President-elect, his Wisconsin team give backers a thrill at State Fair Park

Even though I arrived two hours early for Tuesday’s Trump rally, the parking lot at State Fair Park was already packed, and I had to walk about a quarter-mile to get to the Wisconsin Exposition Center.

Luckily, I had the friendly and talkative guy who parked next to me to walk with – Larry Lynne, a musician from the South Side who said he voted for Donald Trump because he didn’t want “that bitch” to be president, and he would have moved to Poland if she’d been elected.

Let’s just say it’s been a different election season.

I feel obliged to say that I did not vote for Trump, and in fact I viewed the guy pretty much the way Larry viewed Hillary Clinton: as a disaster in the making.

But I didn’t find anybody who agreed with me inside the cavernous hall where thousands of people gathered to be at the latest stop on Trump’s victory lap around the country.

Instead I found:

Nancy Hartman, an out-of-work health account manager up from Illinois (“one of the few conservatives in Chicago,” she said), who did some work for the Trump campaign here and has been applying for jobs in the administration online, and who urged me to watch a documentary called “Hillary’s America” by Dinesh D’Souza;

Dick Boneske, a retired maintenance manager from Winneconne, who thought suspicions about Russian hackers putting a thumb on the scale for Trump were “ridiculous”;

Joe Brown (right) with his wife Pam (left) and UW-Madison students McKenzie Jossie and Brittany Johnson

Joe Brown, an investment adviser from Columbus (and a WTMJ radio commentator) who says his health premiums have nearly tripled under Obamacare;

And Robert Richardson, 18, from Wauwatosa who voted for Trump in his first election, bought a “Make America Great Again” hat Tuesday for $30 and said he gets his information from Infowars, the conspiracy website hosted by Alex Jones.

It was a night when chants of “USA, USA” broke out after the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem – a great rendition, I should add, with lots of up-and-down on the “free” and the “brave” – and continued intermittently all night during eight speeches, which also were punctuated with chants of “Build the wall,” “Lock her up” and “CNN sucks.”

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Trump was the main event, and he upped the ante from his campaign promise to make America great again to ”We’re going to be greater than ever before” (because his cabinet picks are so great).

But what struck me most was not Trump, but all the Wisconsin politicians who spoke before him. I’m kind of a home-team sports fan, and even though I disagree with these guys and never voted for any of them, I’m proud that Wisconsin politicians will be the most powerful men in Congress (Speaker Paul Ryan) and under Trump in the White House (chief of staff Reince Priebus). And well, I’m not proud, but I think it’s notable, that Wisconsin was the state on election night that put Trump over the top in the Electoral College.

Priebus told the crowd that our state “paved the way to the future.” “It started with the Walker revolution,” he said.

Gov. Scott Walker, who’s spending a year as head of the Republican Governors Association, said, “For the first time since Reince and Paul and I were in school – in school! – Wisconsin went Republican for president.”

Speaker Paul Ryan in a blurry cell phone photo

Ryan said, “We have so much work to do,” and, “The last eight years, they have not been fun years in Washington.”

Ryan didn’t get a whole lot of love from the crowd, having criticized Trump during the campaign – and in fact drew some boos when Trump thanked him later.

Among the home-grown politicians, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke probably drew the crowd’s biggest cheers of the night; he mocked Congressional intentions to investigate the Russian hacks (investigate liberal billionaire George Soros instead, he suggested). “Do you have your pitchforks and torches ready?” he asked the crowd, a reference to a controversial tweet he made in the election run-up. Apparently they did, because there was a big cheer.

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Sen. Ron Johnson, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Rep. Sean Duffy also spoke.

But of course Trump was the main event, and he spoke for 50 minutes about his cabinet picks – including ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, announced Tuesday as his secretary of state nominee – and his plans, including the demise of Obamacare (big cheers).

Trying to mollify those in the crowd who booed Ryan, he told them “He’s like a fine wine. Every day that goes by I get to appreciate his genius more.”

The final 20 minutes or so of his speech was a sort of rambling replay of election night, and the week leading up to it – an account the crowd loved. The press, he said, indicating the bleachers across from him full of cameras (loud boos) had been saying that he didn’t have a chance 270 electoral votes, and reported that even red states like Texas, Georgia and Utah were “in play.” Exit polls early in the evening seemed to support a poor outcome for him. But then the results started coming in.

“We have breaking news,” he said, mimicking the TV news, “Donald Trump has won Ohio…. We have breaking news, Donald Trump has won the great state of Iowa…. Ladies and gentlemen we have breaking news; Donald Trump has won the state of Florida…. Out of nowhere, the map was red as hell. The map was bleeding red.”

Everybody knew where this was headed: “Ladies and gentlemen, Donald Trump has won the state of Wisconsin.” Huge cheer, everybody waving “Make America Great Again” signs over their heads. 

“I’ll never forget the guy who was saying for months, there is no path to 270 for Donald Trump – but there was a path to 306.” He said, “The Electoral College is genius.

Then he said, “They put up Wisconsin and he said there is no path for Hillary Clinton…” The rest of the sentence was inaudible where I was, drowned out by a thunder of cheering.