Riding the Trump Train
Republican Presidential nominee front-runner Donald J. Trump came to Montana, hosting a rally Thursday at MetraPark’s Rimrock Auto Arena.
Whether a Trump supporter or not, people might have wanted to know what this movement is all about and why so many are getting on board with the billionaire reality TV star.
Nik Scebba of Lewistown is one of those shocked by Trump’s dominance in the Republican Party primary. Albeit skeptical at first, Scebba is now an unabashed Trump supporter and had the opportunity to volunteer at the rally.
“The more brash Trump gets with his comments, the more I realize he is actually speaking the things I believe in about America,” Scebba said. “He’s not exactly the first choice, but he is the best choice we have, and he’s got the energy right now. He has the momentum. In a way, he reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s 1979 campaign.”
Reagan had haters, too, Scebba said, as the mainstream media often portrayed him as an “old, washed up actor.”
“People said he wasn’t qualified,” Scebba said, “but he persevered, which is what Trump is doing.”
A big day for Trump
Trump certainly seemed to be persevering Thursday morning. During the drive from Lewistown to the Magic City, news broke that Trump reached the magic number of 1,237 delegates, the required amount to secure the party’s presidential nomination.
Whether the party chooses to finalize him as the nominee at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July is another question, but Trump arrived in Billings optimistic, surrounded by thousands of supporters and hardly any protestors.
“We’ve had a big day today,” Trump said. “We hit the 1,237.”
He was proud, and it was evident he greatly enjoyed the sea of cheers.
“Beautiful. Beautiful,” he said. “We love Montana. We love Montana.”
But as much as he enjoyed the love fest, he also enjoyed taking shots. During his speech, he criticized Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton (or “Crooked” Hillary, as he calls her), President Barack Obama (saying his presidency is so bad he’s the best thing that ever happened to Jimmy Carter), 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney (for losing), Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders (“you think Bernie’s a happy man? I don’t think so”) and – of course –the media.
“See these people back here [the media section]. Some of the most dishonest people in the world,” Trump said. “Most of them said ‘he will never be the nominee.’ They used to say even worse; they used to say ‘He’s not going to run. He’s just having a good time.’ Well, I am having a good time. I could be doing a lot of other things right now.”
It was clear when Trump took the stage Thursday he was having a good time, especially in Montana, where there were very few protestors outside the arena.
“There is so much love in the room,” Trump told the thousands in attendance, thousands who were “in his corner,” as Scebba said.
A tame rally
Thursday was surely a welcome change for Trump, as his rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico Tuesday was met with much resistance.
“I lost about $120 worth of merchandise in Albuquerque,” vendor Danny Sheil of Florida said at the rally. “Protestors kept grabbing stuff and setting it on fire. It got out of hand fast.”
Sheil has followed Trump to several states, selling shirts, hats and buttons pledging allegiance to Trump.
When asked if he is a Trump supporter, Sheil didn’t give a direct answer.
“I’m just trying to support my family,” he said.
Kraig Moss, a musician from Owego, New York, in town for his 32nd consecutive Trump rally, said Albuquerque was the worst protest he’d seen so far, and he fears his song selection didn’t help matters, as he played all originals about Trump and some of his controversial ideas.
“When I started singing my song ‘Build the Wall’ the protestors got more aggressive. It really got them going,” Moss said. “They were even throwing rocks.”
Like Sheil, Moss said he was relieved to be in Billings, where there wasn’t any resistance for the rally.
“I think I’ll even get a chance to take a nap and relax, then hit it hard again when the rally ends,” Moss said. “But, right now, I’m going to serenade another line, and try to get some people to sing along to ‘Trump Train.’ You know I wrote the original ‘Trump Train’ song?”
As we waited to get in, Moss also sang “Let’s Make America Great Again,” “Donald J. Trump Hat” and “Build the Wall,” which goes, “Build the wall, build it tall, make Mexico pay for it all.”
Those waiting in line to get in were enjoying the music, as several moved their heads back and forth, heads covered by red or white “Make America Great Again” hats.
Many gathered outside the arena were not waiting in line, as they were selling merchandise or showing off their Trump support in others ways.
John Beavers, for example, brought his Dodge Ram Trump Truck to Billings. From Washington state, this was his fifth Trump rally, and he has been getting a lot of love from people while on the interstate.
“A trucker even pulled me over to give me a radio so I could talk with the other truckers who were talking about my truck,” he said. “So many of them are Trump supporters.”
