Webber, a man who has followed candidates around New Hampshire, asking questions and handing flowers, started reading a Bible verse to Trump. Webber recited 1 Timothy 3, “Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable.” Trump responded simply, “oh boy, am I in trouble, am I in trouble.” He then quickly moved on, though Webber, among others, heckled him later about the billionaire’s seeming disbelief in climate change.

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The New York real estate mogul went out off his way to bash Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard CEO and GOP presidential rival with whom he sparred in Wednesday’s debate. The Republican frontrunner bashed Fiorina’s corporate record, saying of Hewlett Packard, “people that work there said that company was such a great company until she went out and made such a horrible decision [in overseeing their 2001 merger with Compaq].

Trump has consistently risen in the polls since he entered the race in June and interviews with attendees gave no indication that would change any time soon. His supporters like Joan Jackson of Rochester, New Hampshire were “tired of career politicians” and convinced that the “no BS” Trump would “run the country as well as he runs his business.”

This isn’t to say that they weren’t aware of his shortcomings. Emily Powers of Hampstead, New Hampshire warned “he just has to be a little careful about hurting people’s feelings.” However, she still felt confident in his candidacy. “What we really need is someone with business experience,” Powers said. She didn’t always support candidates who ran as businessmen though. Powers dismissed the last candidate to run for president on his business experience, saying of the GOP’s 2012 nominee “Mitt Romney, he just had no personality.”

But, with marching bands blaring 80s hits and a propensity to leave entire religious faiths feeling insulted, it may just be that Trump has too much personality. © Guardian News and Media 2015