Donald Trump loves coal miners and thinks you should not vote in Tuesday's elections, he told a crowd of thousands at the Charleston Civic Center Thursday, also hitting all the themes of his campaign — building a wall between the United States and Mexico, renegotiating trade deals and his success in the polls and in prior primaries.
Twice during his 45-minute speech, Trump urged the audience not to vote in next week's primary elections, instead telling them to “save your vote” for the fall.
“You don't have to vote anymore, save your vote for the general election, forget this one, the primary's done,” said Trump, who essentially clinched the Republican nomination this week.
He circled back to his advice 20 minutes later: “Now I can tell you, stay home but get twice as many people in November.”
Tuesday's election will decide a seat on the state Supreme Court, giving the winner a spot on the bench for the next 12 years.
The backdrop behind Trump was filled with men in miner's stripes and hard hats waving “Trump digs coal” signs, and Trump peppered his remarks with his admiration for coal miners.
“I'll tell you what folks, you're amazing people,” Trump said. “The courage of the miners and the way the miners love what they do, they love what they do.”
“If I win we're going to bring those miners back,” he said.
Trump said there were 28,000 people in attendance, both inside and outside the rally. There almost certainly were not. The Civic Center holds 14,000, including the seats on the floor. It appeared to be about 95 percent full. A Civic Center employee said the fire marshal's count was 11,600.
Trump said he has “always been fascinated” by mining, “the engineering that's involved and the safety and all that's taken place over the last number of years.”
“All of it's getting safe and as it gets safe they're taking it away from you in a different way,” Trump said. “These ridiculous rules and regulations that make it impossible for you to compete, so we're going to take that all off the table folks.”
Trump repeatedly promised to put miners back to work, but that was as specific as he got for how he would do so.
There are virtually no credible forecasts that predict a comeback for coal — especially in Southern West Virginia — to anything near its former heights.
The president of Appalachian Power said last fall that coal consumption is not likely to rebound, regardless of whether federal regulations on coal-fired power plants go into effect.
“The one place where we're selling coal is China, so China can use the coal but we can't,” Trump said.
In reality, China's slowing economy, and the resulting slack in demand for metallurgical coal, are a major factor in the decline of the Appalachian mining industry.
Twenty-six years ago, Trump had a much more dismal view of miners, telling Playboy that, “If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don't have the imagination — or whatever — to leave their mine. They don't have 'it.'”
Trump was given a hardhat mid-speech by Chris Hamilton, vice president of the state coal association, after he won the organization's endorsement Thursday.
The crowd roared when he donned the hat and feigned shoveling.
Trump was also briefly joined onstage by state Senate President Bill Cole, who endorsed Trump on Tuesday.
“I'm comfortable with the fact that he supports our coal industry and our natural gas industry,” Cole, who spoke before Trump, said.
Asked if he supported Trump's most famous policy proposal — building a wall between the United States and Mexico — Cole hedged.
“Yeah, I think,” he said. “Oh, I don't want to weigh in on that, I think illegal aliens are illegal aliens, illegal says it all.”
West Virginia has one of the nation's lowest populations of undocumented immigrants, and is losing population faster than any other state, but Trump's first mention of the wall brought one of the night's loudest roars.
“We're going to have strong, powerful borders,” Trump said. “We're going to have the wall. Mexico is going to pay for the wall.”
He attacked the country's trade policies and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in one blow — blaming her for the North American Free Trade Agreement, passed during her husband's administration.
“NAFTA, I think, was probably the worst piece of economic development,” he said, going on to criticize the Clinton administration. “These are people, that make these deals, that are either taken care of by their contributors and donors or they're stupid.”
He promised a 35 percent tariff on re-imports from American companies that move factories to Mexico and to renegotiate trade deals to “bring jobs and money and economics back to our country.”
Trump spent about 10 minutes recounting his recent successes, which caused his last two Republican opponents — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — to drop out.
“We won all of the stuff and then, all of a sudden, they just had enough,” Trump said.
Trump bragged that he has self-funded his campaign (he has funded about 75 percent of it).
That was a big part of his appeal for Ronald Lovejoy, of Lincoln County.
“He's for the people and he's financed his own self,” Lovejoy said.
Trump announced Thursday that he would begin a serious fundraising operation for the general election, but Lovejoy didn't mind that Trump would start soliciting donations.
“I haven't given to the Republican Party because of the way they've been treating him,” he said. “But once it's all for him, I'll start giving.”
Trump made an oblique reference to the sex scandal during the Clinton White House years when he said of Hillary, “She was a part of almost everything, almost I said, not everything.”
The crowd laughed and cheered and Trump joked, “I didn't think the people of West Virginia thought like that, that's terrible, you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
He complained that hairspray isn't as good as it used to be, blaming regulations on aerosol put in place to stop the depletion of the ozone layer.
“It used to be real good,” he said. “Today you put the hairspray on, it's good for 12 minutes.”
He pulled back his hairline, proving he wasn't wearing a toupee, as the crowd roared.
“So if I take hairspray, and if I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you're telling me that affects the ozone layer?” Trump said. “I say no way folks, no way, no way. It's like a lot of the rules and regulations you folks have in the mines for safety and stuff.”
Trump promised to return to West Virginia before November (the election that matters) and said West Virginia is a “very important state to win.”
“You've got to remember in November,” he said. “Seems a long time away, but it's not far at all and I'll be back.”