BALTIMORE — No matter where Donald Trump visits as the Nov. 8 presidential election approaches, appearances from the polarizing Republican nominee always seem to stir up fervent debate among partisans.
That held true when Trump visited the Baltimore Convention Center on Monday to address the annual conference of the National Guard Association of the United States. In his speech to military officers from around the country, Trump slammed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for describing half of his supporters as a “basket of deplorables,” telling the audience that the remark “disqualifies her from public service.”
Hours earlier, dozens of Trump supporters at a nearby rally described the 70-year-old business mogul-turned-politician as the candidate who could best unite the country.
Phil Kaplan, a 37-year-old Jewish lawyer and Towson resident, said Trump would make good on his promise to tighten national security and strengthen protection at the borders.
“There is absolutely no constitutional right to come to America,” Kaplan said, “and if we have to shut down immigration in certain ways for our protection, we may have to. I say that as a lawyer, and we need to do what we need to do for our basic, physical safety.”
Trump protestors, on the other hand, say he is unfit to serve as commander-in-chief in large part because he lacks experience and has a short fuse.
Sean Yoes, a journalist and West Baltimore native, said Trump supporters — the majority of whom are white — are not representative of the country as a whole. Yoes said he does not think Trump’s aggressive rhetoric will help solve the socio-economic, racial and violence issues that persist in major cities with large African-American populations, such as Baltimore.
“I simply believe that we have enough issues and troubles in our city without having Trump here stirring up hatred,” Yoes said. “Honestly, after what we’ve been through as a city over the last two years, he wants to make our city a backdrop for his hatred.”
It was Trump’s first appearance in Baltimore since earning the GOP nomination in late July. Addressing the National Guard officers during a time when national security has become one of the focal points of the presidential race, Trump spoke about beefing up the military to help crush threats of terrorism. “We will empower our generals to do the job they were hired to do, and that begins with defeating and destroying ISIS,” Trump said, referring to the Islamic State. “Instead of endless wars, we want a real plan for victory. We will abandon the policy of reckless regime change favored by my opponent, and we will instead work with our allies to advance the core national security interests of the United States.”
Nina Therese Kasniunas, a political science professor at Goucher College, said Trump’s visit had a lot more to do with him portraying a certain image than his message.
“As he comes to cities like Baltimore, he’s trying to show he is expanding his reach to minorities, not just visiting cities populated mostly by working white middle-class men,” Kasniunas said. “It was very convenient for him to visit with him opening his new hotel in Washington, D.C., earlier in the day and then visiting Asheville, North Carolina, later in the day.”
More than 100 people stood side by side outside the Transamerica Building at 100 E. Pratt St. to welcome Trump. Organizers sang “Star-Spangled Banner,” chanted “U.S.A. U.S.A.,” waved American flags and encouraged drivers to honk their horns in a show of support for Trump.
Elam Stoltzfus, 66, a real estate agent from Lancaster, Pa., sold Trump hats, T-shirts and buttons at a roadside table. He said he is the third-largest independent contributor to the Trump campaign, having spent more than $10,000 while following Trump to 13 states across the country. All the money he generates through the sales go directly to the Trump campaign.
“He can balance a checkbook,” Stoltzfus said. “He does it every 30 days. The folks in Washington, D.C., don’t have a clue, so I just want to support someone who is going to put Americans first before anyone else.”
On the other side of the street, the People’s Power Assembly organized a raucous demonstration to denounce Trump, whose adversaries shouted “Black Lives Matter,” “Dump Trump” and “Hey hey, ho ho. Donald Trump has got to go.”
Owen Andrews, a 29-year-old member of the Jewish community who teaches English as a second language, said he has a number of reservations about Trump. For one, Andrews feels Trump has a troubling image that is widely regarded as anti-Semitic and would not prioritize the best interests of Jewish Americans.
“I just want to call on people here in the Jewish community in Baltimore and elsewhere to get involved,” Andrews said. This is not someone else’s problem — this is our problem. We shouldn’t be the people of never again for us, but we should be the people for never again for anyone.”
In heavily Democratic Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, the state has not gone for a Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan won his second term as president in 1988. A poll conducted last week by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks concluded that Trump was trailing Clinton by 29 points in the Old Line State.
Even with Trump making an effort to appeal to Maryland voters, Kasniunas isn’t convinced it will be enough when the election rolls around.
“I still don’t think Trump will generate much support from voters in Maryland despite the visit,” Kasniunas said. “For him, it’s all about getting as much support from outside his core constituents as possible and rallying independent voters to come out to the polls for him.”