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At Trump rally in Pa., loyalists say ‘the Democrats are helping us’ by pushing impeachment

Attendees cheered ahead of an appearance by President Trump in Hershey, Pa., on Tuesday.Matt Rourke/Associated Press/Associated Press

HERSHEY, Pa. — A sham. A circus. A waste of time. A big lie. A trap. A farce. Bull.

Those words are not from President Trump’s tweets. But the descriptions his loyalists used to describe impeachment as they awaited a “Keep America Great” rally here Tuesday sounded just like the president.

And the supporters, who stood in the rain for hours before the 7 p.m. rally began, warned that the House Democrats’ push to remove Trump from office would only guarantee he’ll get four more years.

“In 2020, the Democrats are helping us,” said Donna Eckert, who lives nearby and arrived outside the Giant Center arena in Hershey at 4:30 a.m. to be first in line. “It’s making him stronger.”


The scene on a dreary day in the home of the Hershey Co. chocolate empire — a community that bills itself “The Sweetest Place On Earth” — seemed a world away from the somber mood in Washington, 100 miles south.

By 9 a.m., when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against Trump in the nation’s capital, hundreds of people were already in line for the rally, armed with ponchos, tents, and red “Make America Great Again” hats.

“People think that I’m crazy but I just love him,” said Eckert, 59, wearing a red, white, and blue Trump beanie. She said she has seen Trump in person five times before, including at the arena just days before the 2016 election.

“It’s not just that I love him, it’s that I love America,” said Bonni Tipton, 57, of Wilmington, Del., who stood next to her in line, the roller coasters of Hersheypark visible across the street.

The mood was triumphant.

“Whoop whoop!” Eckert yelled, pumping her fist like she was tooting a train horn, as she predicted impeachment would swing the House back to the Republicans next fall.


A giant video screen in the parking lot broadcast what looked like a cable news station but was labeled “The Official Donald J. Trump Podcast.” The program repeated White House talking points, warning attendees that Democrats want to take away their “constitutional rights” and lead the country toward socialism.

Some women sported Trump cowboy hats. Others wore pink “Women for Trump” shirts. One man used a Trump/Pence flag as a cape. Two young people had shirts that said “Trump’s tweets matter.” People stepped out of line to smoke a cigarette or buy breakfast from a Chick-fil-A food truck set up next to the arena. One woman surreptitiously slipped an uncorked wine bottle in and out of her bag.

Trump flipped this state red in 2016 — the first Republican to win Pennsylvania since 1988 — and his supporters vowed to make sure he wins here again.

“What they’re doing is motivating us and making us determined to reelect him,” said Mike Madigan, 56, of Grand Island, N.Y., who drove 5½ hours to the rally. “It is boomeranging against them.”

That was the message from Trump as he opened his speech Tuesday night.

“The impeachment hoax is about overturning your great 2016 vote or in the alternative, trying to win the 2020 election. That’s not going to happen,” he said.

Before he arrived, speakers warmed up the crowd with chants of “PA. for Trump” and boos for Pelosi and the other Democratic lawmakers who have led the impeachment probe. Trump fans did the wave around the auditorium and shouted “lock her up” about Hillary Clinton. Several stood on tiptoes to try to glimpse reporters from Fox News on the TV camera risers.


Amid a sea of mostly older white people inside the 10,500-seat arena, which was full long before Trump spoke, were several young people. Matthew Orellana, 16, came from Queens with his friend Jonathan Arevalo, 17, and Arevalo’s parents.

Orellana said his parents immigrated to the United States but he supports Trump despite the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. A Christian, he said he backs Trump for his opposition to abortion and because he opposes illegal immigration.

But the boys said they feel uncomfortable showing their support for Trump at school. Orellana’s mother tells him not to wear his MAGA hat in the neighborhood for fear of retribution.

“I’m hated,” he said. “Something that I enjoy about this is the fact that I can wear my hat.”

Amid what they see as relentless and unfair attacks on the president, Trump supporters took solace in the camaraderie of being with other diehards.

“It’s like what hippies were supposed to be. USA! USA! The love is there,” said Alan Gotlieb, 59, who walked his dog, Anarchy, outside as the line grew Tuesday morning.

Gotlieb liked Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016. But after Sanders lost the Democratic nomination, Gotlieb said, he voted for Jill Stein of the Green Party in the general election.


Now he plans to vote for Trump because he believes it is the best way to get affordable health care.

“There’s more Trump voters now than there were in 2016,” said Gotlieb, who drove from the Bronx.

After weeks of House hearings on the Ukraine scandal and a parade of witnesses, many people at the rally said they do not believe Trump did anything wrong.

“I like what he’s doing,” said Joanna Straszewicz, 76, of Hershey, who had her binoculars and earplugs ready. “I think he’s being very strong and standing up to the [Democrats].”

Straszewicz said Trump is following through on his campaign promise to “drain the swamp,” getting rid of career politicians in Washington, and she relates to his approach.

“He’s like me, we have the same personality,” she said. “Hot head, very loud, gotta get things done, we’re not going to take anything from anybody, we always get our revenge.”

She and others said they are disgusted with Democratic politicians in Washington, charging they are so preoccupied with impeachment that they have neglected other bills that could improve people’s lives.

Later Tuesday morning House Democrats announced a deal with the Trump administration to vote on a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.

But that was hours after René Campbell, 56, began the 3½-hour drive from her home in Garfield, N.J. She awoke at 4 a.m. and was on the road an hour later.

Campbell said she voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because she believed in his message of “hope and change,” but then felt betrayed when she believed he tried to suppress Second Amendment rights and expand government.


“Hopefully people who are on the fence or even on the left are going to see through all the crap the Democrats are doing and are going to say, ‘You know what, I’m gonna go for Trump,’ ” she said.

Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.