Donald Trump Came to Delco Last Night, and It Was Weird

The Trump campaign rode into town Thursday, and the strangest presidential candidate in history made his pitch for the highest office in the land.

A woman in a "Deplorable Voters Matter" t-shirt, a Rocky statue with a Trump/Pence shirt, and Emily Youcis (Pistachio Girl) decked out in Trump gear

Scenes from the Donald Trump rally in Chester Township. | Photos: Dan McQuade

A voice boomed as if from the heavens. “Please welcome, legendary coach Bobby Knight!”

Even though it was sweltering outside, the former Indiana University basketball coach walked on stage in his trademark red sweater. “When I was coaching, I don’t think we ever lost a game in Pennsylvania,” Knight said. “It’s just a possibility that may not be true, too. I’ve always been a big fan of the state of Pennsylvania. One of the people that I admired most in college athletics was Joe Paterno.” The crowd cheered.

Donald Trump, Knight and a few thousand supporters gathered in Studio 2 at Sun Center Studios in Chester Township last night to rally in support of Trump’s bid for the presidency. The final fight in Creed was filmed on the same stage, and so there was a Rocky statue wearing a Trump shirt in the room. Trump came on stage to “Gonna Fly Now” when Knight introduced him. “He won 900 games!” Trump said as Knight walked off the stage. “That’s a winner. We like winners.”

Donald Trump came to Delco last night, and it was weird.

In any other presidential campaign in the mass media era, last night’s opening spectacle would’ve made headlines. The hand-picked speaker introducing Trump praised Joe Paterno, a man reviled by many for not calling the police when told of sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky. In Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, it was just a blip — another odd moment to add to the pile.

Trump stopped in Philadelphia before his campaign event, ordering 10 cheesesteaks (all wiz, half witout) at Geno’s Steaks. Late owner Joey Vento had made the shop infamous with its “Speak English” sign; his dying wish was that it stand forever. “In the past, the presidents that have won all came to Pat’s,” Pat’s Steaks spokesperson (?!) Nancy Schure told Esquire. “Obama and Clinton were a few, and we all know that Gore really won …”

Outside the event, vendors sold T-shirts and hats reading “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” They sold shirts with Trump-supporting Minions and merchandise proudly calling the wearer “deplorable.” There were even shirts where Bill Murray told you to vote for Trump.

Hillary Clinton surrogates denounced the affair. “Donald Trump not seeing President Obama as an American is part of his consistent pattern of bigotry and divisiveness,” said Chester mayor Thaddeus Kirkland. “It’s who he is. There is no other Donald Trump. After spending five years championing a conspiracy theory to undermine our first African-American president, Donald Trump hasn’t actually changed his mind.” Chester, a city of 30,000 without a supermarket that borders the township, has one of the nation’s highest homicide rates. Trump did not mention Chester by name in his speech, but he did make a pitch to black voters.

“The cities are so unsafe,” said Trump. “You walk your child to a store and you end up getting shot. And your child gets shot. I say: What do you have to lose? I will fix it! We’re going to fix it together. We’re going to have good education. We’re going to make it safe for the people in those communities. It certainly can’t get much worse.”

An underwhelming slogan, to be sure: “What do you have to lose?” does not inspire much confidence in the listener. Politicians generally pitch somewhat specific plans at these kinds of rallies, or at least specific goals. Trump also made his pitch to black voters in a room made up almost entirely of white people, foregoing the general political norms. (One older black woman in attendance declined an interview with Philadelphia magazine.)

Trump also used the slogan “America First,” the same one used by an anti-Semitic, isolationist organization in the 1940s. Shirts in the crowd taunted black citizens: Deplorable Lives Matter, White Lives Matter, the confederate flag with “you wear your X, we’ll wear ours” on it (the ’90s are back). It was not a normal political rally.

Other things happened. A prayer at the beginning asked Trump to “turn the tide on this country’s moral crisis.” Otto Voit, a candidate for Pennsylvania treasurer, warned of “Obama’s socialist and one world order policies.” Reliable rabble-rouser Joshua Scott Albert was booted from the rally after he called on Trump to release his tax returns.

About that time, Trump turned to the wall and received the loudest cheers of the night. “We will build the wall, and Mexico will pay for the wall — 100 percent,” Trump said, without explaining how this would ever possibly work. “They may not know it yet, but they’re paying for it.” He then immediately pivoted: “They’re a great country, great leadership, terrific country, I met with the leaders there recently.” Later, I looked it up: Trump’s plan to get Mexico to pay for the wall involves forbidding remittances from undocumented workers in America to relatives back home — a threat to people’s survival.

Those in attendance were delighted to see the man in action. Leslie Morgan, a “single mother by choice” and realtor from Radnor, said she’d been a Trump supporter since he declared last year. “I feel very strongly about manufacturing, about repatriating the money over here, and lowering corporate tax rates to bring jobs back to America first [and] help the inner cities,” she said. “They’ve been really depleted in the last eight to 10 years.” There is no nuance at a Trump rally, no sense of how we could bring back manufacturing jobs. Trump will break trade agreements by sheer will. He will deploy the military to force China to bring jobs back. Last night, Trump said it will happen in just a year or two! “The jobs will all be returning to Pennsylvania in a really big way — and pretty quickly too,” he said.

At one point, Trump even noted that some of the attack ads against him were somewhat true: “You can’t turn on a television without seeing a phony ad that’s totally dishonest — pretty dishonest, maybe not totally — about me.”

“Pistachio Girl” Emily Youcis, last seen heckling Nick Denton at the Gawker wake, was up front wearing a “Make the Phillies Great Again” hat. She dated her transformation to Trump fan to last November, when she “started actually just paying attention to the news.”

“He’s honest,” Youcis said. “And he’s actually fighting for America. He’s a nationalist. We’re anti-globalists. The globalists are trying to take everyone down. He speaks about radical Islamic terrorism, he actually puts it to name. And, as you know, I’ve been talking about Islamic terrorism and the impending Sharia law for a long time now. … Obviously, Obama and Hillary are working with the Muslim Brotherhood. You know, he’s an entertainer, he’s a salesman. I’m an entertainer, I’m a salesman.”

I asked Youcis like I did of the whole Trump rally: Is this a joke or an art project? It isn’t, she says. Youcis directed me to some of her art, a short trailer she’d recently released.

What can you say about this whole thing? Trump mocks all those who oppose him, even in the slightest. He even mocks his friends. “He tries to portray himself as not just the most successful person of all time,” Jim Newell wrote last year, “but perhaps the only successful person of all time.” Trump’s policies are prepared without care for collateral damage. He has no real plan for health care. He seems to have no real plan for anything.

And next year, he may be our president.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.