ORLANDO, Fla. — Thousands of supporters — though fewer than predicted — cheered Donald Trump in Orlando on Sunday as the former president proclaimed his usual litany of attacks and hinted he would run in 2024.
Trump, who has been publicly flirting with another campaign for the White House for months now, was in town as part of his four-city “History Tour” with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
“I said loud and clear,” he told the crowd at the Amway Center, repeating his false claims of victory over Joe Biden in 2020. “We won the first time, and the second time we won by even more. And it looks like we might have to think about very strongly a third time.”
Guests began entering when the gates opened at noon. But just like at the kickoff event in South Florida on Saturday, turnout was light enough that ticketholders for upper bowl seats were told they could sit in the lower section instead. Trump’s representatives had predicted the shows would sell out.
Tickets started at $100, with VIP seats reportedly costing thousands more. But by Sunday morning, prices for some tickets had dropped to as low as $40.
Outside the arena, the scene was less bustling than a typical Trump rally, with only a few stands selling “Let’s go Brandon” and “Trump/DeSantis 2024” merchandise. There was just a small police presence.
O’Reilly insisted to the audience that “this is not a rally. … We’re going to talk about very serious things.”
But he mostly threw soft questions at Trump, despite the former president joking how tough an interviewer he was.
O’Reilly asked if Biden was “subversive or incompetent.”
Trump called Biden “a vessel” being controlled by former President Barack Obama.
Trump largely used the questions to riff on whatever subject he wanted, including calling GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a “dumb son of a bitch” and bringing up convicted hoaxer Jussie Smollett while taking about Afghanistan.
Trump took credit for the development of the COVID-19 vaccines, calling it “one of the greatest bets in world history because that vaccine or the three vaccines have gone all over the world and saved millions and millions of lives.”
His comments came as reports show vaccination rates are largely lower in counties he won in 2020, and as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and others have made opposition to vaccine mandates a key part of their platforms.
Trump’s comment in favor of vaccines got applause, but not as much as his offhand remark of “no mandates, or whatever.”
DeSantis also was mentioned by O’Reilly as a potential vice presidential candidate for Trump in 2024.
But Trump equivocated, saying, “I think that people are going to be very happy with what I do. … He’s certainly somebody that I like a lot.”
Trump, who in a tweet endorsed DeSantis in the 2018 Republican primary, took full credit for the governor’s narrow victory.
“One day, he came to see me and he said, ‘It’s really important, I’d like to run for governor of Florida.’ I said, ‘Ron, people don’t know you as the guy that’s gonna run for governor.’ … Nobody knew him.”
Trump also downplayed the pro-Trump mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, instead boasting about how big his rally was in D.C. that day.
But Trump surprisingly received heavy boos when he answered a question on whether he would investigate Biden’s son Hunter.
“I don’t want to hurt a family,” Trump said.
Before the event, Jeannie Johnson of Oviedo was one of many gathered who repeated Trump’s falsehoods about the election last year, saying former Vice President Mike Pence should have overturned the vote in his role certifying the results on Jan. 6.
Another attendee was a man dressed as Santa Claus and wearing a “Let’s Go Brandon” hat, a reference to a vulgarity aimed at the current president.
“Santa does not believe that he lost the election,” Santa said of Trump. “All reality points otherwise.”
The event comes as Trump attempts to install supporters in key elections positions nationwide and amid the news that his former chief of staff turned over to the congressional committee investigating the insurrection a PowerPoint presentation outlining how to overturn Biden’s win.
Jeff Sonkson from Longwood wanted to hear that Trump was running again in 2024, but unlike some others didn’t want DeSantis as his running mate.
“Everybody keeps saying that, but I hope not,” he said. “You’re only as free as your governor. So everybody I know, pretty much, is hoping that he doesn’t run as his VP.”
In fact, he added, “I think if DeSantis did run against Trump, there’s a good chance he could win.”
Crystal Sparks, 57, said she traveled to Orlando from La Plata, Maryland. Her friend Emily Jennings, 54, from Daytona Beach, bought them floor tickets for $365 each.
Sparks said she came out to show her support for Trump and see him speak for the first time, motivated by what she sees as failures by the Biden administration to curb immigration, inflation and gas prices. She said she believes the Biden administration is threatening her constitutional right to free speech.
“They’re telling people how they will live, how they will talk, and how they will think,” she said. “It has impacted the way my grandchildren are raised, what they learn in school, to the point where my son actually took his children out of school to home-school them full time.”
She said she plans to move to Florida as soon as possible so she can live under DeSantis’ leadership.
Brenda Collier, 62, from Casselberry and dressed as an American flag, has wanted to see Trump in person for a long time, but it didn’t work with her schedule until this speech. “I can scratch something off my bucket list,” she said.
She said she has dressed as a flag every day for almost a year. She has three flag shirts, three pairs of flag pants, and nine flag dresses.
“Every day, I am a flag,” she said. “To show people [to] be proud of our country, be proud of our flag. Fight. Don’t let them turn us into socialists.”
Steven Lemongello and Caroline Catherman, Orlando Sentinel