At what amounted to a victory rally for the 45th President of the United States Thursday (May 11) in Elkhart, Ind., Donald Trump painted a bull’s-eye on U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, stating that for him to move forward with his agenda he needs Indiana to send him “reinforcements” in the person of Mike Braun, the GOP nominee looking to unseat the man Trump called “Sleepin’ Joe.” (To view a slideshow scroll to the right side of the RVBUSINESS.com home page. Photos by Shawn Spence).
Speaking to 7,500 people wearing all things red, white and blue – many of them having waited in three-hour lines to gain entry into the cavernous North Side Middle School Gymnasium – Trump highlighted the successes of his administration thus far, and said Indiana voters need to elect Braun in order for him to continue to “drain the swamp.”
Flanked by signs that said “Promises Made” and “Promises Kept,” Trump touched on immigration reform, including the first 100 miles of the border wall now under construction; 3.3 million in job gains; growing prosperity as evidenced by America’s economy being nearly twice that of the second-largest nation’s; and tariffs on aluminum and steel as part of the corrective actions to remedy trade deficits.
He also reminded the audience that in the past week alone, he had withdrawn the U.S. from the nuclear agreement with Iran in favor of negotiating a better deal, secured the release of American prisoners from North Korea without having to spend money, and was preparing to re-open the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem – and only spending several hundred thousand dollars to do so, not the more than $1 billion that had been requested.
“Confidence is soaring, and optimism is at the top of every chart. This is a great time for our country, a lot of things happening every day. We are unlocking new opportunities for prosperity and for peace. All of these changes are happening because America is being respected again,” Trump said.
“But all of the great momentum that we’re having as a country on jobs, on safety, on security, on our military, it’s all at stake in November,” he added, imploring the audience to vote Republican in the coming mid-term elections.
“We need you to send Republicans like Mike Braun to drain the swamp,” Trump said to thunderous applause.
Trump then portrayed Donnelly, a first-term senator from Granger, Ind., and Braun’s opponent following the contentious May 3 primary, as a foot soldier for U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer – both Democratic leaders and the frequent targets of GOP disdain.
“Joe Donnelly will do whatever Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer tell him to do,” said Trump, cautioning the crowd to be wary of politicians “who say one thing and vote for another.” He said Democrats have been nothing more than “obstructionists” and will “always raise their hand for the radical left of Nancy Pelosi.”
Saying “Mike Braun will fight for the values that bind us together as Americans,” Trump then invited him to the podium to say a few words on the doorstep of a senatorial race that will more than likely continue to garner national attention as both the Dems and GOP seek majority control of Congress in part through the campaigns of two candidates with ties to the RV industry.
Braun, president and CEO of Jasper, Ind.-based Meyer Distributing, a parts distributor to the auto and RV industries, said it was one of the highlights of his life to have shared a 30-minute car ride with the president from the airport to the rally.
“I would not have done it (run for Senate) if I wasn’t inspired by what (Trump) did in 2016. He cleared the field, systematically, and really that was the inspiration for doing it. And I can guarantee you when I get there, I’m doing it for the right reasons. I’m a businessman and an outsider, just like our president. And you can count on me to be a true reinforcement and the guy who’s going to retire Joe Donnelly,” Braun said to roars of approval.
Faced with a wave of pro-Trump publicity this past week, Donnelly, co-chair of the Senate RV Caucus, issued a statement afterward that reflected the theme of his televised campaign ads: “It’s okay that the president and vice president are here today for politics, but problems only get solved when you roll up your sleeves and put in the hard work. I’m Indiana’s hired help in the Senate because I don’t work for any president or any political party — I work for Hoosiers, and that will never change.”
But with the president in town, it was clearly a big week for Republicans around the Northern Indiana community of Elkhart, a GOP stronghold and home of the bulk of North America’s RV industry.
“Since Indiana voted to send this man to the White House, businesses have created more than 3.3 million jobs – including 33,000 new jobs here in the Hoosier state alone. Manufacturers have added more than 315,000 good-paying jobs,” said Vice President Mike Pence, the former governor of Indiana. “The unemployment rate hasn’t been this low since the year 2000. In fact, Elkhart County has the fifth lowest unemployment rate in America. As I stand before you today I say with absolute confidence, jobs are coming back. Confidence is back. Under President Donald Trump, America is back and we’re just getting started.”
Among the members of the audience was Art Decio, who built Skyline Corp. from a small family organization into one of the largest home manufacturing companies in the industry and, back in the day, a major player in RV’s as well. Decio, whose company combined operations in January with Champion Enterprises Holdings LLC, was ushered into a coveted location behind the stage in full view of television cameras directed at the podium. A 1975 RV/MH Hall of Fame inductee, Decio told RVBusiness the president has done an “excellent job” since taking office.
“We had all kinds of problems before he took over and he’s been fixing all of them,” Decio said. “We had 15 of the best Republicans we probably had running for office, and he kicked the hell out of all of them – and they needed their asses kicked because they didn’t do their job.
“He’s done everything, but most important has been his leadership,” he continued. “He cut the taxes, and the working man needed that money. He’s doing everything the right way. He cares about the working man. He cares about the African Americans in this country. He cares about everybody – and it shows. He’s the president of everybody.
“We just need to make sure that he stays alive because what he’s doing by fixing this country and bringing pride back to this country, every American can feel it. This is the greatest country in the world. We do everything for everybody else and that’s fine, but they’ve got to be on our side – not because we’re strong but because we’re right,” Decio concluded.
Another member of the RV industry, Ryan Krenek, sales manager at Krenek RV Super Center in Coloma, Mich., said prior to Trump taking the stage that he hoped to hear from the president and vice president about continued support for the national parks infrastructure improvements and additional cuts “of all the unnecessary regulation that tethers the RV industry to the rest of the world – and to keep interest rates at a moderate level.”
Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese told RVBusiness he was pleased his city was selected to host the rally, and added his thanks for the local, county and state law enforcement for their hard work ensuring the event went without incident.
“Anytime you can have a president, regardless of where you sit at the political table, it’s a significant event for any community. And that we have not only the president, but the vice president also in attendance, well, what can I tell you, I’m happy to be the host,” Neese said.