On Tuesday morning, House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. On Tuesday evening, almost three dozen Carroll countians who had ridden a bus to Hershey, Pennsylvania, attended a Trump rally to show the president their support.
A few of them received quite a bonus — after waiting in line and finally getting inside the Giant Center, they were randomly chosen to receive seat upgrades, T-shirts, hats and food.
“As soon as we walked in, a Trump volunteer stopped us and asked if we would like great seats. We said yes and he took us to the VIP area. We were encouraged to take new campaign shirts and hats and we were given free water and popcorn. We still had no idea where these great seats would be,” Republican Central Committee member Chris Tomlinson said via email. "Next thing we know, we’re being walked down to the bleachers behind the podium. But not only that, we were being walked down to the very bottom row. The whole night was surreal.
“I felt like I found the Wonka Bar with the Golden Ticket. Every time we thought this cannot get any better, it did.”
Tomlinson (also a Times columnist), Josh Grager and Taylor Bosley were among those who wound up with choice seats. In fact, Tomlinson can be seen just to the left of Trump’s right shoulder or elbow (depending on the angle) in many of the videos and photos taken of Trump at the lectern during an hour-long speech.
“Not until my phone started blowing up did I realize I was in perfect view of the camera,” Tomlinson said. “Friends, acquaintances, co-workers, family, old classmates, etc., were texting or Facebooking me about being all over television for a straight hour.”
The bus trip was organized by Carroll Republican Victory, a local political action committee that calls its mission “to connect Republicans in Carroll County and to help elect Republicans at all levels of government ― in the municipalities, at the county level, in the General Assembly and at the federal level.”
Bob Leatherwood is the chairman of the group that he calls a bunch of friends that get together once a month at Johanssons Dining House in Westminster and invite speakers. He was one of 30 who made the bus trip, all of whom were among the 10,000 or so who got in to see the rally.
“It was interesting. I’d never been to one before and neither had most of the people on the bus,” Leatherwood said, noting that it was a relatively diverse group that included the president of the Towson University Young Republicans Club. “I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, either the event or the trip itself. Both more than exceeded my thoughts.
"Everyone was interested in seeing a sitting president of the United States. It was fun. People were laughing. Many had never met each other, but we had a good time getting people together and realizing it doesn’t have to be life or death.”
That’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of talk about current events en route to the campaign stop in a swing state considered critical to Trump’s 2020 re-election bid. Leatherwood said that with the impeachment announcement on the same day as the rally, “a lot of things came into alignment.”
“We knew this rally was going to be a special night considering the news that the Articles of Impeachment were released that very morning. President Trump is always fired up but we knew he was going to have a whole lot to say based on this breaking news,” Tomlinson said.
Trump termed it “impeachment lite” and had derogatory things to say about House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — both Democrats — and the entire process, according to the Associated Press.
“The atmosphere was electric. Every time someone mentioned impeachment, everyone booed and screamed and yelled; it was crazy,” Leatherwood said, noting that gun control was also a major issue for those in attendance. “The Second Amendment is important everywhere, but in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the place went nuts every single time it was mentioned. It felt like the floor was shaking it was so loud.”
Whereas many of the attendees had never been to a rally like this one, it was Tomlinson’s fourth.
“This one certainly takes the cake,” said Tomlinson, who added that Trump rallies are more like rock concerts or live wrestling shows than normal political events. “I’m not sure if I can attend any more after that amazing night. Tuesday night can never be repeated or outdone. But I would recommend that any supporter of the president try to make it out to one of these rallies over the next year.”
The bus from Carroll arrived at the Giant Center in the early afternoon. The supporters waited nearly three hours in the rain along with thousands of others. Leatherwood noted that the four people in front of him in line were from Buffalo, New York, and the three behind him from Roanoke, Virginia. Areas were set up for protesters to exercise their First Amendment rights, but Leatherwood said no one took advantage, noting that he saw only two protesters in contrast to thousands who were unable to get inside once the arena had filled up.
When it was time to head home after the event, Tomlinson and co. took a bit of a razzing after getting the seat upgrades and the national exposure.
“Everyone was calling them a bunch of celebrities, saying, ‘Don’t you have a limo to go home in?’ That was the kind of atmosphere it was,” Leatherwood said.
He said he asked the assembled supporters on the bus if anyone would want to do something like this again: “Everyone raised their hand.”