True believers mix with the ambivalent at Trump rally

Skylar Petrik has some misgivings about Donald Trump, but he can’t wait to cast his first vote in a presidential election for the billionaire developer.

Petrik, an 18-year-old from Sidney, flew his Cessna-172 to Billings for the Trump rally in the MetraPark arena Thursday afternoon, and he brought two friends with him.

What does he like about Trump?

“The fact that he’s an outsider,” Petrik said, “and also the fact that he’s funding his own campaign.”

Still, there are those misgivings.

“I have been trying to be optimistic about Donald Trump,” he said. “But there are some things that scare me.” In particular, Petrik said, he wishes Trump would stop attacking certain groups of people, and he wishes he were less of a demagogue.

But he sees a pragmatist behind the public façade, which is why he doesn’t care about charges that Trump is a flip-flopper. That means he might go to Washington and actually get something done through compromise, Petrik said.

“I think the Democrats should love Donald Trump,” he said. “They might be able to get some of their liberal agenda passed. He perfected the art of the deal, right?”


Stan Hoggatt

At 74, Stan Hoggatt has been voting for more than 50 years, and the Billings resident was equally certain about who he was voting for.

“I’m a businessman, and he makes absolute sense to me,” he said of Trump.

Asked which of Trump’s policy positions appealed to him, Hoggatt said, “Southern border. Immigration. Illegal immigrants. All his hot-button issues I agree with.”

Bill Howell, 77, drove over from West Yellowstone for the rally, but he said he wasn’t a solid Trump supporter. He just wanted to see him in person and hear him out.

“I like how he lays it on the line,” he said. “Sometimes he engages his mouth before he engages his brain, but if he surrounds himself with good people, he’ll do all right.”

Meanwhile, down in what Rachel Rosin called the “protest pen,” a small portion of the lower MetraPark parking lot reserved for motorcycles and demonstrators, Rosin and her husband, Darrell, had the entire “pen” to themselves.

They came in from Huntley, Darrell said, because Trump “scares me to death.” Rachel, carrying a “Stop Trump’s fascist agenda” sign, said, “You’ve got to stand up for what you believe in, and I believe he’d be terrible for the country.”

Rachel said her sister was inside the arena. “She’s undecided,” she said. “I think she just wants to hear him.”

Tessa Cozzens was trying to make up her mind, too.

“I’m in between, actually,” she said. “I like Bernie and Trump.” Bernie being Bernie Sanders, of course, the last candidate still challenging Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary.

Cozzens was wearing a Trump hat, for which she’d just paid $20, but it was for her boyfriend, a “big-time” Trump supporter. She said Trump appears to be honest and open, but “I really like Bernie as a person, more than Trump.”

Cozzens came up from Powell, Wyo., for the rally, accompanied by her grandmother, Midge Johnson. Her grandmother was not ambivalent at all.

“There’s not much I don’t like,” she said of Trump. “I’m for the fact that he’s never been in office. He’s never relied on anyone else’s money.” She said she also believed in “the wall,” the impregnable one that Trump promises to build along the nation’s southern border, and to have Mexico pay for.


Tessa Cozzens and her grandmother, Midge Johnson, came up from Powell, Wyo., for the rally.

Johnson said she was born in Canada and had to wait five years to become a citizen, during which time she and her husband couldn’t get so much as a traffic ticket. Everyone should have to follow the same rules, she said.

The peaceful nature of the Billings rally was a welcome change of pace for Danny Sheil, who was hawking Trump memorabilia outside the arena. He was doing the same thing in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday, he said, when things got violent at a Trump rally. Sheil said protesters broke through police lines right near his stand.

“They stole a flag off the back of our stand and burned it,” he said. “Stole a stack of T-shirts and set them on fire.”

Sheil, who hails from Florida, said sales weren’t too bad Thursday, “but there’s too many of us out here doing the same thing.”

Asked if he was a Trump supporter himself, Sheil didn’t answer directly.

“The guy who owns the company is a big Trump supporter,” he said.

One of Sheil’s competitors, also a Floridian, was Edward Brown, whose carnival-barker voice made him stand out from the crowd, as did the Chihuahua named Mickey perched on his shoulder.

“Hurry, hurry!” Brown bellowed. “Donald Trump T-shirts, hats and buttons! You better hurry. We only got a couple left.”

He had quite a few, actually, but vendors, like politicians, sometimes bend the truth a little. Brown said he was getting tired of being on the road and would be heading back to Florida after the rally here. But he didn’t want to miss this one, either.

“With the demographics,” he said, “this is a Trump town.”

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