The Arizona Republic
Whirlwind Trump trip meant to inspire, jump-start
Donald Trump was all business as he walked down the stairs from Air Force One after landing at Sky Harbor International Airport about 9:30 p.m. Thursday.
There was no one there to greet his plane, which had whisked him from Missoula, Montana, where he had held a rally earlier that evening for a Republican locked in a tight battle with a Democrat for a U.S. Senate seat.
Trump got into his waiting black limo, peered at his watch, hit the doorframe with his hand and, according to television footage, appeared to bark at the driver to get going.
So began Trump’s whirlwind 36 hours in Phoenix.
Trump came to Arizona with a singular mission: to get voters excited about the midterms. His name was not on the ballot, but he needed supporters to believe it was.
He was here to support U.S. Rep. Mar-
tha McSally in her bid for a U.S. Senate seat. McSally, a congresswoman from southern Arizona, had not been a Trump follower in 2016, but since the election had become a convert.
McSally’s race against Kyrsten Sinema, a Democratic congresswoman from a Phoenix-area district, appears to be tight. It is a race being watched nationally as one that could determine control of the Senate and the remaining course of Trump’s first term.
By the time the president was making his way to a Scottsdale resort, some supporters had already made the pilgrimage out to the Mesa airport to camp for the night. Trump would speak inside an airline hangar the next evening.
More supporters started arriving at the airport Friday morning, beginning to fill a dirt lot across the hangar.
It was not a brutally hot day by Arizona standards. Temperatures would start in the 70s and climb to the mid-80s. Still, the area around the airport was mainly constructed for vehicles, not people. There was little shade and a lot of dust.
Security let people into the hangar at
about 2 p.m. The hangar offered few comforts.
Attendees were handed signs that read “Make America Safe Again” and “Finish the Wall,” a hint that immigration and border security would be a theme during the evening’s speech.
Trump ‘could be that chosen one’
Juanita Richardson, 70, drove up from Tucson on Friday morning. Unsure about the rally’s location, she parked at a long-term lot meant for travelers. It was more than a mile away from the hangar where she wanted to be. She paid a cab driver a flat $20 to drive her there.
“It was worth it,” she said. Though, she wasn’t sure how she would get back.
Richardson said she has been a lifelong Republican, but didn’t feel that the previous politicians from her party resonated with her true personal beliefs. Trump does.
“I just want to support him,” she said. For Jeff Hammond, 59, it was his firstever
“I’m behind him,” he said. He applauded Trump’s tax cuts and said he hoped he would do more in the next two years “if everybody would let him be the president.”
He said people criticize Trump for being
a womanizer, but, he said, the disciples who followed Jesus Christ also were not perfect people.
“Donald Trump could be that chosen one,” he said.
While his supporters gathered under the tent-like structure, Trump was with McSally, first at a fundraiser in Scottsdale, then at a tour of Luke Air Force Base on the opposite end of the Phoenix metro area.
Meanwhile, at the rally, some supporters had taken to lying down on the cold concrete floor of the hangar. People talked of sore backs, tired feet and surgically repaired knees.
Paramedics rushed over to a man who sat slumped against a railing. Sara Whittington, 28, asked a person she was standing next to if they could pray for the man.
The Mesa crew were able to revive the person and get him talking again.
“Praise God,” Whittington said. “He’s a healer.”
Whittington said she was a reluctant voter for Trump in 2016 but had become a devotee as she has seen him handle his presidency.
Though, she said has been bothered by some of Trump’s utterances.
“Vulgarity and cursing are no good,” she said, but she saw a divine plan. Maybe Trump’s style of speaking made people pay more attention to issues, she said.
“God uses those things,” she said.
The devoted await the arrival
At about 5 p.m., the state Republican chairman, Jonathan Lines, took the stage to welcome the crowd and introduce the slate of Republican congressmen and the governor who would serve as opening acts.
But, first, he promptly called for paramedics. Another person had succumbed to the long day and heat.
At about 6 p.m., Mesa fire officials stopped letting people into the hangar. An official would later say there were about 6,500 inside. Another 3,000 to 4,000 filled an overflow area outside.
At about 6:20 p.m, spotlights started scanning the tarmac and sky. The crowd craned and held cellphones aloft as what appeared to be a pair of helicopters moved through the sky.
Deena Kelly, 70, of Florence stood on the bottom bar of a railing surrounding reporters, nearly hoisting herself over to see.
“I’ve been here since 12 p.m., in the sun, but I’d do it all again. I don’t care how long I have to wait,” she said. “This man is going to save our country.”
At 6:40 p.m., the large helicopter rumbled up the tarmac. It turned, its headlights lighting up the crowd.
The opening guitar riff of Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child of Mine” played. The song had played a few times during the day. It was a well-timed coincidence. But it made the crowd cheer.
A bright white spotlight shone on two sets of doors. The Guns N’ Roses song faded.
An announcer said: “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome the 45th President of the United States: Donald J. Trump.”
Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” started up.
Two U.S. Marines walked out of the helicopter.
Then Trump emerged, followed by McSally.
Kelly strained and craned until she was able to get a glimpse of Trump.
Kelly stepped off the bar holding a wide smile. She grabbed her red “Make America Great Again” sign and held it high in triumph.
‘The second-greatest’ vote
Trump opened his speech by praising McSally and warning of a dark future if Congress flipped to the opposing forces.
“If the radical Democrats take control, they will try to plunge our country into a nightmare of poverty, gridlock and chaos,” he said.
He brought McSally to the microphone with a nod to her career as a fighter pilot, the first female Air Force pilot to fly a combat mission.
“She’s tough and she’s smart and she’s brave and she can fly an airplane better than anybody,” he said.
McSally spoke for about five minutes, mainly drawing contrasts between herself and Sinema.
She talked about her war experience, contrasting it to Sinema’s protest of the Iraq War on a college campus. A photo from those days showed Sinema wearing something that looked like a ballerina outfit. McSally’s campaign has made the most of it in ads.
“I was wearing a flight suit,” McSally said, “and she was wearing a” – here McSally paused to cue the crowd to join in – “pink tutu.”
Trump took the microphone again. He turned to immigration.
He talked about Democrats wanting to give illegal immigrants the right to vote and a driver’s license.
“Next thing you know, they’ll want to buy them a car,” he said. “Then they’ll say a car’s not good enough. We want a Rolls Royce.”
The crowd responded with cheers and laughter. Though some supporters, weary of the day, started to drift out of the hangar.
Trump praised his own presidency. “I actually kept more promises than I made,” he said.
And, before he closed, he gave McSally a final anointment.
“It will be the second-greatest vote you ever cast,” he said. “The first greatest vote was for me.”
His speech, just under an hour, ended with the closing stanzas of strength and country and not backing down, leading up to his traditional closing refrain: “We will make America great again.”
The crowd roared its approval.
Supporters streamed toward the north end of the hangar, hoping for a closer glimpse of their president boarding Marine One.
At the top of the stairs to the helicopter, Trump stopped, turned and waved, giving his devotees one more reason to cheer before he disappeared inside.
The helicopter whirred to life, filing the hangar with a roar.