I am the rare Huffington Post blogger that has been credentialed to cover a Donald Trump for President rally. Not to make light of the courage and work of war correspondents, I felt like a war correspondent going into enemy territory on my way to the rally. To put it mildly, Donald Trump has a strained relationship with the Huffington Post. At one time, the coverage of his campaign was relegated to the entertainment pages. This so incensed then Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski that berated me when I identified myself as a Huffington Post blogger and asked to interview his candidate at the RJC candidates' forum in Washington DC. He snarled, "Never while your coverage is on the entertainment pages."
As soon as the Trump campaign permitted Huffington Post bloggers to be credentialed, I went to cover his rally at Sun City Studios in Chester Township on September 22, 2016. I am not going to cover his speech or coach Bobby Knight's warm up act which included praise for the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who was forced to resign due to the abuse scandal. That has already been covered by the media here.
I expected the worst at the event when I saw these signs for sale at the Trump rally- "Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica; Hillary for Prison 2016, Don't Be a Pussy, Vote For Trump". Instead I received a warm reception from the Trump staff and supporters. This in no way negates the horrible treatment, including arrests, of the hard working reporters covering the campaign on a regular basis.
I arrived 15 minutes late to the event due to getting horribly lost. I half expected to be denied admission. Instead, the Trump staffer waved me in. ABC's Tom Llamas came in right behind me. I was ushered into the penned in media area, but security helped me facilitate interviews. To my surprise, I was welcomed and warmly received by all of the Trump supporters with whom I talked. A few simply asked "if I was going to be fair." Despite the media's characterization of Trump's voters as angry, I did not meet an angry person all night. Most of the crowd was practically giddy with excitement.
The first person I interviewed was Sukha Williams, an African-American woman who owns a professional services business in Morton, Pennsylvania. When asked why she supports Trump, she said, "I know what it's like to start out from the bottom and work hard. I started out in housekeeping and then became an executive and then worked my way up to own my own company. I know there is a diversification within the party, but a lot of the core themes that he says I agree with. There are some I don't, but a lot I do. I weighed the two."
Her explanation of why Trump's incendiary comments about minorities don't bother her is a window into why he doesn't lose support no matter how outrageous the remark. She explained, "I am originally from the South and I like honesty. My daughter is actually the one that convinced me to go with Trump. She's 29. Believe it or not. She says mom, he's saying a lot of the things that we say behind closed doors. Even a lot of African-Americans don't want to admit that we have these conversations. I like that is upfront and open and willing to have this dialogue."
Williams, a member of the RNC's Chairman's Advisory Board, wrote after the event, "I wanted to take the time to thank you for caring enough to ask me my story. I know we didn't have enough time to properly sit down so I could fully explain my reasoning. I also wanted you to know that there are more of us (Brown Americans) in business who in spite of Mr. Trump flaws will be voting for him. I am perhaps the least interesting yet I belong to a Messianic Synagogue and so my decision includes who I believe will be fair to Israel."
Trump supporter Leslie Morgan, who describes herself as a single mother by choice, helped this blogger, despite knowing that I was writing for the Huffington Post, by snapping pictures of the Rocky statue at the front of the room. She brought her teenage nephew to the rally. She said, "As a business person all my life, I have known about Donald for a long time. I spent 10 years in New York when he was doing some of his early projects. I saw him turn around that city. Other people helped too. When he did the Hyatt project, nobody wanted to look at that. He was a very loud mouthed person then, but he got things done. He's a turnaround guy. I was a Ross Perot voter; I am a Donald Trump voter."
Morgan shrugged off Trump's misogynistic comments. "My sister was a very good photographer. She worked at the Times. She said he always treated her well. That's all I know about him. I know other women tangentially and they like him."
As he does at all his rallies, Trump attacked the media; branding us liars. The only time I was slightly afraid was when he asked his supporters to turn around and boo at us. I was cursing myself for sitting in the front row. Luckily, that minute passed quickly, but I would not want to experience that every night.
One of Donald Trump's favorite complaints against the media is that they don't accurately show the size of the crowds. He's partially right, but it's his or his advance team's fault. There was a second room behind the main room that was possibly filled with people at the Chester Township rally I attended, but his directives to keep the media penned in made it impossible for me to check how many people were in the room. There were about 3000 supporters in the main room, but no one was waiting to get in as he claimed.
After his speech was over, Trump stayed to take pictures and sign autographs. Some in the media ventured out of their confined area to interview rally attendees even though the campaign forbids this. No one stepped in to stop them. I
The latest polls indicate Donald Trump is losing the race for President, but the enthusiasm at this rally mirrored the voter's enthusiasm for Barack Obama in 2008. His supporters will go the polls. I am not sure all of Hillary Clinton's will.