DUPONT — President Donald Trump might have been announcing his reelection bid in Orlando, but as the sunset shined through the windows at the Tipsy Turtle, one could easily think there was a slice of sunny Florida in Dupont.
Members of the Young Republican committees of Luzerne and Lackawanna counties gathered at the bar near Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport on Tuesday to watch the president’s speech formally announcing his bid for a second term.
Addressing a crowd of thousands at the Amway Center in Orlando, Trump complained he had been “under assault from the very first day” of his presidency by a “fake news media” and “illegal witch hunt” that had tried to keep him and his supporters down.
About 30 GOP faithfuls gathered at the bar, and a shudder of excitement went through the crowd as Trump, joined by his wife, first lady Melania Trump, took the stage.
“There’s my boyfriend,” one excited onlooker shouted. The excitement was palpable, with chants of “USA! USA!” and “Four more years! Four more years!”
Andy Roke, 31, is a member of the Luzerne County Young Republicans. The Wilkes-Barre native said he was a lifelong Democrat, but said he switched parties, feeling as though the average worker had been abandoned by the Democratic party.
He said that one of the major blows to his former status as a Democrat was what he characterized as the party’s focus on “identity politics.”
“People don’t want to be told just because they voted for Trump they’re racist.”
At the Orlando rally, Trump painted a disturbing picture of what life would look like if he loses in 2020, accusing his critics of “un-American conduct” and telling the crowd that Democrats “want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”
Trump is hoping to replicate the dynamics that allowed him to capture the Republican Party and then the presidency in 2016 as an insurgent intent on disrupting the status quo.
Roke, along with John Lombardo, the chairman of the Luzerne County group, both said the most important thing that attracts them to the president is his message about the economy and job creation.
Lombardo, a 26-year-old from Jenkins Township, said he’s confident of Trump’s chances going into the 2020 election, saying there’s only one Democratic candidate he sees as a potential threat: Joe Biden. But even then, he thinks Trump will come out on top.
“The toughest one will be Joe Biden, especially in this area,” Lombardo said, but he further explained that he believes there are major issues with Biden’s voting history, especially when it comes to foreign policy. “He’s been on the opposite side of whatever the right choice was.”
Biden said Tuesday that Trump’s politics are “all about dividing us” in ways that are “dangerous — truly, truly dangerous.”
Justin Severe, 24, is the chairman of Lackawanna County’s Young Republicans. The Scranton man agreed with what Lombardo and Roke said, saying Trump is appealing to him due to his focus on manufacturing jobs. But Severe also characterized Trump as a straight-shooter, saying that’s a major part of his success.
“He’s straight with the people,” Severe said. “Voters want that.”
For Stephen Marr and Candice Chilek, of West Pittston, that’s exactly what they want. The pair were decked out in Trump memorabilia, with Marr wearing a hat that read “Keep America Great!”
Marr said they had been fans since the beginning, saying they were at Trump Tower “when he came down the escalator” four years ago when he announced his first presidential run.
Advisers believe that, in an age of extreme polarization, many Trump backers view their support for the president as part of their identity, one not easily shaken. They point to his seemingly unmovable support with his base supporters as evidence that, despite more than two years in office, he is still viewed the same way he was as a candidate: the bomb-throwing political rebel.
Trump’s chances of winning in 2020 are virtually certain, if you ask Marr.
“The Democrats have done a very good job of demonizing Republicans, so they’re afraid to wear a red hat in public,” Marr said. “But they’ll come out on election night.”
Jill Colvin, Jonathan Lemire and Michael Schneider, Associated Press writers, contributed to this report.
Kendra Radle of Exeter watches TV coverage of President Donald Trump’s speech.
The Young Republicans of Luzerne and Lackawanna County watch President Donald Trump’s campaign broadcast at the Tipsy Turtle.
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center on Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. President Donald Trump arrives to speak at his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center on Tuesday in Orlando, Fla.
Stephen Marr and Candice Chilek of West Pittston listen to President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign launch speech during a watch party at the Tipsy Turtle in Dupont on Tuesday.