The notice came across my screen – former President Donald Trump would be speaking at the NRA’s Presidential Forum in Harrisburg as part of the organization’s Great American Outdoor Show.

Great, I thought to myself. This is my chance to witness what a Donald Trump rally is all about. After all, what are the chances that DJT will come closer to my location than the Farm Show Arena?

I filled out my request for media credentials and waited, finally getting acceptance 24 hours before the event. I was going to “The Show.”

As I began my PoliticsPA career just two years ago, the thought of attending a Trump rally never really crossed my mind. Not following the MAGA dogma might have had something to do with that.

But this was different. How could I truly understand what the electorate is thinking without experiencing a Trump rally? Reactions from my friends and family were not unexpectedly mixed. But on Friday afternoon, February 9, I made the trek to the capitol city, not knowing what lay before me.


If you’ve never been to the Great American Outdoor Show, it is billed as the world’s largest and I won’t argue with that fact. There were vehicles and people everywhere. Yes, the 45th president was scheduled to speak and, yes, attendance at the show enabled one to also attend the forum.

I picked up my press credential more than two hours before the speech was scheduled to begin. TV crews don’t have that luxury, as all equipment had to be set up by noon. Then, they had to leave the area for a security sweep before returning around 2 p.m. It’s a long day for our television brethren.

Press were escorted to a separate line for screening. Obviously, guns were not permitted in the arena, but I was caught off guard by the “Knife Check” table just before joining the screening line. Just never thought about it, I guess.


Now I’m in the arena … with two hours to spare. What to do, what to do?

Well, for openers, get the lay of the land and walk around the concourse. The New Holland Arena seats 7,318 and seating was available on the floor. A tour of the concourse reminded me of days growing up in Huntingdon County and attending August’s annual county fair. Lines at concession stands for corn dogs, funnel cakes, deep-fried Oreos, popcorn, cotton candy … not much there for those who are looking for something “healthy” for lack of a better word.

You can get caught up with people-watching as well on the concourse. There were the obligatory t-shirts with less than flattering comments for the current occupant of the White House, as well as fashion reminding everyone that the Founding Fathers established a Second Amendment.

I wanted to talk with some attendees to better understand why they were there.

“We’re very similar people,” said Shawn Bowman of Millersburg, Pa. “I have a lot of belief in the man. When he talks, I listen and say, I’ve never thought of it that way. He reminds me of Ronald Reagan. When he talked, you would shut up and listen. Even though I didn’t really know what he was talking about as a kid, there was that respect and that awe … this is the leader of the free world. We don’t have that right now. Trump has that aura.”

“When I see him, it’s my sense that everything will be OK one day,” said Megan Miller, also of Millersburg, who is seeing Trump for the sixth time. “I want to hear him talk about the court cases. When you hear it from the media, I tend not to pay attention. He’s honest about what happened.”

Miller also said that a conviction of Trump in any of those cases would not dissuade her from voting for him again.

“I could care less whether he was convicted or not,” she said. “He was doing what he needed to do for America. That wouldn’t stop me from voting for him.”

Sandy Dock of Lancaster was also punching her dance card for the third time for a Trump rally, because “we love Trump … our love for Trump.” Her husband, Kurt, didn’t expect to hear anything new. “I think he’ll just reinforce the same messages. I think there’s a lot of fixes that need to happen.”

Both agreed that the border crisis should be priority No. 1 for another Trump Administration. “Build that wall,” said Sandy. “You have to know who’s coming in, do they bring any medical issues, are we doing background checks, we’re doing none of these things,” said Kurt. ” I want them to ship the ones that are back to where they came from. Enforce the laws on the books.”

“If it was an impartial jury (that would convict Trump in court), I would absolutely weigh what they say, but at this point they’re just trying to go after him to tie him up,” said Kurt. “This just shows how he manages … he’s a manager … and we don’t have that now.”

