INDIANAPOLIS — Bobby Knight returned to Indiana on Wednesday not to throw chairs but to endorse another man hungry to win — Donald Trump.
Knight, who won three NCAA basketball championships at IU and was known for his excitement and aggression, joined the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination at a rally at Indiana Farmers Coliseum ahead of Tuesday’s crucial Indiana primary.
He compared Trump to former President Harry S. Truman and said Trump would be “the most prepared man in history to step into the presidency of the United States.”
The appearance was a rare return to the state for Knight, who was fired from IU in 2000 for violating a zero-tolerance policy on aggressive behavior.
But his fanbase, like Trump’s, had a strong showing at the rally. IU clothing mingled with “Make America Great Again!” gear. The cheers for the former coach rivaled those for the billionaire businessman.
Before Knight took the stage, two audience members discussed his appearance.
“I’m excited to see him come out,” one said.
“I think he might get a bigger reaction than Trump,” the other replied.
Knight also told potential voters their support could lift Trump “over the top” and help Trump secure the presidential nomination. On Tuesday, Trump won primaries in five states — Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Rhode Island — to add 109 delegates and push his delegate count to 987.
Trump needs to win 250 of the remaining 583 delegates to reach the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination. 57 are at stake in Indiana.
When Trump took the stage Wednesday, he did so to the sounds of another man known for his volume, as the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” roared along with the crowd.
Trump thanked Knight and said he admired his coaching attitude. Knight called him a year ago, he said, and suggested Trump run for president months before he announced his candidacy.
Trump also reiterated his recent wins before touching on Indiana’s importance to his campaign.
“Usually by the time you get to Indiana, the race is decided,” he said. “About three weeks ago, I said, ‘Indiana’s turning out to be a very important place. As it should be.’”
Trump played to a local anxiety as part of his biggest talking point: employment. Fans cheered as he decried Indianapolis-based air conditioning and refrigeration manufacturer Carrier Corp.‘s plans to outsource jobs to Mexico.
Under his watch, companies like Carrier would endure a 35-percent tariff on goods imported from Mexico, Trump said. He said the consequences would keep Carrier in Indiana, “100 percent.”
Trump asked if anyone in the crowd worked for Carrier. Hands went up. He asked, for how long? They shouted out 10 years, 17 years, 18 years.
“Either they’re going to leave and make us a fortune or they’ll stay and we’ll have our jobs,” he said.
Trump also mocked rival candidates Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who, on Sunday, announced plans to unite to prevent Trump from winning key states, including Indiana.
“In business, when you collude, they put you in jail,” Trump said. “Politics is so rigged, it’s probably one of the only places you can get away with it.”
The businessman, hungry to win, told the audience America has been losing — in education, in military, in jobs, and the Second Amendment.
Other than his point on Carrier and brief mentions of ISIS and Common Core, he didn’t give specifics.
“I refuse to read you the statistics, because you’ll walk out of here totally depressed,” he told the crowd.
Then there were reassurances of victory, of security, of “making America great again.” Then Mick Jagger again: “Once you start me up, I’ll never stop.”
Despite the rally’s rock concert-like energy and playlist, once Trump exited the stage, calm ensued. No protesters showed up inside the venue, nor did they hang around outside. Only messes of Pepsi and popcorn on the floor remained.
One final commotion ensued when Trump stepped down to floor level. Fans crowded around the barricade surrounding him. Children took to parents’ shoulders to catch a glimpse.
Watching the scene, with the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” playing overhead, Kim Duncan said he appreciated Trump’s focus on manufacturing jobs. Duncan, 60, of Kokomo, Indiana, is a retired auto worker and was a lifelong Democrat until this election cycle.
“I’m a union man, and they sent our jobs overseas for years,” he said. “He’s going to bring our jobs back.”
Another crowd member, Aaron Brodfuehrer said he likes how Trump has shaken up the Republican Party. But while Brodfuehrer, 44, of Indianapolis, appreciated Trump’s status as a political outsider and loved Knight’s appearance, he said Trump’s failure to give specifics kept him on the fence.
“It was very vague, and I can’t remember any specifics, and I wasn’t expecting them,” he said. “Just to say we’re going to win, and we’re going to fix the trade balance — I don’t see how he’s going to make these deals with these other countries when he’s got to deal with foreign policy, and he’s really got to learn more about that.”
On the PA, the Rolling Stones played “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”