As President Donald Trump took the podium in Orlando on Tuesday night, Rob Dayocas Jr. watched at a brewery in King of Prussia, a pint in hand, unable to contain his excitement.
“The Don!” he screamed. “What a handsome man!”
Dayocas, of Bridgeport, gathered with about 100 other Trump supporters to watch the president’s reelection campaign announcement. They cheered when the 20,000-person crowd in Orlando cheered, laughed when the president jabbed at the press, and launched into chants of “Build that wall!” and “Lock her up!” on cue.
The King of Prussia event was organized by the Montgomery County GOP and held at the Conshohocken Brewing Co. The brewery had no political affiliation with the event — in fact, at one point its staff told organizers that they could not hang an extra-large Trump flag in the main section of the bar, since it was a public space. After some backlash on Twitter following the event, the company sent a statement saying it will no longer rent space to political organizations.
“Conshohocken Brewing Co. has no political affiliation and does not endorse the views of any political groups,” the brewery said in an statement. “Conshohocken Brewing Co. and its 150-plus employees strive to promote the values of inclusion, diversity, and respect. Given the current political climate and to ensure we keep with those values, Conshohocken Brewing is no longer reserving space to political organizations, regardless of party affiliation.”
For Trump supporters in the room, the evening was a safe red space — lots of MAGA hats, Infowars T-shirts and Trump pride in a county — Montgomery — that has grown more and more Democratic in recent years and voted 58 percent for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The four Pennsylvania counties surrounding Philadelphia accounted for a third of the state’s voters in the last presidential election and could have a large impact on whether Trump wins reelection. Combine those stakes with the emotions Trump generates among supporters and objectors alike, and you get tensions among people who can live in the same town.
“It’s very difficult to be a Republican in the Philadelphia area,” said Isabelle Miller, 52, of Bala Cynwyd. “I’m a minority inspector in my ward" on Election Day. "And I get the angry eye from my neighbors. Here, we’re all together. And we’re proud.”
The watch party wasn’t just a rally but an attempt by the state and national parties to organize volunteers 18 months before the general election. About 55 people attended training before the speech to learn how to get involved. The presentation, closed to the press, was led by 2016 Trump state campaign chair Ted Christian. The RNC said it held more than 1,000 similar sessions or watch parties this week across the country, 40 in Pennsylvania.
“For us to be able to start this early with all this investment and volunteer base and buy-in is definitely beneficial for us,” said Christiana Purves, spokesperson for the RNC. “And it’s just not something the Democrats have with 24 candidates in the race. They’re all splitting their resources and we’re all united.”
Kat Howard of Plymouth Meeting and her daughter Lisa Carabasi of Villanova strutted into the brewery wearing heels, pearls and “Adorable Deplorables” T-shirts, which Howard designed after Clinton’s comment in 2016 that Trump supporters were “a basket of deplorables.”
“We wanted to be bold and make women in particular feel they don’t have to be afraid to wear a MAGA hat or be proud they voted for President Trump,” Howard said.
“We should be able to do that,” Carabasi said, adding: “Barack Obama, I wasn’t fond of him, but I never made people feel like they couldn’t be happy about who they support. Now I feel like it’s getting better, and that’s part of why we’re doing this. We want people to feel comfortable. We’re not trying to convert anyone. We’re ladylike. We’re Melania types. We love our vets and our police officers and our firefighters.…”
“…And our men,” Howard interjected. “We’re not feminists.”
Dasha Pruett, who emigrated from Russia to the U.S. when she was 10, said she supports the president’s immigration policies. “We came here as legal immigrants. It cost my parents an obscene amount of money. It took us over a decade to pay people who helped us out … so to see people kind of jumping the line and seeing the craziness that’s going on, it’s mayhem.”
Her husband, Rich, said he thinks Trump support in the suburbs, including where he lives, Drexel Hill, is more energized than it may seem based on the midterm elections, when Democrats won big. He runs a private Facebook group, “Philly Suburbs for Trump," which he said has topped 6,000 members.
“There is a silent majority here,” Rich Pruett said. “But it’s not so silent anymore.”