President Donald Trump will host a rally at the Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater on Wednesday in Panama City. So what should attendees expect? A #MAGA rally doesn’t hold to the script as tightly as many political events, but you can count on characteristic spectacle.
We spoke with some of the political figures planning to attend and here’s what they told us to expect at the 7 p.m. event.
- Touting Hurricane Recovery Money?
Well, this feels less certain than ever, but it’s quite clear many Panhandles leaders hope for it. “I’m very hopeful because I don’t think he’d be coming here with bad news,” Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki told the Panama City News-Herald. Indeed, Politico reports a number of Florida GOP elected officials have strongly advised Trump not to arrive empty-handed. That apparently includes Gov. Ron DeSantis, who told the USA Today Network, “Why would you want to come unless you are going to announce more good news?”
Congressional leaders say they are near to a deal regarding disaster relief, but Trump himself threw some cold water on that this week. The sticking point in negotiations remains Puerto Rico funding, and Trump said this week maintained a Twitter feud with the storm-ravaged island.
Still, a stop in Panama City, which took the brunt of Hurricane Michael damage, seems the perfect place for Trump to trumpet progress. That depends, of course, on a dealing being struck by then. We’re guessing the topic comes up either way.
- Major Crowds
Packing the house has long been a tradition for Trump, even when polls showed weakening support in 2016. So expect a serious show of strength as the President arrives in Florida’s conservative Panhandle. “I predict a larger, more enthusiastic crown than [Joe] Biden could draw by several multiples,” said U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican.
The Trump ally of course taunted the former Vice President and Democratic frontrunner. Attendees can probably expect more of that too.
- A Visit by the Governor
DeSantis owes much of his success, particular in last year’s GOP gubernatorial primary, to the President. As the Governor rides a wave of post-election popularity and a successful first session, he plans to return the favor.
Republican Party of Florida Chair Joe Gruters confirms DeSantis will address the crowd. DeSantis and Gaetz for the moment hold the prominent spots on the program before Trump takes the stage.
Notably, DeSantis attended a meeting with Trump, Gaetz and Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar about a Florida drug importation plan. The president has supported the move, a priority for the new governor and one already approved by the state, so the two men will be able to tout progress together on that front.
- Throwing Down a Gauntlet
This rally serves as the first presidential campaign stop in Florida before the President faces a re-election vote in 2020. He has campaigned in the Pensacola area while driving up energy for a Senate race. But this event will be about Trump staking his claim in the state he calls a second home.
“This will be the first one of many, many, many trips to Florida,” Gruters promises.
In 2016, some 71 percent of Bay County voters went for Trump, according to the Pensacola News-Journal. Considering the state went to Trump by 1.2 percent, it’s pivotal he see turnout in areas like the Panhandle next fall if he wants Florida’s electoral votes in his column again.
- A Kind Reception
While polls show Trump has taken a hit since the release of the Muller Report, that doesn’t mean he’s not an odds-on favorite to win the Panhandle. “Northwest Florida has been a victory lane for Republican Governors, Senators and Presidents,” Gaetz boasts. “We’re proud to do it. And we love President Trump.”
Expect Florida to be a swing state in 2020. But the Panhandle will be Trump Country on Wednesday and through November. There’s high expectations outside the arena for news on a disaster recovery deal. But that doesn’t mean the red hat adorning crowd inside the venue today will feel anxious to hold the President responsible.