USC students gathered outside of the Statehouse Saturday as former President Donald Trump spoke inside to invitees and members of the media. Some students showed their support for Trump, while others were there to protest his presence.
“Today, I'm here because I want to support my guy. I want to make America great again. And I'm so happy that the President decided to come here today. Only issue is I do wish it was open to the public, but we're happy to be here, and we're just here to show our support,” third-year economics student Drew Simmons said.
Trump arrived in Columbia for his first campaign trip since announcing his run for president in 2024. According to the State, Trump announced his leadership team, including South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, at the invitation only event.
Throughout the evening, multiple disputes arose between protestors and supporters of Trump, which resulted in a verbal altercation between protestors and an attendee. Protestor and third-year media arts student Katelynn Basile said they and their friends dealt with "anti-trans rhetoric" from other attendees.
"Honestly they seem to be very upset by us coming into their area, even though we're continuing to be peaceful," Basile said. "I've had many people follow me around, yelling profanities in my ear, telling me to go home."
The conflict continued after a different protestor began a chant revolving around the notion that Trump held racists, sexist and anti-gay sentiments, which resulted in an attendee yelling at the protestor. The attendee, JT Bessinger, said he didn't agree with labeling Trump as anti-gay.
“I’m all for freedom of speech. I think there could be points that you can make or say that may be racist, if you want to make that argument, but homophobic he’s certainly not,” Bessinger said.
Some students watched on not in support or protest, but rather as spectators of the events unfolding on the Statehouse grounds. Graduate public history student Thomas Strebeck said he decided to attend the event to witness history.
“I'm a historian and, say what you will about the man, he's a former president of the United States," Strebeck said. "It's just the idea of seeing somebody who will someday be a historical figure. Richard Nixon very famously gave a speech on the Statehouse steps in 1960 during his presidential campaign, so I was hoping maybe Trump would do another speech.”
Other student spectators also speculated about whether or not Trump will obtain the Republican vote in the 2024 election. First-year international business student Ethan Marquardt said he doesn't think Trump would be the best candidate for the Republican Party.
“I don't think he's popular enough to win another general election," Marquardt said, "I think he could easily win the Republican primary, but I think if he does that, he'll block potentially better candidates from having a chance of winning the general election."