Trump’s political hurricane makes landfall on Temple’s campus

The event on Temple’s Main Campus marked Trump’s first public rally within Philadelphia’s limits.

Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters at The Liacouras Center | NOEL CHACKO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Roughly half an hour into his rally at The Liacouras Center on Saturday night, former president Donald Trump paused to crack a joke about a new poll from Rasmussen Reports.

“Rasmussen is a highly respected pollster,” Trump said of the survey firm, whose CEO is so popular on the Right that the conservative activist L. Brent Bozell once feted him on a luxury cruise. Then, a pause. A grin. A wave of the hand. “If they come out with a bad poll a month from now, I’ll say Rasmussen is terrible.”

Even as peals of laughter rippled through the Liacouras’ bleachers, the all-but-certain Republican nominee had illuminated a truth: To walk into a Trump speech is to plunge into an alternate reality, one where the effort of tallying statistics or weighing facts is wedged into the backseat by the risk that it holds inconvenient truths. In a way, that was the point of this night and every night of the 2024 campaign.

Trump munched on a Geno’s cheesesteak on a 2016 campaign trip, addressed the social-conservative education group Moms for Liberty in Old City last year, and popped up at SneakerCon near Chinatown during the winter to launch a $400 signature shoe. He’s campaigned across the Philadelphia region, from Levittown to Chester County. 

Saturday, however, marked his first rally inside city limits — and the first for any Republican presidential candidate on Temple’s North Philadelphia campus. Temple’s decision to rent their stadium to the all-but-certain Republican nominee drew criticism from a chorus of local Democrats and Temple Association for University Professionals, the school’s faculty union. 

“[Temple Student Government] had no part in the booking, organization, or facilitation of the rally held [at] The Liacouras Center today,” TSG wrote in a statement to The Temple News. “We wholeheartedly reject bigotry and hatred in all its forms — and pride ourselves on our active work to build a campus environment that is inclusive to all.”

As Trump spoke to the supporters who filled the lower decks and court floor of Temple’s basketball arena, those inversions of reality came early, often, and with varying degrees of seriousness. They ranged from the circumstances surrounding his 34 felony convictions to the reasons for his exit from office.


A handful of local — or at least, somewhat nearby — Trump backers took turns at the podium before the main event. 

U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.), served as the night’s emcee. Dave McCormick, the Republican nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, promoted his candidacy and blasted his opponent, incumbent senator Bob Casey, Jr., for roughly 15 minutes.

Two local businessmen, Silverback Commodities CEO James Earl Jones and Ted McLaughlin, the King of Prussia-based head of medical waste management firm DiSorb, contrasted incumbent President Joe Biden’s administration with what they called “the Trump economy” and “MAGAnomics” — the half-era of economic growth that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funhouse mirror didn’t vanish when the candidate himself took the stage, bobbing and bouncing to a double dose of The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”

“Crime is so much up!” Trump said. “If you walk down certain streets, you have a 50/50 chance of not ever seeing your home again.” 

During an extended riff on border security, Trump stopped to lampoon his opponent’s views on the power of the presidency.

“He says, ‘I need Congress, I need Congress, blah, blah, blah,’” Trump said of Biden’s border policy. “I didn’t have Congress.” 

Republicans controlled both the House and Senate for his first two years in office, and ran the Senate until two weeks before he left office in 2021.

Elsewhere, Trump reiterated his newfound support for McCormick, the man he spurned two years ago for Dr. Oz on the grounds that “he’s not MAGA.” And both men cast McCormick, who has taken flak in recent months for maintaining a residence in Connecticut, as “a seventh-generation Pennsylvanian.”

Then there was the most famous inversion of all: Attendees could see it in the enormous “TOO BIG TO RIG” signs, blaring in red and blue against a white poster board sheen. Campaign workers flanked the concourse with QR codes that serve as portals to a form that can make an everyday rally goer into a “poll watcher.”


More than an assumption, or an article of faith, the claim that Trump won re-election four years ago, only to be bushwhacked for Biden in a series of shady manipulations that seemingly no one can lay out in detail without catching a defamation case, has become a test of one’s worthiness to run, and win, and exist, in Trump’s Republican Party.

Next Thursday night, Trump and Biden will meet face-to-face in a debate on CNN. The matchup, though it’s happening earlier than ever, could be a turning point in the race — not least because Biden, at 81 years old, is awash in questions about his ability to do the job another four years. 

Trump, who at 78 years would also be the oldest candidate to win a U.S. presidential election, has also faced the age issue — but he faces it far less than Biden.

It’s not the only question where the former president manages to slip scrutiny.

Milo Morris, who chairs the Black Conservative Federation of the Bucks County G.O.P., entered the conservative world during the eighties. Regulators had sued for and won the breakup of Bell Telephone on antitrust grounds, a business-world rupture that Morris blamed for his having to switch jobs in the middle of his college years.

“That got me looking,” Morris said. “It made me consider voting for Reagan for his second term, which I did. I’ve been back and forth, but for the last couple decades, I’ve been voting pretty solidly Republican.”

When asked whether he questioned his place in the party amid Trump’s espousal of economic populism — a far cry from Reagan’s “gospel of free enterprise” — Morris shook his head.

“I had other reasons for, you know, supporting Donald Trump,” he noted — namely, the 45th president’s embrace of controversial “school choice” programs.

But there was more where that came from: There were more questions, over whether Trump handled the white supremacist 2017 Charlottesville car attack well, or whether the modern-day GOP worked hard enough to plug the inflow of white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

“No,” Morris said. “They did not.”

But, he went on, Republicans respected the rights of all, even extremists, to make their voices heard.

That made this rally, in the heart of North Philly, important, too: Americans’ glut of questions about Biden, and a slew of prominent independent and third-party candidacies, have left his bedrocks of support softer than usual on mere weeks before the parties’ nominating conventions.

Polls still show Biden leading among African American voters by a wide margin. But enthusiasm for his administration has dampened among Black voters, driven, as it is with every other demographic group, by concerns over safety and the economy.  If current trends hold, Biden could be the first Democratic candidate since the civil rights era to draw less than 80 percent of Black support, according to The Washington Post.

Trump made overtures to African Americans in 2016 and 2020, too. But his 2016 campaign, with its anti-immigration foundation, captured the imagination of white supremacists from the start. His reaction to the deadly neo-Nazi rally that rocked Charlottesville in 2017 drew accusations of equivocation. His 2020 campaign chugged along while the candidate himself was advocating — and enacting — put downs of the unrest that followed George Floyd’s killing.

Despite all this, though, were Trump’s claims of inroads with the Black community closer to being true? Morris, the leader of Bucks County’s Black conservative caucus, grinned.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “I’m trying to make that happen.”

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