Donald Trump roiled Minnesota politics for a few hours Friday night without ever showing his face in public.
The New York businessman made his first visit to the state as the Republican presidential candidate for a private nighttime fundraiser at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Dozens of protesters gathered out front ahead of the event and marched around the large building. Later in the evening, a smaller contingent grew unruly. Some fundraiser attendees were pushed and jostled, spit on and verbally harassed as they left the convention center.
Trump never appeared in public, and did not grant media interviews or hold a news conference. The fundraiser was closed to the media, but a person in attendance broadcast Trump’s remarks on the live-streaming app Periscope.
“If I could win a state like Minnesota, the path is a whole different thing,” Trump told the cheering crowd. “It becomes a much, much different race. We’re going to give it our greatest shot.”
Wearing a blue blazer, open collar and white baseball cap, Trump said he has “so many friends” in Minnesota and vowed to return “a lot.” He teased his recently hired state director, Mike Lukach, saying he would be “so angry” if he loses the state.
Minnesota last went for the Republican in the presidential race in 1972 when President Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern.
Tickets to the fundraiser ranged from $1,000 per person to $100,000 per couple. Trump’s campaign would not reveal how many tickets were sold or the size of the fundraising haul, which is typical of campaigns from both political parties.
With many in the GOP still skeptical of Trump, the fundraiser was relatively light on big-name Minnesota Republican attendees — with some notable exceptions.
“People want to live, mind their own business and have a good job, and I think that’s something Donald Trump understands,” former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann said on her way inside.
Bachmann said she has known Trump for five years and has advised him on foreign policy and faith issues.
“He’s a common-sense guy, not into political correctness,” Bachmann said. “He has turned businesses around, and that’s what he wants to do with the country.”
The candidate’s absence from public view left plenty of room for prominent DFL critics and protesters to unleash on Trump, who has particularly angered immigrants.
The demonstration was organized by the Minnesota Immigrants Rights Action Committee.
“You’ve got somebody out there saying things that used to only be said in the shadows,” said Giselda Gutierrez, a demonstrator who lives in Minneapolis. “I think what he’s saying represents something pretty dangerous for our country.”
The demonstrators who harassed donors were not present earlier on, when the protest was peaceful. Many in the later group hid their faces behind scarves.
Minneapolis police spokeswoman Sgt. Catherine Michal said there were no arrests and no reported injuries.
There was, however, minor damage, including graffiti on the walls of the Convention Center, and officers had to escort Trump supporters in and out of the lobby because they were being harshly confronted, Michal said.
Guests began arriving around dinnertime, some in limousines and other chauffeured vehicles.
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer attended, and other familiar faces like Allen Quist, a longtime conservative activist and sometimes candidate.
Some did not attend
Many prominent Republicans — including U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, state Senate Minority Leader David Hann and state Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey — did not attend.
GOP U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan also was raising money in Minnesota on Friday, attending a Nisswa fundraiser for Paulsen and Stewart Mills, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan in northeastern Minnesota.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was listed as an honorary co-host of the Minneapolis fundraiser, but an RNC spokeswoman said Priebus would not be attending in person.
The fundraiser came at the end of a typically turbulent week for the Republican candidate, who saw more turnover in his campaign’s top leadership as he continues to struggle in polls against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Critics on immigration, taxes
Hours before Trump landed in the state, prominent DFLers used his visit as an opportunity for criticism. Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison held a late-morning news conference outside the African Development Center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood to rip Trump over his immigration and tax plans, as well as his refusal to release his tax returns.
“If Donald Trump had it his way, many of the people who are making this neighborhood the dynamic, interesting place that it is, the job generator that it is, they wouldn’t even be here,” Ellison said.
Ellison originally supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, but he offered unqualified praise for Clinton. He said she “will make sure America remains the open, inclusive country that it has been.”
Dayton focused his critique on tax cut proposals Trump released late last year. The GOP candidate wants to cut income taxes at all income levels; repeal the individual and corporate alternative minimum tax, the estate tax and the gift tax; and greatly increase tax deductions.
An analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that the highest earners would benefit most under Trump’s proposal.
The plan “would give trillions of dollars in cuts to big corporations, to millionaires and billionaires, to Wall Street money managers, and do very little for working families,” said Dayton, who built a political brand around higher taxes on the wealthy.
Both Dayton and Ellison also poked Trump over his ongoing refusal to release his tax returns, a major theme of the Clinton campaign’s messaging in recent days. Ellison suggested that Trump could be concealing unsavory investments or business partners; Dayton noted that Clinton has released every income tax return since 1977.
Lukach responded by saying Trump’s plans would lower taxes and regulatory burden for all Minnesotans.
“Small-business owners and job creators in Minnesota recognize they will enjoy tax cuts, fewer unnecessary regulations, and a repeal and replacement of the disastrous Obamacare under a Trump administration, while Hillary Clinton’s tax hikes and regulatory overreach amount to a third Obama term that small businesses in our state simply can’t afford,” Lukach said.
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations held a news conference Friday where a handful of community activists spoke about condemning what the council’s executive director, Jaylani Hussein, called Trump’s “Islamophobic, anti-Somali rhetoric.”
“All of this rhetoric is creating an unsafe environment for the Muslim community, for the Somali-American community,” Hussein said.
The fundraiser was delayed several hours after Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, made a last-minute visit to tour flooded parts of Louisiana.
State Sen. Carrie Ruud, who attended the fundraiser, said she was heartened to see what she perceived as a shift by Trump toward a more traditional campaign style.
“He needs to keep speaking from his heart,” Ruud said. “That’s what he’s been doing the last few days and he needs to keep doing that.”
Staff writers Allison Sherry, Mara Klecker, Karen Zamora and Beatrice Dupuy contributed to this report.