TOLEDO, Ohio — Standing before thousands of supporters who frequently broke into chants of “USA! USA! USA!” on Wednesday night, Donald Trump explained why the United States cannot trust illegal immigrants or refugees from war-torn Middle Eastern countries by reading a poem about a “tender-hearted woman” who cared for a half-frozen snake and nursed him back to health.
“But instead of saying thank you, that snake gave her a vicious bite,” Trump said, dramatically extending his arm in front of him as if it were the snake. “‘I saved you,’ cried the woman. ‘And you bit me. Heavens why? You know your bite is poisonous, and now I’m going to die.’ ‘Oh, shut up, silly woman,’ said the reptile with a grin. You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.'”
Before the dramatic reading, Trump promised to build a wall along the southern border and block refugees from war-torn countries in the Middle East. Afterwards, he pledged to say “bye, bye” to allied countries that don’t fully pay for the protection that the United States provides.
At the same time more than 500 miles away in Philadelphia, Vice President Joe Biden accused Trump of lacking compassion and exploiting fears of the Islamic State to win votes. He said Trump is woefully underprepared to handle issues of national security and has alarmingly embraced “the tactics of our enemies, torture, religious intolerance.” Biden described the United States as an economic super power filled with “ordinary people like us who do extraordinary things,” while casting Trump as a politician willing to “sow division in America for his own gain.”
“His lack of empathy and compassion can be summed up in a phrase that I suspect he’s most proud of having made famous: ‘You’re fired,'” Biden said. “I mean really, I’m not joking. Think about that. Think about that. Think about everything you learned as a child, no matter where you were raised. How can there be pleasure in saying, you’re fired?”
Trump insists that he is compassionate, but that the United States must put its own needs first and can no longer afford to deal with the problems of other countries.
“I hate to tell you, folks. We can be nice, we can be soft, we can be wonderful, we can have a big, beautiful heart,” Trump said, thumping his hand over his heart on Wednesday night. “We can talk about our constitution — and I love our constitution — but you know, our constitution doesn’t allow us to commit suicide. Okay? We’ve got things that we really have to think very hard about… And I have a heart as big as anybody in this massive arena that’s packed. I have a big heart.”
Trump’s rally in this struggling industrial town came during the third night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where speakers focused heavily on the theme of national security. The two events competed for cable news airtime and provided dueling narratives on social media.
In Philadelphia, former secretary of defense Leon E. Panetta mocked Trump for saying that he learns about foreign policy from watching television and hosting an international beauty pageant. His attacks on Trump were similar to Biden’s and were echoed later in the night by President Obama, who accused Trump of “betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election.”
“Donald Trump asks our troops to commit war crimes, endorses torture, spurns our allies from Europe to Asia, suggests that countries have nuclear weapons, and he praises dictators from Saddam Hussein to Vladimir Putin,” Panetta said. “In an unstable world, we cannot afford unstable leadership. We cannot afford someone who believes America should withdraw from the world.”
Trump provided a real-time defense of his approach to national security and foreign policy, at one point marveling at the number of television cameras at his rally despite the convention. He deemed this “an election of optimism,” not fear. He criticized foreign trade deals, which he says benefit other countries more than the United States. He promised to build a wall along at least 1,000 miles of the nearly 2,000-mile-long border with Mexico, saying that it will not only keep out illegal immigrants but also drugs like heroin. He again claimed to have been opposed to the war in Iraq from the beginning, despite comments to the contrary at the time, and criticized involvement in Libya, which he originally supported. He told the crowd that Clinton wants to accept even more Syrian refugees, prompting the crowd to boo. And he detailed recent terrorist attacks in Orlando, southern France and elsewhere.
“France is no longer France. Okay? It’s no longer France,” Trump said. ” And other places are no longer other places.”
Trump again said that he wants NATO countries to reimburse the United States for the protection it provides and that countries that don’t pony up cash will no longer be protected. He called NATO “obsolete,” although he thinks it can be reformed.
“These countries are going to pay — have to be prepared to walk,” Trump said. “And, by the way, if they don’t pay: Bye, bye.”
Towards the end of the rally, Trump said that if he becomes president, he will demand the respect of other countries and will expect foreign leaders to personally greet Air Force One when it lands on their soil. If that doesn’t happen, Trump says he will turn the plane around.
“I would say: Pilot! Head back. Go on. Head back,” Trump said, as the crowd started to chant: “USA! USA! USA!”