Thousands huddled in freezing rain at Lansing’s Capital Region International Airport from the early hours of Tuesday morning to well into the afternoon. Pulling into the airport, one may have been forgiven for thinking they were arriving at a Big Ten tailgate party. Despite the frigid temperatures and wet conditions, attendees made the long walk from the parking lot to the security line with a pep that didn’t match the weather. They carried blankets, donned stocking caps and perhaps surprisingly, a majority wore masks.
The crowd filed in through rigorous security and temperature checks for hours and eventually filled the event space to capacity and overflowed into the streets and parking lots on both sides of the hangar apron. The feeling that one was at a sporting event continued once inside the gates, as Trump regalia and vendors were as abundant as team gear at a football game, displaying that Trump has managed to carry over his branding expertise to a realm that has seldom been seen as “cool.” It was impossible to wonder, how much of the Trump brand will stick as the GOP prepares for a post-Trump era in the coming months or years. It was undeniably a Trump rally, rather than a Republican event and the crowd seemed to match. Scores of young people, UAW members, racial minorities and all other demographics of the American landscape were in abundance like no Republican event would have expected before Trump.
Supporters flooded into the seats, carrying hot cocoa, pizzas and other concessions before being met by a wall of sound streaming from the fingers of Detroit rock legend, Ted Nugent. Nugent shredded out a walloping Star Spangled Banner, before giving older folks in the crowd a taste of nostalgia with the opening riff of his hit song, Stranglehold. Chants of “Four More Years” & “USA” broke out throughout the morning and on one occasion, several rounds of the Wave went around the packed crowd.
When we covered the Bernie Sanders rally in Grand Rapids on a clear spring day just as Covid began spreading across Michigan, we remarked how young the crowd was with some 80% being 30-something or below and the rest seeming to fall well into the retiree category with very few between the two demographics. Yesterday, we were again surprised to see just how many young people braved miserable elements to attend a political rally, though describing it as such seems to be a diminishing misnomer for the atmosphere present on Tuesday. Tuesday’s crowd appeared very evenly distributed across all ages and both men & women. Perhaps the most surprising element of the day was just how energetic the crowd was and how widely distributed the ages of attendees were on Tuesday. We have covered scores of Republican conferences, conventions and other rallies over the years and none felt or looked like the gathering at the Capital Region International Airport.
As the attendees found their seats and settled in for the rough ride of rain and cold temperatures, they were greeted by election hopefuls Paul Junge, who is in a race against incumbent Rep. Elissa Slotkin, and John James, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Gary Peters.
Both candidates highlighted several areas they believe their opponents have broken promises, with Junge notably accusing Slotkin of reneging on a promise not to impeach the president if elected. Slotkin, Junge argued, folded under pressure from Democrat leadership to impeach the president last January. Likewise, John James targeted Peters’ claims to be a defender of the Great Lakes and clean drinking water, while he stated asian carp risk invading Lake Michigan and Flint pipes are still leaching lead. James also attacked Peters’ attendance record at committee hearings and meetings, as well as his voting history.
James ran previously against incumbent, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, but looks to be faring much stronger in 2020 as his name recognition and brand have been rising in recent years. His race with Peters is sure to be a telling one on the future direction of Michigan politics and give some insight to his political brand going forward.
The festivities hit a fever pitch as Air Force One arrived just behind the stage and Donald Trump rose up the stairs to cheers and cellphones recording his ascent as Lee Greenwood’s I’m Proud to be an American blasted from the loudspeakers. Trump, always the showman, clearly reveled in the moment and made a protracted entrance, more akin to the WWE than a political rally, making his way to every part of the stage and addressing every corner of the audience with waves and fist pumps.
It did not take long for Trump to win over the rain soaked crowd, making jokes about the weather and his “people” asking if he’d like an umbrella or a hat, but telling the crowd he insisted on joining them in the elements as they had to wait longer than expected for his plane to arrive. Though two teleprompters framed either side of the podium, bearing the seal of the President of the United States, Trump’s remarks often felt more like riffing off bullet points from the screens. Trump covered various topics from his appointment and approval of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney-Barrett, economic success since 2016, trade deals with China & the USMCA and targeted several areas of disagreement with his opponent, Joe Biden.
The president also made sure to drop his signature line about the corrupt media that got boos from all in attendance before Trump called out to Fox News’ John Roberts and chuckled that Roberts has been fair. The comment drew wide swathes of the crowd to laugh, turn around and wave to Roberts. While Trump has attacked media that he believes has treated him unfairly, he has also found ways at doing so in a less aggressive way than in the past several years. It is also important to note that his campaign staff was very gracious to media in the crowd who had been in the elements since early in the morning, unsolicitedly giving out hand warmers and coffee to shivering reporters.
The president also made sure to target Biden on everything from allegedly corrupt dealings brought to attention in recent weeks by reporting in the New York Post, to flip-flopping multiple times on fracking and other fossil fuels abolishment, weakness towards China, Russia and North Korea, immigration policy and perhaps most effectively in regards to trade policy & social security/medicare; mirroring arguments and even playing tape of the Biden/Sanders Democrat Primary Debate. Trump seems willing to reach across the aisle to disaffected Sanders voters who feel the Democrat establishment pushed their candidate out of the race once again and even picked their preferred candidate to the one selected by voters in running Kamala Harris as VP. Harris was famously run out of the campaign before California even voted when fellow Democrat presidential candidate, Tulsi Gabbard, highlighted a series of blistering rebukes against the Senator. That moment was too much for Harris’ campaign to fend off, but a few months later, she was propped back up with a vice presidential selection by a Biden campaign that has already eluded to the fact she is the de facto candidate.
Trump waved to the crowd and boarded Air Force One to cap the day with two additional rallies in Wisconsin and Nebraska. Biden, conversely, called a lid on all in-person campaign and media events for the final ten days leading up to the election. Update: Biden has since announced he will be hitting the campaign trail once again and will campaign with Barack Obama in Michigan this Saturday.