ORLANDO, Florida—On Tuesday night, President Trump will arrive in this central Florida city to officially and publicly launch his 2020 campaign, to what is expected to be a large, overflow crowd of adoring fans in a swing state he won in 2016. His allies and campaign staff have pulled out all the necessary stops in their efforts to please the spectacle-minded, pageantry-obsessed president.
He’ll be delivering his speech in the affirming glow of his loving followers and loyalists—and in the heart of a Florida city that largely despises him.
Outside his planned rally at the Amway Center, Trump supporters were lining up more than 40 hours ahead of the event in the hopes of getting into the venue. Throughout Tuesday, the campaign is hosting a tailgate-style “festival” outside the center featuring live music and food trucks. On Monday evening, “Women for Trump” hosted its “KICK OFF PARTY” for the campaign season at Westgate Resort and Spa in Orlando, with special guests like Trump diehard Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser on his 2020 team.
And on a highway between Orlando International Airport and downtown, a billboard was flashing a big, bold advertisement for “Chinese Americans for TRUMP.” It was less than a week before he won the presidency in November 2016 that Trump gathered thousands of his devotees and voters at the Orlando Amphitheater—where a small plane circled the area, flying a “FL Chinese Americans for Trump” sign.
The Trump campaign and its allies have explicitly staked out Florida as perhaps the key to keeping the White House in Republican hands come 2021 and have already pledged massive planning and resources to making sure the Sunshine State stays in the electoral tank for Trump. Orlando, however, is hardly Trump country. The city, as well as the Orange County area surrounding it, leans heavily liberal, though flanked by neighboring counties that are decidedly redder and Trump-ier.
And when the president arrives on Tuesday, he’ll also be met just a few blocks from the Amway Center by street demonstrators and a progressive opposition telling him to go to hell and get out of their city. At 5 p.m. ET, three hours before the president is scheduled to take the stage, organizers and activists are set to stage their own “Win With Love” protest and counter-programming outside of Stonewall Bar Orlando, a gay bar named after the historic Stonewall Inn in New York City. The roster of anti-Trump speakers and performers includes activists from marginalized and minority communities, a transgender individual barred by Trump from serving in the U.S. military, a mariachi band, and a drag performer. The “Baby Trump” balloon is also expected to make an appearance.
On the rainy Monday evening before Trump’s big day, organizers for the protest hosted a sign-making party on the second floor of Stonewall Orlando, with placards ranging from railing against Trump’s family separation policy to dinging the president for the size of the deficit. The party featured Brandon Wolf, a Pulse nightclub survivor and activist who helped organize Tuesday’s event. At the bar, Wolf discussed his best friend, Drew Leinonen, 32, who died in the attack on Pulse in June 2016, and how his memory has helped inform Wolf’s political activism in the Trump era.
“I always tell this story, which is from the night of the Pulse shooting: The last words my best friend said to me were ‘You know what the world doesn’t say enough is that we love each other,’” Wolf said. “And that’s stayed with me in the years since, and that’s what I hope to see tomorrow—people coming out and loving and supporting one another, and showing solidarity.”
Leinonen, Wolf said, was a “big Hillary Clinton supporter” and donor before he was murdered that night. Wolf described himself as more politically apathetic before the Pulse massacre but said he was moved to start working for liberal and social justice causes in its wake. He said he hadn’t started regularly watching cable news until after the shooting and was appalled by how cable news channels would “often talk and Hillary and Trump, but not about the people affected in the community by the massacre.”
Shortly after the shooting, then-candidate Trump tweeted that the mass murderer’s slaughter of 49 people at the gay nightclub in Orlando proved he was right all along about the threat of Muslim terrorists. It’s one of many reasons Wolf considers Trump a “monster” today, three years after that horrific night.
Wolf said he met both Clinton and President Obama soon after the Pulse shooting. He never met Trump, nor did he want to, he said. Wolf noted that he met Obama at the Amway Center, where the current president’s supporters had already lined nearby sidewalks Monday for a shot at attending the next wild Trump rally.
Roughly four blocks away, dozens of Trump fans camped out overnight, with tents, lawn chairs, and coolers in tow. Around 10 p.m., Trump 2020’s national press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, made an appearance to mingle and film some campaign footage with the eager, patient attendees.
It was all leading up to what the 45th president assured them would be “a very exciting evening!”