“Get ’em out of here, get ’em out,” Donald Trump waved a hand to supporters and officers escorting protestors from his rally in Syracuse on Saturday afternoon. “You know — the safest place on Earth is at a Trump rally,” he proceeded. Outside the Oncenter, sirens flashed from a barrage of police cars barricading the building.
Trump’s event in Syracuse preceded the New York primary, which will take place this Tuesday. A recent Quinnipiac University poll gives Trump a comfortable lead in the state with 55 percent of Republican support, followed by Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) with 20 percent and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) with 19 percent.
Thousands of supporters crowded the venue to hear from the Republican frontrunner, who is also a New York native. As inevitable as the proliferation of hats promising to “Make America Great Again” was the throng of protestors trailing Trump’s team.
“I’m going to be very loyal to New York, to New York State,” Trump, stationed in front of a row of American flags, promised the crowd to uproarious applause. “I’m going to be loyal to you because this is my place.”
‘I’m a Unifer’
Inside, Syracuse’s Oncenter appeared radically transformed from the modest venue that had housed Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and his supporters just a few days before. Gone was the open press pen, whose flimsy fencing had allowed reporters to mingle with attendees, and the raised platform which had centered Sanders on the arena’s floor, surrounded by his crowd.
Trump addressed his supporters from a stage secured by vigiliant support staff and security guards, raised on a stage at the venue’s forefront. All press were relegated to a secured area in the back of the arena where they were regularly booed by Trump’s supporters, occasionally at the candidate’s suggestion.
Throughout his speech, Trump explicitly sought to combat his growing reputation for divisiveness, stressing that his movement seeks to “bring the country back together … for everybody.”
“You know people don’t think of us when they hear of unification,” he said, sounding perplexed. “I’m a unifier. I’m someone who gets along with people, all people. We’re going to get along great. The workers — we’re going to get along so great.”
Trump also lauded the diversity of his supporters, stressing that he is “winning in every category,” in the polls, with Americans young and old, male and female, black and white.
Attendee and Trump supporter Richard Ulbricht ’18 echoed Trump’s proclaimed message of cohesion, arguing that Trump’s message is one “not a lot of politicians are voicing — it’s actually about true unity among people.”
“This is not a campaign of dividing,” he said. “This is a campaign that understands that people don’t vote in a block based on skin color. People vote based on a variety of issues that matter to them.”
However, Siyu Yang ’16 — who attended the rally out of curiousitywith a group of Cornell’s Chinese international students— said she did not feel that Trump fostered an accommodating or inclusive atmosphere.
“We were really scared at the rally — we were talking in Chinese and we got dirty looks,” she said. “I don’t know how he can stand there and say things that are absolutely not true.”
Aysha Seedat, the president of Syracuse University’s Student Association and the undergraduate representative on the school’s Board of Trustees she also protested the rally outside the Oncenter. She also mocked the candidate’s proclamation of unity.
“Does he look like he’s unifying people? Absolutely not,” she said, speaking over the chants of angry protestors clashing with those decked in Trump gear. “He’s not a unifier at all. He’s been causing the most hate out of any of the candidates.”
‘Jobs are the great equalizer’
Trump appealed to New York State and Syracuse residents specifically in claiming that he would return jobs to workers in the region, saying, “jobs will bring us together.”
“Syracuse — you’re being drained,” he said. “I give you credit that you stay here. You love your community, you love it’s beautiful your people you love your house. Just hold on folks because I’m bringing [the jobs] back. It’s going to be brought back.”
Trump added that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would “take any jobs remaining in Syracuse” and accused politicians of fabricating a five percent unemployment rate, saying the statistic was “made up by politicians to look good.”
“Our real number is in the 20’s,” the candidate boomed from the stage. “And honestly, if it was really five percent I wouldn’t have all these people here.”
‘My people have the strong voice’
Before the event began, a disclaimer echoed from the loudspeaker. “Mr. Trump respects first amendment rights,” a voice proclaimed. “Protestors have the right to demonstrate … do not touch or harm the protestors.”
