Long before President Donald Trump took the stage at Missoula International Airport on Thursday evening, Craig Harms and Rob Embree stood in a dusty field and counted the clock.
The two ardent Trump supporters left their homes in the southern Bitterroot Valley before sunrise to beat the morning rush. With hours to kill before Air Force One touched down against a setting sun and the Make America Great Again rally commenced, their political leanings earned them several thousand new friends.
“He’s changing the country – he’s making America great again,” Embree said of Trump. “He’s brought down taxes, he’s got employment coming back, he’s got jobs back, and he’s building the wall. He’s doing what we need to do in this country to get rid of all this stuff Obama did illegally.”
Those standing in line weren’t shy about blasting what they see as Democratic Party resistance to the president’s agenda. Trump touched on that same theme at the rally, saying Democrats “have turned into an angry mob bent on destroying anything or anyone in their path, and your senator is one of them.”
Trump was referencing incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.
Embree, who came from Sula to see the president speak, wasn’t alone in his political views. Many of those queued up for shuttle rides to the rally backed Trump’s policies on trade, reforming the nation’s tax structure, enhancing border security and building a wall along the southern U.S. border.
“The wall is very important,” said Harms. “We’ve got criminals coming in and drugs coming in. We need the wall. It may not stop them, but it will slow them down.”
Thursday’s event took on a game-day atmosphere, with merchants peddling Trump 2020 T-shirts and the president’s now iconic “Make American Great Again” caps. Despite Trump’s unconventional ways of delivering a message, his supporters stand firmly behind him.
“I think he’s highly entertaining, and a lot of his stuff is meant for entertainment purposes,” said Roxy Borchers of Missoula. “It’s funny and it works. It’s hilarious how Democrats try to play his game and beat him at his own game and utterly fail. He keeps the conversation going.”
Prior to Trump’s arrival on the political stage, Republicans sat quietly by while the Democratic Party delivered a strong and vocal message. Now, Mandy Combs of Arlee said, the tables have turned.
She attributes that to Trump and his unconventional style, including his use of Twitter.
“It’s clever hyperbole,” said Combs. “If he says something, even if he exaggerates, everyone’s talking about it, and he gets the message out there.”
“I don’t like everything he says on Twitter, but he’s not a politician – he’s a businessman and that’s what we need in there,” said Embree. “I’ve never had a politician do what he said he was going to do. We have a president that’s doing it. He gets cut down constantly by the press and fake news, so he needs something to build him back up and keep going.”
While the rally played out at Minuteman Aviation, a handful of protesters stood quietly by holding peace signs. They stood in the dark surrounded by law enforcement officers and a police dog.
Outside the venue, a billboard instructed Trump supporters how to deal with protesters should they speak out. It simply told them to raise their Trump signs and begin chanting “Trump. Trump. Trump,” until security arrived. No protesters spoke out at the rally.
“I understand people making the comment that he’s not presidential,” said Brigitte Bellefleur. “But as I watch the Democrats respond and how they’ve responded over the last two years, I’m more than proud of my vote for Trump. My vote for Trump has been a vote against the Democrats.”
Bellefleur said she was raised in a Democratic home and voted for the Democratic Party most of her life. It was during former President Barack Obama’s second term that her political leanings began to change.
“I can’t imagine that in my lifetime the (Democratic) party will ever change enough for me to consider going back,” she said. “It’s the hypocrisy, the never-ending notice of what Trump does wrong – and he does do some things wrong. But it’s a complete disregard for what’s happened in the Democratic Party in the past that’s equally bad, equally as corrupt and equally as deceitful.”
While the Republican Party may have been guilty of similar resistance and political interference, Bellefleur said, it wasn’t as bad as it is now.
“I think there were elements of it, yes, but this is on steroids,” she said. “There was a time when I was disgusted at how Republicans seemed to be so objectionable. Now what I watch unfolding, it’s the Democrats doing it.”