When Trump Comes to Town
An event planner's perspective on President Trump's short notice visit to Duluth
Photo courtesy of Tony Webster
Just days after President Donald Trump announced his plans to visit Minnesota’s Iron Range on June 20, employees of President Trump’s presidential committee flew to Duluth and toured the facilities. “They were a little like ants,” recalls Annette Eberhart, the director of event planning at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. “Each one was assigned to a very specific task. They would break off then regroup to ask questions.”
Eberhart has been doing this job for years. Planning such a large-scale event can be like herding cats (or ants), but she’s unfazed by the challenge. In 2004, she was a member of the team that coordinated former President George W. Bush’s rally—the last time an American president visited Duluth.
President Trump’s visit, however, was different. For starters, the “Make American Great Again” rally was scheduled just 11 days ago. Eberhart and her team normally have months (sometimes years) to plan out events. In about the amount of time it takes to watch all the Game of Thrones episodes, she has coordinated an event that will truly be at the center of the political world for the next several days.
And then last week, it was announced that the rally would be moved to a larger arena to better accommodate all the interest.
So how did they do it?
“We pretty much worked non-stop,” says Eberhart. Last Thursday, she led a tour of the building’s facilities. It just so happened the tour coincided with the Grandma’s Marathon packet-pick-up—where approximately 9,000 runners and their families and friends snagged everything they needed before the big race. Eberhart recalls seeing runners overloading on spaghetti and bread in the arena’s atrium. Imagine President Trump’s event staff plodding out security details to the backdrop of marathon runners and pop songs. “Trump’s people didn’t seem to mind,” says Eberhart.
Eberhart recalls how President Trump’s event staff quizzed her on the facilities on the floor of the arena beside racks of running apparel for sale. Then the Trump team hooked up with Sound Central, a production company in Duluth to coordinate mics and lighting. “The whole thing was just like any other concert,” she says.
On Monday, semi-trucks began to arrive. The unmarked trucks contained the trappings of a MAGA (Make America Great Again) event. Dozens of American flags were unpacked. The stage and presidential podium were erected. “The event committee and volunteers put up all the decorations,” explains Eberhart. Soon after, the Trump merchandise arrived—Trump T-shirts, MAGA hats, commemorative cups, beer cozies with emblazoned with the inauguration logo. For five bucks you can buy a button that says #buildthewall. Homemade signs are forbidden, but you can buy one inside for $16.
One thing is clear: The event will be well documented. The stage is designed basically to facilitate front-page photos of President Trump. The stage and walkways are optimized to show Trump standing benevolently above a loving crowd. The stage will likely bear two signs—or at least his most recent rally in Moon, Pennsylvania, used this approach—that read “Promises Made” and “Promises Kept.”
Of course, this is also about local politics. Jeff Johnson, candidate for governor, and Pete Stauber, who is running for state representative, will also be there to speak about the revitalization of the Iron Range. (Back in 2016, President Trump won the Iron Range in Minnesota by 15.6 percentage points.)
According to MAGA rally veteran Sheri Auclair, there will probably be a “party feel” to the night; the frill and spectacle of past MAGA rallies will all be in the mix. Auclair has attended his rallies in Wisconsin and at the airport hangar in Minneapolis in addition to throwing a fundraiser for his campaign in St. Paul. “You’re with thousands and thousands of people who love the president,” says Auclair. “People will be draped in MAGA hats. People camping out. They have something called the First Row Joes. They just go to all the rallies across the country and they’re always the first ones in line.”
Auclair, who speaks excitedly about all things Trump, is especially thrilled about the changing political landscape of northern Minnesota. She says that President Trump regrets not coming here more often during the last presidential election.“Back then everybody just assumed Minnesota was a blue state, but that’s not the case anymore. The electorate has changed quite a bit,” she says.
Shirley Schaff, another Trump supporter from Eden Prairie, has also been to several Trump events. She described President Trump’s past events as “a love fest.” For Schaff, the chance to see President Trump in person is rare chance to get a glimpse of the president without the media. “I think he pretends to be a jerk in public,” Shaff says. “In his heart, he’s really a blue-collar guy.”
Eberhart, who was most excited about attending a yoga class after work, admits that there’s a buzz around the event in Duluth. “I’m telling everyone who asks to go the local shops and restaurants,” she says. “Regardless of what you think of the guy, this will be good for our businesses.”