With the smell of sausages and kettle corn, the sight of vendors selling t-shirts and the sound of music blaring in the distance, thousands descended onto the Pittsburgh-Butler Regional Airport Saturday afternoon.
Signs that say President Donald Trump was in town became apparent. Many in the crowd wore the signature red “Make America Great Again” hats.
Upon his arrival later in the evening, Trump would become the first sitting U.S. President to visit Butler County. Many from the area took advantage of his visit to get a glimpse of him and hear rallying cries to get out and vote three days before Election Day.
Braydon Brinker of Butler, who is also a Slippery Rock Student Government Association (SGA) Senator, said he expected Trump to come into Butler to “hype up a key state” in this election.
Brinker said this would be his first time voting and he would be doing so in person.
For Jim Lanze, just being around other supporters of the president was enough for him. He said he was there to show support for the president in contrast to the “hassle and grief” he’s received since taking office.
Lanze, who now lives in Pittsburgh, said he has been voting since he was a senior at SRU, where he voted for President Ronald Reagan in 1984. During that election, Reagan received 525 Electoral Votes, which was the most by any candidate.
Both Lanze and others in attendance expect the president to have a strong showing Election Day due to what they say is “a silent majority,” a large group of Trump supporters who do not voice their political leanings.
As the hours pressed forward, the music playlist consisting of Michael Jackson, Elton John and others had grown to repeat itself and was replaced with prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance led by Slippery Rock Mayor Jondavid Longo.
Following the pledge, a string of Republican candidates from U.S. Reps. Glenn Thompson and Mike Kelly to Sean Parnell who is running against Rep. Conner Lamb for the PA-17 seat.
All the speakers worked up the crowd, going from passionate calls to get out to vote, to rhetorical questions about who Trump is.
“Who is Donald Trump?” Kelly asked. “Donald Trump is you. Donald Trump is us. Donald Trump is America.”
After the speeches and chants of “Four more years” and “U.S.A.,” the music came back up and many left the barricaded area of the main stage to make their way to the line of food vendors and portable toilets.
Fracking becomes the focus
Along with giant American flags and “Make America Great Again” banners, gas and oil equipment from a well and trucks could be seen throughout the rally. Men and women in hardhats, many of whom would later be situated in bleachers behind the president, were there to show their support as an industry.
In the past few weeks, most notably at the debate, Trump has made his love for fracking well-known, going so far as to claim that if former Vice President Joe Biden were to win the election, there would be no more oil and gas jobs in states like Pennsylvania and Texas.
While Biden has said his plan does not involve banning fracking, he would ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters. Also part of Biden’s plan is investing in research that uses renewables to produce carbon-free hydrogen at the same cost as that from shale gas.
Gas and oil workers in western Pennsylvania like Brandon Lapeyrouse of Houma, Louisiana, said having a president that wants to see their industry be successful is important because it is how he takes care of his family.
“That is how I feed my family, how I put food on the table,” Lapeyrouse said.
He added that when he lost his previous well job due to a bust in the industry, he went from making $80,000 to $30,000 a year, which made it harder for him to provide for his family.
Mark Coburn of Wilmington, North Carolina added that good-paying jobs in the oil and gas industry allow the workers to pay for their residence back in their home state along with paying for their living expenses where the job site.
“It takes the blue-collar worker and gives him white-collar money,” Coburn said.
According to Joe Lebouef, an employee of Deep Well Services, if the fracking industry were to see another bust, the employees and families would not just suffer, but so will the towns where oil and gas wells are located.
Lebouef said oil and gas workers can easily spend $1,500 a week at hotels, restaurants and bars.
The president has arrived
As the sun began to drop behind the large flags hung by cranes, many in the crowd and media noticed members of the security team decked out in either all black or camouflage, take up a sniper position on top of one of the hangers overlooking where the president would be speaking, a sign that his arrival was near.
First, with three Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey aircraft arriving and two Marine helicopters shortly after, the president walked onto the stage in Butler to the roaring crowd that had amassed to over 10,000 and the tune of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.”
Trump’s speech would last just under one hour. Within the first two minutes, he pointed out the number of news media present, referring to them as “fake news” before declaring that if Biden were to win, it would be an “economic death sentence.”
The president also announced that before he exited the helicopter, he signed an order to protect Pennsylvania oil and gas jobs.
The presidential memorandum sets forth a policy to “aggressively protect and enhance American jobs, economic opportunities, and national security” by assessing the benefits of hydraulic fracking and any negative effects of “undermining” the industry.
The presidential memorandum, by its nature, only sets policy and provides no enforceable legal protection.
As Trump continued, he kept up the attacks on his opponent by telling the crowd what he sees happening if Biden were to be elected.
“Joe Biden is a diehard globalist, who spent the last 47 years outsourcing your jobs, opening your boarders and sacrificing American blood and treasure,” Trump said.
Trump also railed against China for what he said were their attempts to hurt the American economy through cheap steel and the Coronavirus pandemic, which he referred to as “the plague.”
He intertwined his opponent with the rival nation, claiming that Biden had been giving jobs away to China while his family made millions of dollars.
While those allegations have been made in the past, most recently from leaked emails allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden, there has been no indication that the work Biden did was to influence his family’s wealth.
Trump told the crowd he would work harder for them and that he wanted everyone to get out and vote so he could send a message to groups like the media, tech giants and Washington swamp, “They never forget.”
In talking about the pandemic, Trump called on Gov. Tom Wolf to open Pennsylvania.
He claimed that a vaccine would be weeks away and said the military would oversee distributing it.
Trump said it was important for the country to get back to normal because according to him, lockdowns are causing countless deaths and increase suicide rates.
While data on suicides for 2020 is not currently available, the rate of suicides in the U.S. has been increasing since 2009, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The president also took time to highlight the previous Republican candidates who spoke earlier and said if the people want a vaccine they need to “vote Republican, vote for Trump.”
Trump also brought onto the stage former Notre Dame football head coach Lou Holtz to address the crowd.
Holtz said he was taken aback by the enthusiasm in the crowd and asked everyone to show up to vote.
“This isn’t about Republican and Democrat,” Holtz said. “It’s about right versus wrong, good versus evil, freedom.”
Taking back the stage, Trump touted his endorsements from law enforcement organizations and the need for law and order in places like Portland.
Talking about promises, the president cited his build-up of the military to a level where it has become the “envy of Russia and China,” and his work getting a southern border wall built.
He added that his signing of the VA CHOICE program and VA Accountability Act gave him a high approval rating amongst veterans.
A poll conducted by Syracuse University and Military Times showed that Trump does have a higher approval with veterans, but also that Biden has a slight edge with active-duty troops.
He continued listing off achievements of his administration from the killings of terrorists Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Qasem Soleimani to the creation of the U.S. Space Force.
“I think I’ve done more than I’ve promised,” Trump said.
Wrapping up the speech, Trump said if re-elected he will make good on his promises to “finish draining the swamp,” which leads to chants from the crowd.
“Together, we are taking back our country,” Trump said. “We are returning power to you the American people.”
He added that with the support of the people, they will keep “winning, winning, winning.”
As he thanked the crowd, the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” began blaring from the speakers as the crowd whooped and hollered.
Dancing his way off stage and into Marine One, the president and his entourage took off into the sky, heading for one more Pennsylvania rally as the electrified crowd funneled out the gates into waiting lines for buses to take them back to their cars.
Many, still excited by the words the president spoke, did not seem to mind the freezing temperatures as they waited.
If the president’s goal were to energize thousands in the rural western Pennsylvania county to show up at the polls on Nov. 3, he had succeeded.