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Donald Trump Defiantly Rallies a New ‘Silent Majority’ in a Visit to Arizona

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by Nicholas Fandos
PHOENIX — Donald Trump, the real estate mogul and reality television star who has taken center stage in the race for the Republican presidential nomination this week, delivered a rambling monologue on Saturday, dismissing a long list of critics — including Jeb Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Macy’s — while rallying what he termed a new silent majority of voters.

Mr. Trump had less to say about immigration, the topic on which his comments have garnered so much attention, than about those who have criticized him. For more than an hour, he ticked through a list of businesses and candidates who have tried to censure him since his long-shot campaign began three weeks ago, and made light of their practices and intelligence.

“How can I be tied with this guy?” Trump said of Mr. Bush, whom many consider the Republican front-runner. “He’s terrible. He’s weak on immigration.”

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The speech had a distinctly celebratory air as Mr. Trump lauded the “massive” crowds he has drawn and the attention he has brought to immigration and other issues that he said “weak” politicians were afraid to address.

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It also demonstrated what his party fears most about him: that he is an orator without regard for decorum who is willing to mock other Republicans.

The speech, hosted by the Republican Party of Maricopa County, drew several thousand people to the Phoenix Convention Center, making it one of the largest events for any candidate so far, though short of the crowd of 10,000 predicted by the Trump campaign. Outside, in the 100-degree desert heat, supporters who could not make it into the room waved American flags and sparred with a smaller but vocal group of protesters.

“The silent majority is back, and we’re going to take our country back,” Mr. Trump declared as he left the stage.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, whose tactics in tracking down illegal immigrants drew national attention and a federal conviction for racial profiling in 2013, preceded Mr. Trump on stage at the businessman’s invitation.

As he had earlier in the day in Las Vegas, Mr. Trump also brought to the stage Jamiel Shaw Sr., the father of a teenager killed in 2008 by an undocumented immigrant in Los Angeles, to share the story of his son’s death and to endorse Mr. Trump.

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Mr. Trump’s trip to the immigrant-heavy border region was the first since he asserted in his campaign announcement on June 16 that those crossing the United States-Mexico border illegally included rapists and criminals. Those remarks have earned Mr. Trump sharp criticism from business and political leaders across the country, including companies such as Macy’s, Univision and NBC that have cut ties with him in recent weeks.

He came to Phoenix after addressing a series of private and public audiences Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

“This has become a movement because people don’t know what’s happening,” Mr. Trump said. “We can’t be great if we don’t have a border.”

His welcome here was not entirely warm. Phoenix’s vice mayor and several pro-immigrant groups had called for the city to bar him from speaking at the convention center, which it owns. Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, rejected those calls, saying he would respect Mr. Trump’s right to free speech.

But just as Mr. Trump’s presence in the nominating race has confounded national Republican leaders trying to expand the party’s appeal to minority groups, his visit here posed a dilemma for state officials trying to distance themselves from the anti-immigrant policies of the recent past.

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Arizona’s senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, decided not to attend the event, as did the Republican governor, Doug Ducey. Mr. Flake also called on the Maricopa County Republican Party to rescind its invitation to Mr. Trump, a request that was ignored.

On Saturday, Mr. Flake said Mr. Trump’s remarks, which he called “intolerant” and “inaccurate,” would hurt Republicans here and around the country as they attempt to appeal to a broader demographic of voters.

“Particularly in Arizona, we have had such a long stretch of this kind of rhetoric and this kind of talk,” Mr. Flake said in a telephone interview before Mr. Trump’s speech. “We seem to be moving beyond that here, and this kind of rhetoric just pulls us back.”

For many here, the event revived an image of the state, embodied by Sheriff Arpaio, as unwelcoming and harsh in its enforcement of illegal immigration laws — a perception that Mr. Ducey has worked hard to dispel. He barely discussed immigration during his campaign last year, and since taking office in January, he has worked to make his mark as a business-centric leader, focused on taxes and improving Arizona’s beleaguered public education system.

Saturday’s crowd, though, suggested that the topic remains a galvanizing force among the Republican Party’s conservative base here. Many who had lined up outside the convention center said Mr. Trump was the only candidate willing to speak up about what they see as the risks of illegal immigration and the failures of federal law enforcement to solve the problem.

“I’m very interested in Mr. Trump,” said Rod Patrick, a 72-year-old retired rancher and small business owner. “It’s not necessarily because he’s a good guy, but I’m fed up with politicians.”

Steve Donaldson, 31, agreed, saying that Mr. Trump’s experience in international business, rather than elective politics, made him the best-prepared candidate for the presidency. Mr. Donaldson said Mr. Trump could have been more artful in crafting his points about illegal immigration, in particular, but thought that the abrasive approach was actually helping him in the polls.

“I think his delivery on some of his points could use a little finesse,” he said, “but that’s also what I like most about him.”

Fernanda Santos and Kimberley McGee contributed reporting.

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