Playing the Trump card: President holds rally at the high school for special election candidate

Photo by Jacob Fulton

Olentangy Orange High School was written into Congressional history this August.

On Aug. 4, 2018, President Donald Trump visited the high school to campaign in support of Republican Troy Balderson, the newly elected Representative for Ohio’s 12th District. Balderson was victorious in an Aug. 7 special election held after former Representative Pat Tiberi announced his retirement. The results of the race were too close to call for 17 days, according to the Washington Post, and he defeated Democrat Danny O’Connor by only 0.8 percent of the vote, once all ballots were counted. Balderson and O’Connor will face off again in the midterm election, as this special election was only to finish Tiberi’s term.

In the days leading up to the event, President Trump tweeted his support for Balderson and promoted the rally. After the election, he said that his speech resulted in a “big turn for the better,” taking credit for Balderson’s victory and predicting that the November race for the same House seat will be an even bigger win.

Though the event had national repercussions, leading up to Aug. 4, the main debate wasn’t about the candidates—it was about the location of the rally. According to NBC4, the presidential visit was originally supposed to be at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. On Aug. 2, the venue was changed to accommodate a larger crowd.

“The District was approached by the President's staff on Thursday, August 2nd, seeking a last-minute event location that could accommodate a large crowd. In accordance with state law and Olentangy Local School District Board Policy #7510, the District was both authorized and required to rent the premises,” Principal Trond Smith said.

When community members heard it would be held at the high school, they had a variety of reactions.

“I strongly disagree with where the rally is being held. I feel like there could have been more neutral locations. It makes it seem like all the students at our high school share the views of Trump and Balderson’s campaign, when that’s definitely not the case,” senior Yusra Shegow said.

Meanwhile, supporters of Trump, such as Kamron Busch of Southern Indiana, were critical of students’ opposition to the location choice.

“There’s no better place for this rally to be held than a high school. Young people need to be educated about politics and understand the way our world is going to be. When you’re my age, you’ll understand why we’re here at a rally,” Busch said.


Inside the school, the cafeteria and gym were completely transformed. Stacks of official Trump signs piled up on lunch tables, and countless Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats adorned the heads of attendees. Supporters could purchase official Trump gear—only for sale inside the venue. A stage took up the far wall of the gym, with a podium near the free throw line. The bleachers were packed with people, and the floor was full as well. Junior Josie Vance, who considers herself a Trump supporter, said the majority of people inside seemed to be hardcore Trump fans, not community members or high school students.

“When Trump showed up, it was astonishing to me that he was actually here. The energy was pretty low when he wasn’t there, but as soon as he came out, the room completely changed. Everybody was really excited, and it was amazing to see that he was willing to come and campaign for one district in the middle of Ohio,” Vance said.

Many people shared this sentiment, such as 11-year-old Thatcher, who said he is “a big Trump fan.” Thatcher’s last name has been omitted from the article due to his age.

“It was really weird seeing him in person,” Thatcher said. “I didn’t think he would look like that in person—especially his hair. I love his hair.”

Dan Oxley, a bus driver from Marysville, Ohio, came to the rally for Trump, not Balderson.

“I came out to the rally to support Trump. I just want to let him know that we’re supporting him and we like what he’s done so far. Everybody seemed to be getting along and listening to the message. It’s been a fun experience,” Oxley said. “I didn’t really know much about Balderson, but what I heard, I liked. I plan to do more research and hear what the other candidate has to say before I vote.”

For 18-year-old Chenhao Ma, a Dublin resident, the rally was a chance to see the President—something she wanted to make sure to experience.

“I like going to political events because it really gives me a chance to get involved in government. Whether it’s voting or protesting or going to a rally, I think it’s important to be active. A part of being active is educating yourself on the opposing side’s point of view so you can better understand their beliefs as well as your own,” Ma said.


Outside of the school, people lined Walker Wood Boulevard. Necks of supporters hoping to catch a glimpse of the president craned out into the street, looking for his motorcade to pass by. Chants and cheers for President Trump could be heard from every direction. Bright red MAGA hats and protest signs dotted the hands and heads of the crowd as some unofficial vendors sold apparel, hoping to capitalize on the president’s visit. Some of the attendees were there as advocates for the event, while others were there in protest of its occurrence.

Protesters’ signs ranged from protesting the location to protesting President Trump himself. One such sign read “Where do I start?”

“I came out to protest President Trump and the policies of the Republicans that are ruining our country. With everything that’s been going on in this country: freedom of the press, what he says about reporters, everything he’s done with immigrants, what he did with the little kids. I mean, it’s just ridiculous. When I started making this sign I didn’t know what to put down, there were so many things I could’ve said so I just said “where do I start?” first-time protestor Sherry Wiley said.

Wiley’s exasperation with the Trump administration’s policies was matched by other protesters.

“People like Trump already have a platform. We have to create our own platform, and this is our way of doing that. When you’re constantly told that you’re illegal, or that you’re a terrorist, you have to find a way to advocate for yourself,” senior Naman Patel said.

As protesters waved signs, supporters waved to the fleet of black limousines that passed by.

“I’m here because I support Donald Trump and I believe the country is moving in a good direction. I hope that [by coming here], my daughter will have a better understanding in what we believe,” attendee Danielle Inbody said.

One attendee, Laurraine Vance, came to the rally to support the pro-life movement, rather than to protest.

“I am here representing the victims of abortion and supporting President Trump for wanting to defend the defenseless and these children that are killed,” Vance said.

Some attendees feel there is a need to have a place like the rally where people of all parties and with all points of views can co-exist.

“I think it’s important to find a space where both sides of the spectrum can share their stances. Obviously, since the 2016 election, the political atmosphere has become very polarized, and people seem to almost be unwilling to compromise or listen to the other side, which is important in progressing political discussion,” Shegow said.


Print Editions

Online Editions