You can’t miss the Trump Truck. It has “Trump” painted in red, white and blue and often has a Trump flag and an American flag hanging out the windows.
“I believe in Trump,” Beavers said. “I believe in his vision to restore order in our country. We need someone like him in office who can get things done and someone who can’t be bought.”
Exciting the people
No matter their age, gender or race, people at MetraPark Thursday were excited for something different, and someone different than the status quo politician.
“We need a businessman to run this country,” said Michel Cochran, an African-American Billings resident in his mid-twenties. “We’re getting tired of the same-old, same-old. Want to buy a Hillary for Prison T-shirt?”
Other young voters focused on Trump’s tenacity and lack of filter.
“He’s not afraid to tell it like it is,” said Reece Ratcliff, a Billings resident in his early twenties.
Very few talked directly about his policies when asked why they support him, but some did.
“I think immigration is a problem, and I like his views on it,” said Megan Smith, who is about to vote in a presidential election for the first time.
Trump touched on his immigration policy, defending his idea for the wall and being stricter on who we allow into the country.
“We can’t allow people to come into the country that we don’t know who they are and we don’t know where they come from,” Trump said. “We can’t do it and we’re not going to do it.”
This statement received one of the largest and loudest reactions of the evening.
Some of those screaming, such as Ratcliff and Smith, were attending their first major political event.
“Normally I don’t get excited about these kinds of things,” Ratcliff said, “but Trump got our attention.”
Middle-aged Darin Dupree agreed, as he normally doesn’t get excited about political candidates, but he believes in Trump.
“He’s not a politician,” Dupree said. “He’s a businessman, he’s an every day man, and I think he can do something to make a change. Think about it. He’s proven himself in every aspect of his life. And, hell, he can’t be any worse, can he?”
“He says what he means,” added Senate District 24 Representative Roger Webb (R-Mont) of Billings, “and, so far, I think people like it.”
People seemed to like Trump’s Thursday, no matter where he decided to go with his hour-long off-the-cuff talk.
“Don’t you like it when somebody doesn’t use the teleprompter?” Trump asked. A huge applause erupted. “I do this from the heart,” Trump added.
His speech bounced around many places, starting with protecting Second Amendment rights but quickly jumping to his rise to front-runner for the Republican nomination. He expressed concern about today’s drug culture, he talked about improving America’s economic policies and he praised America as being the best country in the world.
Trump also gave shout-outs to oil and gas entrepreneur Harold Hamm (who was present at the rally and was also present during Trump’s energy speech in North Dakota earlier that morning), Lou Holtz, Barry Switzer and Ryan Zinke, Montana’s sole representative in the United States House.
Zinke, a Republican, gave a speech to warm up the crowd before Trump took the stage, expressing his support for Trump.
“It’s time to shake it up,” he said. “It’s time to do our duty. It’s time to make America great again.”
Zinke, a former Navy Seal, said he believes Trump will support veterans, putting them “in front of the line.”
Other vets present agreed, such as Desert Storm Army vet George Hutchins.
“Trump will look out for us,” he said. “Just the other day he said he’d donate his presidential salary to the Wounded Warriors Foundation. I believe him.”
But during his speech, Trump didn’t say much about veterans. He focused more on himself and on making America great again.
“This is a movement to make America great again,” Trump said about the rally and about his campaign. “We want smart leadership, we want tough leadership, and we want to put America first.”
Some of what was said in his speech helped people in attendance feel better about supporting non-traditional, unpredictable candidate. Lewistown resident Russell Epperson, for example, went to the rally on the fence, and he came home feeling optimistic.
“I have a better impression of him after having listened to him,” Epperson said. “I do think he’s pretty arrogant, but he can offer a lot to our country if he is put in that position. I’m still not convinced completely, but I feel better about things.”
Montana Democrats, however, are even more concerned.
“What was once a funny news segment is no longer a laughing matter: Donald Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee,” the Montana Democrats wrote in an email following the rally.
Trump is winning, and said he is going to keep winning, comparing himself to a boxer.
“I like the boxers,” Trump said. “They’ve got the best expressions. They say ‘you gotta knock them out. Because when you knock them out, there is nothing they can do.’”
Whether Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, Trump said he is ready to get in the ring, and he is confident he will continue to win and confident America will do the same if he gets elected.
“We’re not winning anymore,” Trump said. “We don’t know what the hell we are doing. We have no abilities, we have no management, and we have no leadership at the top. That’s the problem. So we’re going to change it. If you elect me, we’re going to win.”