Just before 5 p.m., a plane emerged from the sky over Smiley Creek Airport. The crowd below tensed—some cheered, some waved their arms—and murmurs were exchanged.
“That’s got to be him, right?”
“Are they early?”
“You don’t usually see a plane like that at the Smiley Creek airport.”
A handful of people deboarded, and the crowd collectively sighed. None of the passengers were, in fact, the president’s son.
About 80 people gathered at the small airport north of Ketchum late Tuesday afternoon to greet Donald Trump Jr., who, along with his partner Kimberly Guilfoyle, was expected to touch down on the runway before helicoptering to a $2,800-a-head private fundraising dinner in Stanley. The stop at the airport was intended for local “grassroots Republicans” who were unable to attend the dinner, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin told the Idaho Mountain Express.
By 4:30 p.m., a crowd had assembled in the browned grass, some waving Trump 2020 flags in the air, all eyes peeled upward to the skies. Some had traveled from as far as Twin Falls, three hours away, while others made the drive north from the Wood River Valley. (The stop was initially planned to take place at the Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, an organizer said, but was moved to the more remote Smiley Creek location because of concerns about potential protesters.)
Bob Hoskins and his wife Julie drove up to Smiley Creek from Hailey, Hoskins said, “to let [Trump Jr.] know that not all of Blaine County is a bunch of liberals.”
John Johnson, also from Hailey, wore a mask of the president, Donald Trump Sr. “In a nutshell, for me, it’s borders, language and culture,” Johnson said of his support for the current president. “We need a common language and culture, or our nation cannot survive.”
Another small plane circled above, and a chant rose up: “Four more years! Four more years!”
“Eight more years!” someone shouted, and the crowd laughed before echoing the call. The plane landed, the passengers emerged, and necks were craned. “Keep an eye out for Kimberly’s legs,” a woman joked. “Do you see high heels?”
The legs that descended the plane’s stairs were not Guilfoyle’s or Trump’s, and the crowd relaxed once again.
* * *
Ten miles up the road, a small group of protesters had come together near the home of Michael Boren, a Trump donor from Boise, where they believed the fundraising dinner would be held.
Maggie Staas of Stanley stood atop her car with a sign that read “Jesus would flip every table in that house.” She’d organized the protest at 10 p.m. the night before, she said.
When she heard that Trump Jr. would be visiting her 60-person town, Staas said, her first reaction was to cry. Then she decided to do something about it.
“We don’t have $2,800-a-plate,” Staas told the Mountain Express. “But we at least have our First Amendment.”
She sent out an email to fellow Stanleyites who had participated in a local Black Lives Matter march earlier in the summer, expecting just a handful of people to show up. By 4:45 p.m., about 20 people had lined state Highway 75 outside the home, holding handmade signs up to each passing car.
“This doesn’t get to be an easy thing for [Trump Jr.],” Staas said, pausing to raise her sign. “There should be some pushback.”
Dayna Deuter, also of Stanley, said she saw the protest as one of the “very few opportunities in deep-red Idaho to have our voices heard.”
“It’s kind of exciting to show up and let them know they can’t go anywhere without hearing from us,” Deuter said.
“It’s really disappointing when something like this is happening in your neighborhood,” added Karen Keiski, a Smiley Creek resident who wore a blue hat with “Make America Gracious Again” printed across it. “It’s not done any of us any favors or any good to be in this atmosphere of divisiveness and outrage and angst.”
Sally McCollum, who’d driven an hour to attend the protest from Ketchum, said she was “impressed” with the turnout, especially considering the remote location.
“Even in the middle of nowhere, we’re not going to let him relax,” McCollum said.
* * *
By 6:15 p.m.—nearly an hour after Trump Jr.’s planned arrival—there was still no sign of the president’s eldest son. A few people wandered to their cars for snacks and beverages; others took a seat on nearby rocks. The guest of honor was running late, organizers warned, and there was a chance that his helicopter wouldn’t be able to stop. No one left.
Machele Hamilton, vice chairwoman of the Idaho GOP, had come from Nampa for Trump Jr.’s visit. Looking around at the crowd gathered at the airport, Hamilton said she couldn’t imagine the same turnout to greet the relative of any other presidential candidate in recent history.
“The excitement that this family creates is amazing,” Hamilton said. “There’s something about Trump that just makes people over-the-top excited.”
Come November, Hamilton said, she’s “very, very optimistic” that Idaho will go to Trump over former vice president Joe Biden, who visited the Wood River Valley for his own $2,800-a-plate fundraiser in August of 2019. (The maximum individual contribution that a person can make to a campaign per election cycle is $2,800.)
“I think it could be a total landslide,” Hamilton said.
The Trump campaign team in Idaho, of which McGeachin is a member, had been “trying for months” to get Trump Jr. to come to the state, the lieutenant governor told the Express.
“We’ve been waiting with open arms for the opportunity,” McGeachin said.
(Earlier in the day, McGeachin was absent from a meeting of Idaho’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee, at which she was expected to vote on Gov. Brad Little’s plan to put $99 million of the federal CARES Act funding Idaho has received toward Idaho schools, Idaho Ed News reported. McGeachin said in a subsequent Facebook post that the fundraiser in Stanley was not the reason she missed the meeting.)
Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, who serves as Majority Leader of the Idaho House of Representatives, was also at the airport.
“If you would have told me four years ago that this man would do everything he has for our country, I would have told you that you were wrong,” Moyle told the crowd gathered, in reference to President Trump. “For that I ask your forgiveness. This man is God-sent.”
* * *
Just before 7 p.m., the blinking lights of a helicopter descended from the hazy smoke-filled sky, and a cheer rose up from below. Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle strode toward the crowd, arms extended in waves. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” played from a nearby speaker.
The couple hadn’t been informed, Trump Jr. told the crowd, that they were supposed to make a stop at the airport at all.
“But they said this many people were here and I said, ‘We’ve got to stop and say hi to the people that matter,’’ Trump Jr. said. “That’s you. You guys are why we’re doing this. Real Americans are why we’re doing this.”
In five-minutes of remarks, the president’s son touched on a range of campaign talking points, from reshoring manufacturing jobs to “endless wars” in the Middle East to the mental acuity of his father’s opponent.
“If I was with the Biden campaign right now, I’d say, ‘It’s beautiful here in Alaska,’” Trump Jr. said.
He bent to speak to some children and proposed a group photo. A suit-clad Secret Service agent and a handful of Blaine County deputies hovered just outside. “Don Jr. 2024!” someone shouted, more than once. A woman asked to say a prayer for his father’s campaign, and the crowd formed a circle around Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle. All together, they bowed their heads.
And then, just like that, the helicopter returned to the sky.