The question of age for the Republican frontrunner also did not give the couple pause.

“He is definitely with it,” said Kurt. “You can tell there is no decline in his cognitive abilities. If I felt (differently), I would absolutely not want him to run.” And Sandy leaned over and added, “But we don’t feel that way.”

The Wait

Interviews complete, it was time to hurry up … and wait. At 5 p.m., it was time for local and national TV crews to do their live “stand-ups” with the stage in the background. Then, NRA representatives came to the stage to “warm up” the crowd.

After listening to Southern Rock (think Allman Bros., Lynyrd Skynyrd, Outlaws) for most of the pre-game, the crowd was treated to the “War Hippies,” a country music duo of former Marine and Army combat veterans.

The NRA folks returned to the stage with announcements, including sharing with the assembled audience a list of some of the media dignitaries that were present.

“MSNBC.” (pause for booing). “CNN” (pause for louder booing). “The New York Times” (pause for loudest booing). I don’t remember hearing “PoliticsPA.” Probably for the best.

As we approached the 6 p.m. hour, the music genre changed – no more Southern Rock, apparently, as Bill Clinton’s 1992 theme song, ‘Don’t Stop’ by Fleetwood Mac thundered through the arena. Yes, I scratched my head at that one.

Then the music took a decided turn. No longer was it upbeat, get the crowd charged up tunes. No, suddenly, we got some opera. Not sure how that was received. But it did serve to take folks down a notch, and when the audience was asked to let TV crews doing their 6 o’clock standups hear them … it was not nearly as enthusiastic as before.


From my vantage point, I was able to see some dignitaries, if that’s the right word. Former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands walked past, as did U.S. congressmen Dan Meuser (R-09) and Scott Perry (R-10).

Then it was time for NRA President Charles Cotton to take the stage and introduce “the main event.”

Trump strode up stairs to the stage and stopped, while Lee Greenwood’s anthem “Proud to Be an American” roared throughout the arena. It struck me as a photo opportunity for the crowd as well, as he stood motionless throughout the song, while camera phones flashed at the stage and the two large screens on either side of the stage.

Song complete, he stepped to the podium and swung for the fences.

“I’m thrilled to be back with hard-working, God-fearing, true American patriots of the NRA,” he began. “For four incredible years, it was my honor to be the best friend gun owners have ever had in the White House by far. Now I stand before you with a very simple promise – your Second Amendment will always be safe with me as your President. When I’m back in the Oval Office, no one will lay a finger on your firearms.”

He acknowledged two other congressmen in the audience – Lloyd Smucker (R-11) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-14) – and then it was time for the hits.

  • “We won Pennsylvania twice.”
  • “Joe Biden is the worst and most incompetent and corrupt President in the history of our country.”
  • “I believe you will have nineteen million people that have come into our country illegally by the end of his term. Bigger than New York State.”
  • “They come in from prisons all over the world, mental institutions all over the world. They are terrorists.”
  • “Our currency will be trashed. Our middle class will be thrown into servitude and poverty. Your cities are going to hell. They are filthy, dirty, crime-ridden.”
  • “We are really likely to face a 100 percent chance of a terrorist attack.”

If the crowd was awaiting a speech filled with hope and aspiration, it was becoming clear they were in the wrong venue. In his inaugural address, FDR said “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Seventy years prior, Lincoln said that “the Nation shall under God have a new birth of freedom, and that Governments of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

For all his ability to inspire his MAGA zealots, Trump’s punchline?

  • “They are pouring into our country and an entire generation of young people could very well be decimated by something that could very well happen – World War III.”

Whoa. Wasn’t ready to go there.

He went back and forth talking about his four years in office (great!) and the next three out of the White House (terrible!). How Biden and the Democrats want to take away guns and gun rights and that the Second Amendment is under siege (know your audience).

