President Donald Trump blew into Greenville with all of the grandeur befitting a president Monday for a two-and-a-half hour whirlwind visit with his friend and early campaign supporter, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who Trump endorsed at a private fundraiser.
Interstates and airways were closed during rush hour as Air Force One landed at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport at 5:21 p.m.
Three hours later, it lifted off again, headed back to Joint Base Andrews near Washington, D.C.
In between, Trump stopped to greet about 100 pre-screened supporters who gathered near the tarmac at GSP, then was whisked away by motorcade to the Embassy Suites on Verdae Boulevard in Greenville, where he entered through a side door to mingle at a VIP reception and speak at a $250 per ticket fundraiser for McMaster.
Local media caught a glimpse of Trump’s airplane and motorcade but never saw the man himself, except on video.
The McMaster fundraising event was closed to the media despite earlier plans to allow pool reporters from one newspaper and two television stations inside.
Trump, in a video posted online by The State, called McMaster his friend and compatriot who “worked hours that are unbelievable” as an early supporter of Trump’s campaign.
“It is my honor to give my endorsement to Henry McMaster. He’s going to be, for many years, a great governor.”
Trump called McMaster “a terrific man, a terrific person who works so hard. He loves South Carolina. He loves the people of South Carolina.”
Supporters cheered as Trump praised McMaster who stood on stage next to the president along with McMaster’s wife, Peggy, and two adult children.
McMaster praised Trump as a “magnificent man” who was “changing how people think” in America.
Trump supporters who attended the event left happy.
Greenville resident Dennis Muron took his 14-year-old son, John Vincent Muron, to the fundraiser.
Dennis Muron said Trump’s remarks at the event were “short and sweet.”
“He spoke about Henry McMaster, of course, and then he talked about the tax reform that he’s progressing on and health care. That was really good,” he said. “Of course he talked about polls – how they were during the election and after the election.”
Muron said Trump “also told some very good jokes.”
“It was very pleasant,” he said. “It was a good evening.”
John Vincent Muron, 14, also was impressed with the president.
“I thought what he said was really encouraging for this country,” he said.
Media reports of remarks leaked from inside the venue to Peter Hamby of Snapchat said Trump spoke on message about tax reform, eliminating Obamacare subsidies, his opposition to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem and included extensive praise for McMaster.
Trump’s visit to South Carolina came just hours after he authorized a major disaster declaration for the state from Hurricane Irma, which impacted South Carolina from Sept. 6-13.
Federal funding is available on a cost-sharing basis to state, tribal and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofits for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the hurricane in 16 South Carolina counties.
Those counties include Allendale, Anderson, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Edgefield, Georgetown, Hampton, Jasper, McCormick, Oconee and Pickens.
Trump’s visit and endorsement didn’t come as a surprise to either of McMaster's major GOP challengers, who last week each said they expected as much.
The presidential kiss comes at a time that McMaster’s campaign has been in a virtual dead heat in fundraising with Catherine Templeton, a Charleston lawyer who ran two state agencies during the Haley administration and has set herself up as the political outsider. McMaster also faces a challenge for Upstate support from Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, an Anderson pharmacy owner and former state representative, who spent Monday speaking at an event in Charleston.
On a media conference call Monday afternoon, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson said President Trump’s decision to attend a fundraiser for Gov. McMaster shows that the governor is facing political problems.
“Henry McMaster is extremely weak and that is really why Donald Trump is coming here today,” Robertson said.
McMaster lent his support to Trump early on as the political newcomer was the dark horse outsider in a crowded GOP field.
Trump won the South Carolina primary and “he’s been winning ever since,” McMaster said on stage Monday evening.
McMaster, who was lieutenant governor under Nikki Haley, became governor in January when Haley was appointed to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Support and Protest
Trump’s arrival brought supporters and protesters alike to the airport and roadways between Greer and Greenville.
While Trump was at the fundraiser, about 500 people gathered at Falls Park in downtown Greenville to protest.
Nearly a dozen speakers encouraged protesters to continue their activism in Greenville.
Jack Logan of Put Down the Guns Now Young People spoke about his discontent with Trump's lack of gun control measures, and Inge Leland of Indivisible SC 4 encouraged Greenville residents to understand the importance of voting, especially at the local and state levels.
Todd May, a philosophy professor at Clemson University, told the crowd about his belief in the importance of pushing for a more inclusive future.
"In three and a half long years Trump will not be here," May said. "We can make Greenville the city we want it to be. We can make it the vision we all see."
Supporters and protesters also gathered at GSP. Others just came to see Air Force One.
Joanne Mitchell of Greenville said she came to GSP airport to talk about her values and what is important to her.
"We'd like our elected officials to work with each other instead of fighting all the time."
Mitchell came representing Upstate Coalition for Equality and Indivisible, the same organizations that put together the rally at Falls Park on the Reedy organized the protest at the airport.
"Put it down," shouted a man driving a white minivan past Mitchell and another protester, Genie Murphy.
"No, it's my right," Murphy, who held a sign, shouted back.
About 30 protesters had gathered in front of the airport by 4:45 p.m.
About 100 yards away near the airport's air traffic control tower, another group of 20 to 30 people also gathered. These were Trump supporters. They gathered next to a barbed-wire fence beyond which Air Force One landed at 5:25 p.m.
"We didn't want to be anywhere near those protesters," said one of the men gathered at the fence.
A GSP security officer asked the group to get away from the fence – it was not the designated free speech zone. They left but gathered again behind some bushes at another place along the barbed wire fence. They cheered when Air Force One landed. As President Trump disembarked from his airplane they cheered again and then ran down a grassy hill to try to catch sight of the president's motorcade.
They waited along GSP Drive, but the motorcade took a different road out of the airport, and no one saw the president.
I'm a Trump supporter," said Philip Blackstock of Powdersville. "I wanted to give him a thumbs up."
Blackstock is a residential contractor and engineer. He said that since Trump has become president, his business has taken off. He said he supports the president's efforts to fix foreign trade deals, which Blackstock said have been killing jobs ever since NAFTA.
"I grew up in Greenville, and I'm glad to see him come here," Blackstock said.
"He supports God and country," said Blackstock's wife, Teresa.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson accompanied Trump on Air Force One, and when he landed at GSP, McMaster and his family greeted the president from the bottom of the airplane’s stairs.
As Trump made his way to Greenville, supporters waited to get inside the hotel.
Bill Dearybury's company, Dearybury Oil & Gas Co. in Spartanburg, was a sponsor for the fundraiser. He stood in line in the hotel lobby waiting to enter the ballroom where the fundraiser was held.
“I think he is doing well,” said Dearybury, who voted for Trump. “I am most pleased with the wealth brought back into the stock market.”
He said Trump “could be a little stronger” in foreign policy.
Barb Laffler waved a Make America Great Again hat from the passenger window of a black sedan as she and husband Brian waited to get inside the venue.
“I think he’s doing a great job and I want to let him know,” Barb Laffler said.
As Trump departed Greenville, supporters stuck around the airport waving American flags and watching as Air Force One sped into the night sky.
One onlooker brought his son just to see the massive airplane.
"That just makes my day," said Jeremy Weaver of Greenville as Air Force One disappeared. "I came to see the airplane. Somebody else will be on it in a few years."