'It's all made up': Trump's Michigan supporters defiant as House votes to impeach

<span>Photograph: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

Despite Donald Trump becoming only the third president in American history to be impeached, the mood among his supporters at a defiant rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, was upbeat.

Thousands gathered at the Kellogg Arena for the president’s “Merry Christmas rally” as the wind chill hit -4F. It was a noisy affair. Air horns and a few far-right members of the Proud Boys group with a megaphone competed with a jumbotron playing a recording of the president claiming that Democrats want to “destroy America”.

Related: Debates and Democratic 'rage': the impeachment view from Fox News

One man chanted “Four more years!” to cheers as he stood on a wall waving a large Make America Great Again flag.

Trump supporters said they were upset with Democrats – not their president – and characterized the impeachment process as designed to overturn Trump’s win in the 2016 election. But they also said there was a clear backlash to the proceedings that was benefiting Trump, and all but sealing his re-election bid.

Thus, as America watched the impeachment of Trump unfold on television, the mood among many attendants at the Battle Creek rally was almost celebratory.

Donald Trump at the Kellogg Arena on 18 December 2019 in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Donald Trump at the Kellogg Arena on 18 December 2019 in Battle Creek, Michigan. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

“[Democrats] are crazy and this is only helping Trump,” said the Battle Creek resident Perry Wright. “They can keep trying and trying, but they’re only going to lose the House before it’s done. I hear the Democrats are wearing black because they’re at their own funeral.”

That sentiment was echoed by Laurie Boyd, who lives in nearby Galesburg. She said the impeachment process – which showed Trump sought to strong-arm Ukraine into investigating a political rival – didn’t persuade her and was just “firing up” the president’s base.

“We were kind of quiet when it started, and now we’re getting louder,” she said.

Her husband, Stephen, added that people were “starting to see corruption not on the president’s side, but on the side of his accusers”. Stephen Boyd, like others, pointed at the Democrat frontrunner Joe Biden, and questioned why there wasn’t a similar investigation into his conduct around Ukraine, where his son, Hunter, had business interests.

“They’re totally ignoring Biden and trying to pin this on Trump, and I think that’s going to have a really big impact on the 2020 election. People who were undecided before are finally seeing what’s happening – the independents,” Stephen Boyd said.

While the Trump administration has argued that most Americans don’t support impeachment and pointed to polling that suggests the same, aggregates of polling show the nation is split, while a majority of Americans feel the president committed an impeachable offense.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, a critical swing state that Trump won by just 12,000 votes in 2016, polling has consistently showed top Democratic presidential candidates with an edge over Trump in hypothetical matchups. The central part of the state in which Battle Creek sits is typically solid Trump territory, but the city of 51,000 holds swing districts that broke for Trump on his promise to revitalize a local economy hit by the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Impeachment appears to have done nothing to erode the support of his fervent base. Rally goers said the transcripts, months of hearings and Democrats’ televised presentation of their case, failed to sway them.

“Did you watch the hearings? They didn’t present any evidence. It was all speculation and hearsay. There’s nothing there,” said Mike Ostafin, who lives in rural Ceresco, Michigan.

Supporters sing the national anthem during a rally hosted by Donald Trump at the Kellogg Arena.
Supporters sing the national anthem during a rally hosted by Donald Trump at the Kellogg Arena. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Battle Creek resident Tim Stemaly labeled the Democrats’ case “garbage”.

“None of it is real. It’s all made up, and the American people can see through the Democrats’ lies,” he said. “There’s plenty of evidence against Biden, but no one is looking into that.”

Similarly, Julie Mayer, who lives in nearby Vicksburg, said she didn’t witness the presentation of a solid case for impeachment but “a lot of opinions and feelings – not enough facts.”

“I’m a researcher, and I haven’t found any facts. I’m always searching for truth and I don’t see it here,” she said.

All of those who spoke with the Guardian said in some terms that they viewed the impeachment inquiry as an attempt to reverse the results of the 2016 election.

“It’s a shitshow. It’s been a waste of time from the start. The Democrats want to overturn the election and they can’t, so they’re wasting everyone’s time,” said Debra Schulz, from Kalamazoo, who had a Trump-Pence flag draped around her shoulders.

After the House voted to impeach Trump and the president had finished his remarks in Michigan, a supporter named Jenny, who declined to give her last name and said she lived in the state, described Trump’s speech as “empowering” and called the impeachment “a waste of time”.

“Democrats can’t come forth with any evidence or proof, and it’s all really a hoax, just like he said. It’s nonsense, a waste of time and it’s a disgrace on America.”

Shari Emmons, from Toledo, Ohio, noted that Trump “focused most of his energy on the good things that he’s doing for America and the midwest”.

“It’s like he said – it’s not even like there’s an impeachment. Everyone is fired up and enjoying themselves. And that’s why he’s going to win again in 2020,” she said.

David Stead, who lives in Muskegon, Michigan, said he liked that he was witnessing a president who couldn’t be taken down by the political establishment on the left or right.

“They don’t have a millimeter of dirt on him,” he said. “I’ve never had so much faith in a human.”