NORWOOD — As helicopters hovered and protesters fumed nearby, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump visited the home of car magnate Ernie Boch Jr. for a campaign rally Friday that had a circus-like atmosphere rarely experienced in the often staid world of Massachusetts politics.
Trump was accompanied by a Norwood police escort as he arrived in a stretch SUV around 7:15 p.m. He was immediately mobbed by television cameras and supporters as he left the vehicle and headed toward a media tent, to chants of “Don-ald, Don-ald!”
He then took to the lectern and held a brief press conference, hitting on topics including illegal immigration, taxes, women’s health, and even the Deflategate scandal.
Asked about the scourge of gun violence in the nation, Trump said it was tied to mental health as well as illegal immigrants.
“The toughest, and the meanest, the worst dudes . . . they’re illegal immigrants,” Trump said, launching into a subject that has earned him many headlines and criticism on the campaign trail. “And I’ll tell you one thing, if I get in, they are going to be gone so fast out of this country.”
Some researchers have disputed Trump’s claims about immigrants and crime, arguing that immigrants, regardless of their status, are less likely than the native-born to commit serious felonies.
He also defended his plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border to block illegal immigration, rebuffing critics such as Republican primary rival Jeb Bush who say the project is unfeasible.
“The Great Wall of China is 13,000 miles,” Trump said. “This wall is 2,000.”
Asked if he felt Patriots quarterback Tom Brady should settle his legal battle with the NFL, Trump played to the home crowd.
“Leave Tom Brady alone!” Trump said to cheers. “I know Tom Brady. Tom Brady is an honest guy, he’s a great guy, he’s a great champion and winner.”
Turning to the subject of women, Trump mentioned his wife and daughter and insisted that “I cherish women,” while taking aim at Bush.
He accused the former Florida governor of being unsupportive of measures to promote women’s health and offered an explanation for his frequent attacks against Bush on the campaign trail.
“When this whole thing started, I thought he was going to be the primary competition,” but “he’s rapidly disappearing,” Trump said.
The candidate, real estate mogul, and reality TV star has stunned the political world by rising to the top of opinion polls in the early going of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
At his event Friday, Trump focused on a number of issues and said that he would release his tax plan in a few weeks and that voters could expect a blueprint for reductions.
In addition, Trump called for rebuilding the military and the nation’s infrastructure, before moving to a larger stage to address roughly 1,000 supporters — who were asked to make suggested $100 donations.
Boch and Trump insisted the rally was not a fund-raiser, despite a large sign out front asking guests to make checks payable to the celebrity’s campaign.
Trump said that he has turned down millions in donations and that funds raised on Friday would be used to defray the cost of the party. Trump has previously ridiculed other candidates’ reliance on fund-raisers, saying they are beholden to special interests.
Addressing the crowd, Trump discussed many of the same themes and delved into foreign policy, voicing strong opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran and poking fun at Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who led the negotiations.
When someone in the crowd called Kerry “a joke,” Trump quipped, “he’s a bicyclist,” referring to Kerry’s accident in France in the midst of hammering out the deal.
Earlier in the evening, guests, many sporting summer attire such as salmon-colored slacks and white blazers, filed up Boch’s long circular driveway to a side deck, where a large portrait of Trump stood next to greeters handing out drinks.
Some gathered under a tent where a band played. Others congregated near Boch’s back porch or posed for photos in front of a Hollywood-premiere type background emblazoned with Trump’s name.
The event even drew some professional athletes, such as former Patriots linemen Matt Light and Fred Smerlas.
While there was ample food and drink, one guest, Erin Erler of Haverhill, brought a dessert for the occasion.
Wearing a stylish black dress, Erler arrived carrying a cake that she made in the shape of a ballcap that Trump, 69, often wears on the campaign trail.
Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” was written on the red cake, and Erler, who owns a small business, explained her support for the candidate.
“He says a lot of things that not all of the politicians are addressing,” said Erler, adding that she supports his call to change the tax structure for the middle class.
Boch himself was exuberant, taking selfies with police officers, greeting guests with a wide grin, and telling reporters that he wanted to give people a chance to hear Trump in person.
“To have a world figure in my home . . . to talk up close and personal, I think it’s great,” Boch said.
Asked if he shared Trump’s hard line on immigration, he said, “I don’t think I agree as intensely, but I think something should be done with immigration.”
Boch did not answer directly when asked about Trump’s polarizing comments about women and illegal immigrants.
“I don’t know, I’m not really that politically motivated,” he said, noting that he is pro-choice, which is at odds with Trump’s stance.
Boch also trumpeted the fact that Fortune, “the world’s greatest cover band,” entertained guests with live music.
But the event was not all positive.
Hours before the candidate arrived, protesters lined the street outside Boch’s home to denounce Trump’s comments about women and abortion. Trump, has angered groups by using words such as “bimbo,” “animal,” and “slob” to describe women he does not like.
Under the watchful eyes of Norwood police and private security guards, about two dozen demonstrators held anti-Trump signs and shouted chants including “Dump Trump” and “When women’s rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
“He’s a bully,” said demonstrator Amy Cohen, 43, of Brookline.
She said Trump’s political platform merely “supports his narcissism.”
Another demonstrator, Tricia MacKenzie, 36, of Boston, said she joined the protest to “support women’s rights.”
Trump, she said, “doesn’t have a chance. He doesn’t have a platform that supports all Americans.”
Asked by a CNN reporter about the demonstrators, Trump lashed out at the network, accusing the station of inaccurate coverage and hyping “a few protesters” who had converged on the event.
Wrapping up his approximately one-hour visit to Boch’s home, Trump told the cheering crowd, “We are going to have so many great victories. We’re going to be so proud of this country.”