Trump promises VA reforms at Norfolk campaign stop

Dave Ress
Contact Reporterdress@dailypress.com

Over the course of 80 minutes paced more like a standup comic routine than a traditional political rally, Donald Trump pitched himself to Hampton Roads as a man who can make deals, build a wall on the Mexican border and fix the Veterans Affairs.

Trump unveiled his plans for the VA before a crowd of more than 2,000 people on the pier next to the battleship Wisconsin in Norfolk.

But between promising the fix the VA and getting to the heart of his proposal, Trump ventured down several tangents, including his opposition to Obamacare and his views on fellow candidate Ben Carson — "and by the way, I have to say I like Ben Carson, but there's no way he's going to make America great again" — as well as his own approach to campaigning:

"I'm running for president, and I spent less than anyone and I'm No. 1."

The heart of Trump's proposal for the VA is a plan to let veterans use their VA ID cards to get care from any doctor or hospital that accepts Medicare, when they find they are waiting too long for care at VA facilities.

He also promised to boost funds for job training and placement, as well as an incentive program to encourage businesses to hire veterans.

Trump also said, after a riff on the problems banks have with regulators and how he himself doesn't need loans because "I'm loaded, OK," that he would launch a loan program for veterans who wanted to start their own businesses.

Trump said he'd make better deals with foreign leaders than President Barack Obama or his predecessors had, telling a story about how a businessman he'd once bested in a deal later commented that he was unpredictable.

"He said he's totally unpredictable; I called him, I say, 'was that good?'" Trump told the crowd, adding that the businessman reassured him, convincing him that: "We need to be, we have to be unpredictable."

It was a theme he hit right from the start, when he arrived about 15 minutes late, kicking off his remarks by saying, "We have to know how to improvise," quickly followed by "to hell with the press," to the cheers of the crowd.

One fan, Kim King of Chesapeake, sporting a Trump bumper sticker on her sweater, had tried an improvisation herself: a homemade sign that said "Dump the Chump 2016 Vote for Trump.".

But a Trump campaign worker, made her leave the area to get rid of her sign.

He told her it was a policy meant to prevent people from modifying signs to say something negative.

"I wouldn't do that," she said, before walking, dejectedly, away.

Outside the event, Meigan Jules, of Virginia Beach, was one of a small group of people protesting Trump for his stands on immigration, holding up a neon pink sign she'd just made that said "we are all immigrants."

She said she had come with her daughter for a school project to listen to political candidates, but decided to leave, hand-lettering the sign once she and her daughter were outside the event.

Nearby, Virginia Beach resident Glenn McDermott, holding a sign that said "I want Hillary to go to jail," said he supported Trump because he felt he would cut the nation's debt and wasn't cowed by political correctness.

Trump's blunt speeches and early willingness to criticize others for being cowed by political correctness were why Norfolk resident Russell Brahm said he backed the New Yorker.

Trump hit some of those themes hard.

"To sum up, we're going to stop illegal immigration, we're going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it," he said. "We're going to be build up a military stronger than it's ever been before, we're going to take care of veterans and we're going to make great trade deals … instead of being the laughingstock of the world."

He said he's not afraid to clean house in Washington.

"As I've said, and done very well with: you're fired."

Most recent polls still show Trump is attracting many Republicans, but the figures they report for his support vary widely, and they all have large margins of error.

Last week's CBS/New York put his support below retired surgeon Ben Carson, but the difference was within the poll's margin of error. That means it's about as likely that Trump is leading Carson.

A week earlier an NBC/Washington Post poll had Trump with a lead over Carson, but that difference, too, was within the margin of error. The Washington Post/ABC poll that week showed Trump with a significantly stronger lead over Carson.

The most recent Virginia poll, conducted earlier this month by Christopher Newport University's Wason Center for Public Policy also showed Trump with a lead over Carson, but one within the poll's margin of error. The poll also showed that Democrat Hillary Clinton would beat Trump decisively in a head to head match in Virginia.

Ress can be reached by phone at 757-247-4535.

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