A three-ring political circus arrived in Burlington, Vt., Thursday when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump held a campaign rally in one of the most liberal cities in the country.
In the past two presidential elections, two-thirds of Vermont’s voters chose Barack Obama over Republican candidates, so why did Trump even bother to campaign in Vermont?
One reason may be that Vermont is one of 12 states holding primaries and caucuses on March 1, also known as Super Tuesday. So far, Republican presidential candidates have barely campaigned for the state’s 16 delegates to the Republican National Convention.
Much to the dismay of city officials and the police, the Trump campaign handed out 20,000 tickets for the rally at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, seating capacity: 1,400.
Supporters lined up hours ahead of time to get in.
“I think he’s a very intelligent guy, and running a country is like running a business. And he knows how to run a business,” said Jim Billado, who owns a commercial roofing business.
Clad in work boots, jeans, flannel shirt and a well-worn green John Deere cap as he waited for Trump to speak, Billado bemoaned Vermont’s liberal tilt: “They’re taxing us right out of this state. It’s crazy.”
In a snow-covered park near the Flynn Center, hundreds of anti-Trump protesters camped out, waving signs and chanting slogans.
“Here’s a man who represents a rising, racist and fascist movement across the country. And it’s the responsibility, in my opinion, of citizens to rise up and meet that challenge,” said Albert Petrarca.
To weed out protesters, the Trump campaign asked everyone entering the theater to pledge support to the billionaire TV star and businessman.
Katina Cummings said she was prevented from entering the Flynn when she said she didn’t support Trump.
“I said, ‘I’m not leaving,’ and they guided me and sort of pushed me out,” Cummings said. “And I said, ‘This is a private event, I am not leaving.’ They said, ‘Well, you’ll be arrested.'”
Inside, the scene was often rowdy, with the crowd cheering wildly when Trump repeated his vow to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
Trump’s speech took place at the exact same time President Obama was discussing his recent executive orders on gun control in a televised town hall meeting, and Trump made it clear he’d reverse those orders, and then some, if elected president.
“I will get rid of gun-free zones in schools — you have to — and on military bases,” Trump said. “My first day, it gets signed, OK? My first day. There’s no more gun-free zones.”
Despite the campaign’s best efforts, dozens of protesters made it past security. Each time, Trump took pleasure in instructing the local police to usher them out.
“Yeah, don’t give him his coat. Don’t give him his coat. Keep his coat. Confiscate his coat. You know, it’s about 10 degrees below zero outside,” Trump said.
Throughout the speech, Trump took shots at pretty much every other politician of note — including other Republican presidential candidates, Obama and Hillary Clinton. But he particularly relished taunting Burlington resident and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
“Oh, would I love to run against Bernie. I would love it. That would be a dream come true,” Trump said.
“Donald Trump and I finally agree on something,” said Sanders in a statement issued by his campaign. “He wants to run against me. I want to run against him. It would be an extraordinary campaign, and I am confident I would win.”