There was some rambling, including talk about the resolute desk in the Oval Office, setting up a desk on the Capitol steps to do away with certain regulations on day one of Trump 2.0, the size of the arena, and comparing the shooting ability of sons Don Jr. and Eric to scratch golf.

I lost him when he said that “he doesn’t know what’s going on with Catholics, but (they) are being treated very badly. What the hell is going on with Catholics? And yet, we got 88 percent of the evangelical vote, but only 50 percent of the Catholic vote. We should get 110 percent of the Catholic vote.”

He quickly pivoted to the “sick and corrupt two-tiered system of justice” in our country, noting that the DOJ will not bring charges against Biden in his documents case. “I am covered by the very important Presidential Records Act and, therefore, I did absolutely nothing wrong,” he said. “This is nothing more than selective persecution or Biden’s political opponent – me.”

I pause to look around the arena which was full at the start of his speech. It’s now 5/8ths full after an hour. And apparently, we’re just getting started.

  • “A 95-year-old veteran was kicked out of (a) nursing home – a highly-regarded veteran – to make way for an illegal alien that came into our country.”
  • “Rich people are given $7,000 subsidies to buy luxury electric cars. They don’t work in cold weather. But they do using money stolen from middle-class families who cannot afford to buy a car for themselves.”
  • “We are going to drill, baby, drill.”
  • “The best thing for detecting drugs is a certain type of German Shepherd. I love those dogs.”

And then came the coup de grace for me.

  • “If you live in this Commonwealth, register everyone you know and get them out to vote. We have to. We have to win in November or we are not going to have Pennsylvania. They will change the name.”

There was still ten minutes remaining … and the crowd was filing out. I was done. I knew I wasn’t going to be won over by inspiring rhetoric prior to attending … and I was right.Bruce Springsteen wrote:

“Big Wheels rolling through fields

Where sunlight streams

Meet me in a land of hope and dreams”

Hope and dreams were not the overarching theme of the evening in Harrisburg. Rather, it was more gloom and doom. That our country has already gone to hell and only one man can pull us back. That Joe Biden has done nothing right … and that Donald Trump has never done anything wrong.

I know that I should not expect better of politicians making speeches. It’s all about telling you why the other candidate is bad for you and seldom what the speaker brings to the table to make lives better. In my mind, one of the reasons that Barack Obama was elected President in 2008 was his ability to project hope. Thinking back, Bill Clinton did the same thing.

The Trump Show left me cold. Did I want to hear a policy speech? No. Did I want to hear what inspired folks from all over the country to come to Harrisburg to hear the former President? Yes. Did I hear that? Can’t say that I did. And that’s why my first visit to the Trump Show will be a one-and-done.

Steve Ulrich is the managing editor of PoliticsPA.

This article was originally published in PoliticsPA.

3 thoughts on “Steve Ulrich: My first trip to the Trump show”

  1. I saw the byline and immediately scrolled down to the last graph… and I wasn’t surprised.
    Maybe just go see joe from now on. And keep your fingers crossed he doesn’t trip and fall flat on his face.
    Oh! He still doesn’t look anything like that 20-year old “official” file photo the white house distributes, either.


  2. Steve Ulrich: Let me tell you about myself without telling you about myself…
    “York County Election Director Steve Ulrich has been demoted” …the news comes days [2021] after the county issued a nine-page report, detailing shortcomings during the primary and recommendations to improve the election process. Some polls ran out of Democratic and Republican ballots [mostly Republican] during in-person voting, sparking outcry from the public.
    Chad Baker, chair of the Democratic Party, wrote in the statement that Wheeler had informed both the Democratic and Republican parties about the planned reorganization, the demotion of Ulrich and the hiring of a new director.
    “Furthermore, it is evident the Commissioners are kowtowing to the York County Republican Committee who, since Director Ulrich has been hired, have called for his resignation,” he wrote.

  3. Whoa, he lost you at WW3? You really lost me when you went to Springsteen. I guess you’re happy with the state of the country much less PA.

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