Trump rally brings enthusiastic support, some protests to Topeka

photo by: Mike Yoder

Crowds line up outside the Expocentre in Topeka for President Donald Trump's rally on Oct. 6, 2018.

TOPEKA — Support for President Donald Trump and protests were both on display for the president’s visit to Topeka Saturday.

Hours before Trump was scheduled to take the stage at the Kansas Expocentre, a line of thousands wound through the parking lot. The dreary day seemed to make the red “Make America Great Again” hats dotting the crowd stand out all the more. As it began to rain, a man with a Trump flag on one shoulder and an American flag on the other began running between the rows of people, repeatedly chanting “U.S.A.” The crowd echoed his chant, and soon several others joined the man, adding their flags and voices to his.

Grant Johnson was among a group that drove from Wichita to see Trump. Johnson, wearing a shirt printed with an image of the American flag and a “MAGA” hat, said he made the trip to show his support for the president.

“We came to just show our pride in our country and be proud of our president,” Johnson said.

But for others, Trump’s visit meant something much different.

Trump was in Topeka campaigning on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach and 2nd District congressional candidate Steve Watkins. A group of teenagers who drove from Emporia to show support for Kobach’s opponent, Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, stood slightly apart from the rest of the crowd, taking in the scene.

Among them was Emma Persinger, 18, who said that as a first-time voter she wanted to support change in Kansas politics and stand against Trump, who she said has continually supported politicians who provide racist, homophobic and sexist ideas. She lamented Trump coming to Topeka to support Kobach, who she said would only continue the policies of former Gov. Sam Brownback.

“We’re all kind of scared for the future of Kansas,” Persinger said. “We’ve been going through a period of having a governor that has been blatantly ignoring what people want in terms of funding education, providing support for women, providing support for health care, finally getting our infrastructure going.”

Trump’s visit also came on the same day as the U.S. Senate’s vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Overland Park resident Jane Carter arrived at the rally about 1 p.m., and said she was in line outside the Expocentre when the vote happened, and that cheers broke out throughout the line. Carter said it was a great place to be for the moment, but that what had brought her out was her appreciation for Trump.

“I really appreciate what Donald Trump has done for the economy,” Carter said. “I’m a Kobach supporter as well, and I think that there’s nothing better, when we can see our president locally, than to come out and try to see him and support him.”

Inside the Expocentre, an oversized American flag hung behind the podium. On either side of the flag hung banners that read, “Promises made” and “Promises Kept.” Red, white and blue placards in the crowd read: “Keep America Great,” “Drain the Swamp” and “Finish the Wall.” Breaking the color scheme were pink “Women for Trump” signs.

During his speech, which began about 6:30 p.m., Trump celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation and touted other economic accomplishments during his tenure, including the country’s low unemployment rate and the new trade deals between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Trump and Kobach also both spoke about illegal immigration, describing stronger borders and immigration enforcement as way to protect the safety and economy of communities.

As Topeka resident Jane Fortin filed out of the Expocentre following Trump’s speech, what seemed to resonate most with her was the president’s demeanor.

“I just like his strength; I like his directness,” Fortin said. “I like that he’s for the military, I like that he’s for an elevated position for America. No apologies. It’s might makes right.”

University of Kansas student August Johnson, among a handful of young men dressed in collared shirts and suit jackets, said he got to be in the row right in front of the stage.

“Regardless of political opinion, it was very cool to see the most famous man in the world that close, 12 feet away from you,” Johnson said. “You see him on the news, but when you see him in person it actually makes it feel more real.”

Johnson, who said he is from Minnesota, said it was also interesting to hear Kobach speak. He said he didn’t have a position at this time on Kobach’s opinions regarding illegal immigration, but said that he expected Kobach would end up winning the race for governor.

For others, the enthusiasm took another form. Protesters lined the sidewalk in front of the Expocenter Saturday afternoon and at about 8 p.m., as cars filed out of the parking lot and rain continued to come down, a group of at least a dozen still remained.

Among them was KU student Kara Lynn-Holguin, who said that she felt that Trump and Kobach continued cycles of racism. She said their message makes people ashamed of their race, ashamed of where they come from, and that there’s no reason for that. She said she didn’t understand what brought people out to support Trump.

“Especially the women and people that bring out their children, when their children don’t really realize that what they are preaching and what they are cheering for is all hate,” Lynn-Holguin said. “Having gone through racism in elementary school, that’s all they’re learning. It’s just going to keep going, and it’s an ongoing cycle.”


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