Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Western North Carolina Agriculture Center October 21, 2016.(Photo: Angela Wilhelm, /email@example.com)
FLETCHER, N.C. — Donald Trump on Friday returned to the themes that have animated his presidential candidacy since it began last year — ending job losses due to foreign trade, building a wall on the Mexican border and restoring the nation's respect.
Trump added an extra dollop of emphasis on trade issues in his speech to 3,100 at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center. He noted the large numbers of manufacturing jobs North Carolina lost after the North American Free Trade Agreement.
And Trump stayed away from another issue that has prompted controversy: whether he would accept the result if he loses on Nov. 8.
He said his economic plan is: "Jobs, jobs, jobs. They've been taken away from us. At the center of my jobs plan will be fixing our terrible trade deals."
Since NAFTA was implemented during the presidency of Bill Clinton, Trump said it has been "a one-way highway into Mexico for our jobs, our cash. We get the drugs, they get the jobs and the cash."
He said he would slap a 35% tariff on goods made overseas by companies that have shipped jobs outside the country.
“There will be consequences. We’re not going to have companies go to Mexico or some other country," he said. "Guess what’s going to happen? They’re not going to leave anymore because all of a sudden it won’t work. If they do, we’re going to make a lot of money when they ship them across the border.”
Cody Jent, a landscaper from Greenville, S.C., said Trump's free trade comments resonated with him.
"I see local businesses and I know of some bigger businesses that go off to other countries for better deals," Jent said. "I want to bring back our jobs and our money, because that will make it more fair for Americans."
Trump also promised ethics reforms he said would "drain the swamp" in Washington.
They would include making White House and congressional officials wait five years after leaving their government jobs before becoming lobbyists, establishing a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying for foreign governments, and pushing a constitutional amendment to put term limits on members of Congress.
The rally was largely free of the violence and confrontations between Trump supporters and protesters that marked a Trump rally in Asheville last month.
Only five people used a chained-off area designated for protesters outside the arena. Unlike in Asheville, no altercations were visible inside the arena.
Protester Luis Rodriguez of progressive group Progress NC Action said Trump "has emboldened and empowered an undercurrent of hate, misogyny, xenophobia, anti-Muslim. … He’s taking (America) back to a time that was horrific.”
Most polls say Trump is trailing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by margins so large as to raise the possibility of a lopsided result on Election Day.
Trump had been saying the election is "rigged" in the days before Wednesday's debate with Clinton, and his refusal during the debate to say he would accept a loss stirred criticism from people in both political parties.
Trump did express confidence Friday that he will win, citing three polls he said have him in the lead.
And, as he has for much of the campaign, Trump said if he wins, America wins.
Contributing: John Boyle and Emily Patrick, the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times