In the concert atmosphere — with thousands standing for hours and dozens getting sick from the July heat — Trump once again appeared to dwarf the field.
“It was hardworking patriots like you who built this country, and it’s hardworking patriots like you who are going to save our country,” Trump told the crowd, accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack.
A sweat-drenched woman raised her red Gatorade to the sky and swayed to the music. A man in a wheelchair took off his shirt to bear the heat.
“2024 is our final battle,” Trump continued. « Under our leadership, forgotten men and women will never be forgotten again. »
People flocked from both surrounding counties and other states to catch a glimpse of the two-time indicted former president, whose presence in the 3-square-mile city shut down businesses and strained municipal resources. Trump has taken over the city’s long-scheduled annual Independence Day festival, announcing the rally two weeks ago after Trump’s team — with help from elected Republican officials in the state — convinced the city to agree to the shutdown. of the Secret Service around its main commercial strip.
It was a stark contrast to the event DeSantis held in South Carolina last week, a more subdued affair where he answered questions at a North Augusta community center.
In Pickens, sellers organized days in advance, and local homeowners sought to lease $50 parking spaces in their backyards. Some attendees slept outside the entrance gate overnight. The line to get in snaked through the city center on Saturday as the business-minded sold camping chairs, bottled water and hot dogs. Rally attendees tore apart cardboard boxes to build fans, and the Trump campaign frantically brought in pallets of water and Gatorade to hydrate the crowd.
At around 11am, when the Trump-branded plane flew overhead, the street erupted in applause. The Greenville school choir that was recently stopped singing the national anthem performed within the rotunda of the United States Capitol. Sen. Lindsay Graham (RS.C.), who backed Trump, was repeatedly drowned out by boos.
« I was open, » said Tena Stark, a Pickens native who now lives in Tennessee, of her thinking on the Republican primary field. “But now I’ve made up my mind. I feel like he’s the strongest man for the job.
Her husband, Bruce, said Trump was the only one who could get him to travel four hours and show up at 4:45 to keep warm for a rally. Momentarily ignoring DeSantis’ name, he said he liked the Florida candidate, but he thinks DeSantis needs « more time » to get ready to handle the job of president.
Trump could hardly have chosen a more favorable venue for his rally. Pickens County supported Trump more than any other part of South Carolina in the 2020 election, with nearly 75% of the vote going to Trump. But his appearance here was a coup in a critical primary state with two home-grown contenders.
Haley, the state’s former governor, and Scott, its current junior senator, are under particularly heavy pressure to perform well at home. And unlike the other top states — where Trump also dominates in the polls — South Carolina is one where the former president has solid establishment support. He won the endorsements of the state governor, senior senator and three members of Congress – something state and federal elected Republicans have so far refrained from doing in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
“This state picks presidents,” former Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, who has also endorsed Trump, said from the stage. « When we get together and show this kind of support for an individual, he speaks volumes about the candidate. »
By the time Trump took the stage, the crowds were already starting to thin out, with an apparent exodus of his supporters in need of shade, cold drinks and a break from the blazing sun.
Walter Ford, who runs the Main Street pizzeria, initially tried to use Facebook to sell his business parking spaces and considered selling pizza by the slice to passers-by, but eventually gave up and decided to « take the loss » closing. Ford said he wasn’t upset, calling the rally a « historic event for our small town. »
It was also a big disruption. Pickens’ police chief told the local newspaper that his officers had to study « every parking lot in this city » to figure out how to accommodate the huge crowds. And most notably, Trump himself called the Pickens County courier last week to give a exclusive interview at the weekly, calling Pickens « my area. »
« Those are the people I love, » Trump told reporter Jason Evans. “We break some records. We will break them together.
Trump held his first rally of the 2024 race in Waco, Texas, in March, but Trump’s rally here was his first in an early nomination state after one scheduled for Iowa in May was canceled at the last minute due to weather problems.
In his speech on Saturday, which was to be followed by the city’s regularly scheduled Independence Day weekend festivities and fireworks, Trump voiced his grievances at length about the multiple criminal cases pending against him. Speaking for more than an hour, Trump lashed out at President Joe Biden as he briefly criticized DeSantis, drawing light boos from the crowd as he attacked DeSantis’ record on agriculture.
It was the latest in a series of elaborate Fourth of July events Trump has taken part in in recent years, such as his speech at Mount Rushmore in 2020 and his « Salute to America » event at the National Mall in 2019. which made him the first president to deliver an Independence Day speech there in 68 years.
Nate Leupp, the former Greenville County Republican Party chairman, said sheer curiosity about the logistics and how Pickens would pull off the event was driving some Republicans he knew to go.
“This being out in a small, rural town really piqued the interest of a lot of people,” Leupp said ahead of the rally. « I’ve heard of a lot of people wanting to go just for that reason. »