FARGO, N.D. (CN) — President Donald Trump stopped in Fargo on Wednesday to promote the Senate campaign of Kevin Cramer, who has a showdown with incumbent Heidi Heitkamp in store for November.
The Scheels Arena, a hockey venue, was filled with citizens decked out in “Make America Great Again” swag to hear the president speak. “MAGA” hats, “drain the swamp” signs and “Veterans for Trump” T-shirts prevailed among the crowd that quickly hit the arena’s 6,000-person capacity.
“This place is packed,” Trump said as he stepped onto the podium. “You know, we had the chance for a 24,000-seat arena, and we should have taken it. The problem is, if we had two empty seats, they will always say, ‘He didn’t fill up the arena.’”
Mention of the undefined “they” — presumably the news media — drew ire and booing from the crowd. In a quick turn to pull cheers from the crowd, the president gave a shout-out to the North Dakota State University Bison football team, a move that always plays well in Fargo.
Trump then called Cramer to the stage. In his brief speech, Cramer thanked the president for rolling back regulations, cutting taxes and for not forgetting the people who live in “flyover country.”
“On these very important North Dakota values, you’ll never have to wonder where I’ll be,” Cramer said, “Because I’ll always be with them and with you 100 percent of the time.”
Cramer entered the race at the behest of Trump himself in February this year.
Vice President Mike Pence rallied support for Cramer during a visit in March. Both rallies focused on the administration’s tax plan and the end of the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
The gloves quickly came off as Trump launched into a tirade, tearing into Heitkamp and the Democrats.
“We need Kevin Cramer to replace liberal Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in the Senate,” he said. “When Heidi ran for office she promised to be an independent vote for people of North Dakota. Instead, she went to Washington and immediately joined Chuck, you know who Chuck is, and Nancy, and now they have a new leader.
“Who is their leader?” Trump asked. “Maxine Waters is their new leader.” Mention of the 14-term congresswoman from Los Angeles drew lusty boos. She made news last weekend by urging Americans to “make it uncomfortable” for members of the Trump administration, after a widely publicized incident in which Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant in Virginia.
“Maxine is a beauty, isn’t she?” Trump said of the 79-year-old congresswoman, then turned his rhetorical guns upon Heitkamp for voting against his tax cut.
Anticipating the attack, Heitkamp issued a statement ahead of time: “I hope the president uses his time to talk directly to folks impacted by the trade war who are worried about their health care being ripped away because of a pre-existing condition,” the senator said in a statement.
On the day that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, Trump shifted the focus to his travel ban, upheld this week by the Supreme Court in a 5-to-4 ruling.
“The travel ban ruling underscored just how critical it is to confirm judges who will support our Constitution,” Trump said, as his administration geared up to find a nominee who will bolster the right wing’s hold on the court from 5 to 4 to 6 to 3.
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s recent announcement to retire from the Supreme Court gave “Democrats want judges who will rewrite the Constitution anyway,” Trump said. “They want to do it and take away your Second Amendment, erase your borders, throw open the jailhouse doors and destroy your freedoms.”
“We must elect more Republicans,” Trump said.
Diehard Trump supporter Carma Sisk had stood in line since 8 a.m., nearly an 11-hour wait to see the president. Some couldn’t handle the heat in the upper 80s: About 50 people needed medical attention from paramedics during the long wait, according to WDAY-TV, the local ABC affiliate.
Sisk toughed it out, decked from head to toe in MAGA merchandise: a MAGA hat, matching T-shirt and clutching a teddy bear sharing a striking resemblance to Trump with the signature hairdo.
“I’ve been a fan of his ever since ‘Art of the Deal,’” Sisk said. “This was an amazing experience. That man has tremendous stamina.”
About 300 protesters calling themselves the “Anti-Trump Uprising” chanted “Black lives matter” and called for the abolition of ICE — Immigration and Customs Enforcement — and its policy of separating families who seek political asylum.
Protesters marched and chanted for a brief period, then dispersed in the afternoon. There were no major clashes between the groups despite the schism in their politics.
A second protest occurred on social media. The “silent protesters” reserved free tickets on donaldjtrump.com, with no intention of using them, to leave empty seats in the arena to show Trump that he wasn’t wanted in Fargo. But the venue quickly reached its 6,000 capacity with tickets handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis. More than 20,000 tickets were reserved on the Trump website.
Greg Brown didn’t share in the fervor one way or the other.
“I see myself as more of an independent,” he said. “In fact I would love to see a stronger independent party. He didn’t sway me, but it’s not every day a sitting president comes to town.”