Over the course of Trump’s speech — which lasted approximately an hour — about six skirmishes resulted in the removal of protestors from the venue. Each time, Trump paused as the roar of the crowd grew louder, the candidate interrupting only to bemusedly praise his supporters’ loyalty.
“Move it on out,” he said, watching as one protestor was shuffled out of the crowd, heckled by protestors. “I love my people. If you go feel good doing that — just go ahead. Get ’em out … get ’em out … My people are the greatest.”
Many of Trump’s supporters said they did not believe that candidate was responsible for either creating or cultivating an atmosphere of violence or hostility toward protestors or press members at his rallies.
“[The protestors] almost set up to do that on purpose — they were right in front of the media,” said Jack Scruton, a retired veteran and Trump enthusiast. “I couldn’t see them because I was three from the front row. I don’t think he’s really encouraging it. The press is using him as saying he’s bringing violence but it’s not really his fault.”
James Dolittle did not deny the rally’s tense atmosphere but said the incidents with protestors “riled the crowd up, so they were kind of fun.” When asked if he would help remove a protestor from the arena he answered, “Maybe.”
After asserting that his rallies are the “safest places” on Earth, Trump continued to credit his supporters for their loyalty to him and to each other.
“Do you know why these are safe places?” he asked. “Because of the people in these rooms and in these stadiums. The people love each other and will protect each other and that’s the way the country has to be.”
One protestor tried energetically to voice his opposition to Trump, hurling insults and counterpoints toward the stage before he was escorted away amidst an onslaught of signs reading, “The Silent Majority Stands With Trump.”
“It’s okay. You can’t hear him — don’t worry,” Trump reassured the angry crowd. “He has a very weak voice. My people have the strong voice.”
As the protestor was dragged from the arena, the crowd took up a chant of “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.”
‘We don’t need another politician’
Trump spoke extensively on the benefits of the financial strategy of his campaign, which he has said is entirely self-funded.
“I almost feel sort of stupid not taking any money,” he said. “All these guys say ‘Donald I can give you $10 million for your campaign’ and I say ‘Nah, I don’t want it.’ This is like counter to my whole life, my whole life I’ve been making money.”
Trump also sought to solidify his reputation as a successful and knowledgable businessman, saying that he was able to turn a $1 million loan into a company worth over $10 billion.
“[Special interest groups] hate the fact that I don’t take any money because if they don’t give me money they don’t have control. Does that make sense?” he said.
Supporters were eager to vocalize their appreciation for Trump’s postulated ambivalence to political interests and “tough tone.”
“He’s not a politician and we don’t need another politician,” said Scruton. “We don’t need another eight years of what we’ve had and I think Trump would be the way to do it.”
Jack Nicholson, who described himself as a registered Democrat ready to cross party lines to vote for the businessman, said he admired how Trump is “tough” and “means what he says.”
“I like the way he’s not supported by a lot of other people, some of those special interest groups and things like that,” he said. “I know he can sound a little rough around the edges at times but I think that’s good. I think we need some of that.”
Crystal Walsh — a Syracuse resident who said she was unsure still whether she will be voting for Trump in the primary — said she was enthusiastic about Trump’s self-financed campaign but was reluctant to commit to him as a candidate, citing her concern about the preservation of womens’ reproductive rights, among others.
“I see a lot of similarities with [Trump] and Bernie Sanders because Bernie won’t be bought and neither will Trump,” she said.
Many supporters expressed a pronounced reluctance to consider another Republican candidate, saying they would vote for Cruz or Kasich if absolutely necessary, but “really hope” Trump will be the nominee.
‘We have the most loyal people’
Trump’s enthusiasm for superlatives was on display at the Oncenter as he assured the crowd that not only would he be popular with all sectors and factions of the American public, his fans were also “the most loyal and the smartest people.”
Sriharsha Gowtham interacted with many Trump supporters as he scampered among the crowd outside the rally wearing a sign that read, “I’m against Trump. Ask me a question.”
“By talking to people I’ve learned that [Trump fans] are good people — they generally care about this country but I believe they are misinformed,” he said. “They dislike Hillary, dislike the system, dislike politicians being politicians.”
