Prominent Wisconsin Republicans, past and present, join President Trump on stage in Milwaukee (C-SPAN)
Prominent Wisconsin Republicans, past and present, join President Trump on stage in Milwaukee (C-SPAN)

Trump supporters and critics weigh in on economic record

Thousands swarmed Milwaukee’s Deer District and Westown areas Tuesday, grinding traffic to a halt and setting off a shockwave of hyper-inflated parking costs as the Bucks and President Donald Trump held side by side events.

Streets were blocked for the president’s visit, and parking spots that typically run $20 or less skyrocketed to as much as $50 near the Fiserv Forum and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther Arena. Trump supporters camped out overnight and Fiserv Forum’s doors opened early

“This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, having the two events together,” said Becky Abbott, a 39-year-old nonprofit employee from Slinger who said she frequently attends Bucks games. “It’s interesting to see the different people and how they’re interacting.”

Trump’s visit to Milwaukee was his second 2020 campaign stop in Wisconsin. He visited Green Bay’s Resch Center in April. He stopped in Wisconsin 10 times during the 2016 campaign, visiting cities including Superior, Eau Claire and Racine. Despite the wall-to-wall media coverage Trump receives and the number of times he has stopped in Wisconsin, not everyone at or near Tuesday evening’s rally has made up their mind about November.

“We’re supportive of the position (of the presidency),” said Becky Abbott’s husband, Tom, a 54-year-old detective. He stopped short of condemning Trump, saying, “I’m open-minded” without endorsing him. The Abbotts have not decided for whom they will vote in November.

Vermon Luke, a Brown Deer resident, settled here more than two decades ago after fleeing civil war in the West African country of Liberia, and she is still waiting to become a United States citizen even after years of effort. Despite Trump’s controversial track record on immigration issues, Luke said she attended to be more informed.

“Well, I want to hear what he has to say,” Luke, who works in finance, said outside the arena. “It was so close, and I figured if I got a ticket, it’s my chance to come. … I’m not a voter; I’m just one of those legal people in the legal immigration line waiting my turn.”

Most Wisconsinites have a favorite presidential candidate in mind, according to the latest Marquette Law School poll released last month, but 3 to 7 percent of respondents said they did not know who they would vote for in head-to-head matchups of Trump and his then-top-five potential Democratic opponents. Those undecided voters are set to play a massive role as Democrats work to win back the state, which swung in Trump’s favor in 2016 by a razor-thin margin of fewer than 23,000 votes.

Dannie Moore, a 65-year-old retired tool and die maker who lives in Milwaukee, said that he believes Trump won in 2016 because voters “weren’t ready for a woman president.” (Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by nearly three million votes.)

“They talk about the stock market,” Moore said, referring to how Republicans frequently point to record highs on Wall Street as a sign of Trump’s economic success. “But folks like me, we’re not in the stock market, so it don’t affect us.”

That’s not to say that Trump supporters stayed home Tuesday. In a sea of Make America Great Again and Trump 2020 merchandise outside the Panther arena, the president received high praise.

“I was not for Trump in the beginning,” said 36-year-old Waukesha homemaker Katie Robbins. “I think he’s quite eccentric, and I didn’t believe him at first, but he’s kept his promises.” Robbins said she did not vote at all in 2016, but is now a full-fledged Trump supporter.

Mukwonago construction worker Collin Hinz, 20, was not old enough to vote in 2016 but has already decided to throw his lot in with Trump. Wages and frequency of work have increased under Trump, Hinz said, and Mukwonago is booming

Likewise, Union Grove resident Shannon Jepson, a 48-year-old health care analyst, said her Racine County village has been rapidly evolving from a “desolate small town” as developers take interest in the wake of the nearby Foxconn Technology Group development.

“2020, Trump all the way,” Jepson said.

But nearby, hundreds more people took to the streets in protest of Trump’s visit, marching to the arena as the rally began.

“It’s important for people to exercise their First Amendment rights,” said 58-year-old computer programmer Chuck Roher, of Wauwatosa. He attended the protest as a member of Tosa Indivisible and said he and his fellow protesters were concerned with a slew of issues including immigration, climate change and Trump’s alleged crimes in office leading to his impeachment.

Moore, the retired tool and die maker, said he voted for Trump in 2016 but said his 2020 decision isn’t set. 

“Trump doesn’t believe in everything I believe in,” Moore said.