TUPELO • Over the weekend, tailgate tents stocked with Trump merchandise began popping up around Tupelo. The vendors signaling the President’s imminent arrival knew his fans would want shirts, hats, flags and buttons.
So, in front of gas stations and beside roads, they cashed in. One opportunistic salesperson said he had been to 34 states to hock goods at the president’s rallies. Another expected to make $15,000 on Monday.
Around 10 a.m., six hours before Air Force One’s expected arrival, Trump supporters met at the Furniture Market for $20 hats and free buses bound for the rally. By 2 p.m., long lines were forming. The wait was 30 minutes for a shuttle, an hour for security at the airport, and, by all accounts, worth it.
“I’m excited to look at the President and seeing what he actually looks like in person,” said Noah Gregory, a third-grader from Pontotoc who was waiting for a bus with his father. “And I want to see the big plane. I’ve only ever seen that on YouTube.”
The event was billed as a show of support for Cindy Hyde-Smith, but the U.S. Senate candidate was mostly an afterthought. Fans had crossed state lines, ditched typical Monday responsibilities and bought souvenirs for one reason.
“I haven’t looked into Cindy Hyde-Smith too much. I’ve heard a little bit about her but not too much. I’m just here for the Trump experience,” said 20-year-old Pontotoc native Alex Pickering, who extended his Thanksgiving break from Delta State by a day to see Trump. “I am missing a day of school for this. I don’t care.”
Across Northeast Mississippi, kids and adults showed up to catch a glimpse of President Trump. By 3 p.m. most of the crowd had entered the tarmac to await the commander-in-chief. That’s when local politicians began taking the stage to work the crowd.
“‘Now who are you here to see?’,” Congressman Trent Kelly asked the crowd around 3:20 p.m.
“I want to hear Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump!,” he screamed. “I want him to hear you in the air.”
The Trump crowd is united in both its devotion to the president and its dislike for whom he identifies as an enemy. Around 3:30, Gov. Phil Bryant riled up the crowd by mocking a CNN anchor. Volunteers passed out signs reading “Build the Wall.”
Shortly after 4 p.m., Air Force One was finally visible in the Mississippi sky. The large white plane with a blue trim and “United States of America” printed across its body landed at 4:15 on the dot.
“Tupelo base, Tupelo base, the president has landed,” someone announced over the loudspeaker. The crowd reached peak volume. Then it waited a little longer.
Finally at 4:31, Trump emerged from the plane. Hyde-Smith followed him down the stairs. Time for the main event.
Including cameos by Bryant, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Hyde-Smith, Trump’s remarks lasted just under 45 minutes. To give his speech local flair, he began by recognizing The King.
“Other than the blonde hair when I was growing up, they said I looked like Elvis,” the president said. “I always considered that a great compliment.”
Then for his fans braving near-freezing temperatures, Trump played the hits. He spoke positively of his victory in the 2016 election, his tax cuts and his Supreme Court justices. Fans cheered. He attacked the media, immigrants and Democratic leaders. Fans cheered even louder.
In conclusion, as the sun was setting, Trump gave his supporters one last “We will make America great again.” Then he waved goodbye and disappeared onto Air Force One.
Hundreds had already formed lines for buses back to the Furniture Market when the plane took off for another rally in Biloxi. On the Gulf Coast, another show was scheduled for 8 p.m. There, another group of vendors had been selling the same presidential brand. There, thousands more fans were waiting for hours to take part in the Trump experience.