Although he disavowed much of the candidate’s rhetoric, Gowtham voiced his belief that Trump is only stoking a sense of victimhood that existed within the Republican party for some time.
“This sense of repression, of hatred against other groups, that’s existed for a long time. He’s just manifesting it,” he said. “So I wouldn’t actually blame [Trump]; I don’t think it’s his fault.”
Several of the protestors outside the venue were less sympathetic to Trump and his supporters — waving signs reading “Dump Trump” and “Don’t Vote for Fear” as they challenged supporters leaving the venue at the event’s conclusion.
“[Trump’s supporters] are yelling at us and I think that says a lot about the people who are supporting him,” Seedat said. “There was a woman earlier inside who was singing the national anthem and there were people catcalling her. What does that say about the people that are supporting him? It’s been really bad.”
Inside, Trump proudly recounted one of his “favorite stories,” describing a female fan he saw interviewed on TV, who was asked what would compel her to abandon the businessman as a candidate and vote for someone else.
“She told the interviewer — ‘Don’t talk anymore. There is absolutely nothing that man can do that would make us drop him.’ And I told people I wanted to hug and kiss that TV set,” he recalled to thunderous applause.
‘A Trump wall’
One of the most popular lines of the afternoon was Trump’s assurance that he would “build a wall — a real wall — a Trump wall.”
He emphasized that the United States must bar illegal immigrants from entering the country, saying, “We’re a debtor nation, folks, we can’t afford it.”
“I would say [Trump] is one of the most pro-immigrant candidates, because — how are we going to support anything if we don’t know what’s going on?” asked Ulbricht. “It’s important that we acknowledge that it doesn’t mean that people are against immigrants because they’re against illegal immigration. That would be as ridiculous as saying that we’re against taxes just because some people commit tax fraud.”
Scruton referenced Pope Francis’ disparaging remarks about Trump’s immigration policy, pointing out that despite the Catholic leader’s disapproval, “the Vatican City has a wall.”
“Politicians would never be able to build the wall,” Trump told anyone who might question the feasibility of this plan. “But for me? It’s easy. [The wall] is going to be so beautiful one day maybe they’ll name it after Trump.”
Trump also promised to rebuild the military so it is “bigger, better, stronger” than ever before — a commitment that resonated with several veterans in attendance.
“I think he’ll be good for the military,” Scuton said. “I had a sign — I made an ‘Uncle Sam Needs Trump’ sign but they wouldn’t let me bring it in. He’ll be good for our military, he’ll do right by us and he won’t put us in positions where we shouldn’t be like where Hillary might send the troops.”
The mere mention of Hillary Clinton’s name invoked boo’s from the crowd, with several supporters saying the Democratic frontrunner represents everything broken with today’s political system. Many also wore shirts reading “Trump That Bitch.”
‘We’re going to start winning again’
The candidate concluded his talk by encouraging his supporters to get out the vote on Tuesday — saying casting a ballot in his name will be a decision “you’ll remember 30 years from now and you’ll say … that was the greatest vote I ever cast.”
“We’re going to start winning again,” Trump said. “We’re going to win with trade, we’re going to win with jobs, we’re going to win with the economy, we’re going to win with our military, we’re going to win with education, we’re going to win with health care, we’re going to win so much you’re going to say ‘Please, please we can’t stand it. We’re winning too much and we can’t stand it. Let’s not win all the time.’ And I’m going to say, ‘I’m sorry we’re going to win more and more and more.’”
Scuton said he has observed that Trump is gaining ground with his promises of a brighter national future, saying many of his friends — even several Democrats — have come out in support of Trump.
“A lot of people are standing up for him now,” he said. “I hope he does good. I think he’ll do good for the United States.”
Ulbricht said he will be voting for Trump in the primary Tuesday. He was accompanied by Paul Monaghan ’18 — an undecided Republican voter — who said he was more likely to vote for Trump after attending the rally.
“What Trump represents may seem simple — and it’s very loud, it’s very abrasive — but it speaks to a sort of truth that is resonating with people,” Ulbricht said. “And you see that here. You see that with these giant crowds. These are great crowds.”
Adam Bronfin ’18 contributed reporting to this article.