Thousands pack Pennsylvania Farm Show complex for Donald Trump

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A day after the Supreme Court heard arguments to block Donald Trump from the 2024 ballot, people were lining up some 2½ hours before the former president was speak at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex’s New Holland Arena.

Outside of the arena was the National Rifle Association’s Great American Farm Show. But Friday night, the attraction was Trump, who’s again seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

“He is going to come back and make us a stronger country and bring us back from where we’re at,” Ocean, a woman who declined to give her last name, said before the event. “It’s going to be more affordable for not only lower-class families but middle-class families.”

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Ocean, who said she has family in York County, drove up from Georgia to attend the event. As she watched her daughters of 6 and 4 run back and forth in the upper levels of the arena, she said she thinks Trump is the only person with the business acumen and mental aspects for both the people at large and for children.

Border security was also a priority of Ocean’s. She said Trump would strengthen the borders.

“As a country, we’re not strong,” she said. “Well, not strong anymore.”

Long drive: Multiple security lines were filled with people wanting to see Trump. Inside the arena itself, food vendors were doing steady business as songs like “I Was Born Free,” “Fortunate Son, “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagles Fly” played to amp up the crowd.

Outside, Vincent Franco of New York stood by his pickup truck, which was festooned with Trump gear and flags. He and his friend James Robinson had driven down from the Empire State to see Trump.

“He doesn’t really come to the New York area for rallies, so this is pretty close to us,” Robinson said. He said he’d supported Trump in 2016 and 2020, as well.

Entry was free to the Trump forum as long as someone had bought tickets to the NRA show, and many took advantage.

A press call from Democrats before the event offered a different perspective.

“Do you want [for] your next president, more assault weapons and more deaths of gun violence in our nation,” Sen. John Fetterman said during the call. “Or do you want a president that wants fewer assault weapons and fewer tragic gun deaths in our nation?”

Trump, speaking for over an hour, encouraged Pennsylvania Republicans to register everyone they knew.

“I stand before you with a very simple promise, the Second Amendment will always be safe with me as your president,” he said to raucous cheers at the start of his speech.

14th Amendment case: During his speech, Trump claimed he won Pennsylvania twice, which is not true. He won the Keystone State in 2016, but lost in 2020 to Democratic President Joe Biden. Trump called 2024 the “final battle” and said Pennsylvania was one of the most important battleground states in the upcoming election.

Trump and Biden are frontrunners for their parties’ nominations in this year’s election. Just the day before he spoke, the Supreme Court sounded broadly skeptical, the Associated Press reports, of efforts to kick Trump off the 2024 ballot.

In more than two hours of arguments, both conservative and liberal justices raised questions of whether Trump can be disqualified from being president again because of his efforts to undo his loss in the 2020 election, ending with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The court has signaled it will try to act quickly, dramatically shortening the period in which it receives written briefing and holds arguments in the courtroom.

Friday’s event: The tone before the Friday’s event in Harrisburg resembled any other large, celebratory event like a concert or convention. Approximately an hour and a quarter before Trump was scheduled to speak, a man with a T-shirt gun started launching NRA T-shirts to chants, whistles and cheers.

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Country band War Hippies, comprising of two veterans, took the stage an hour before Trump was scheduled to speak. The lyrics to the first song they played, “American Son,” showed the tenor of the event: “This land is hard, this land is mean, This dirt is red from the blood it’s seen, Raised on a good book, hand on a gun, Never backing down, the American son.” Donnie Reis of the band would also play the “Star Spangled Banner” on the violin, prompting a loud “USA” chant from the crowd.

“2024 will be a decisive year in the fight to protect our rights,” NRA interim executive vice president and CEO Andrew Arulanandam said before Trump’s speech.

It was clear guns were the focus before Trump spoke.

“We’re never going to give up our guns,” NRA spokesman Billy McLaughlin said before Trump’s speech. He also chanted “Shall not be infringed,” prompting the crowd to chant along with him.

After McLaughlin and testimonials from NRA members finished, a brief “Let’s Go Brandon” chant broke out.

Trump also noted several prominent Pennsylvania Republicans in attendance, including Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, who Trump called a “brave man”; Rep. Lloyd Smucker, who represents Lancaster County and part of York County in Pennsylvania’s 11th District; Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, representing Pennsylvania’s 14th District; and Rep. Dan Meuser, representing Pennsylvania’s 9th District 9. Former U.S. Ambassador Carla Sands also attended.

The Pennsylvania primary is scheduled for April 23.

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— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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