If Donald Trump’s absence was felt Wednesday night as Republican presidential candidates clashed in a second debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, his supporters made up for it.
Hours before the debate was set to begin, hundreds of Trump supporters lined the street leading to the library, waving flags and using megaphones to fill the air with chants of “Trump 2024” and “Impeach Biden,” at times laced with a few expletives. Trump merchandise was hawked in front of the Reagan Library sign.
Dirk Wiers, a Simi Valley native, stood on a street corner waving a Trump 2024 flag and waving at cars that honked their support as they passed by. Wiers said he was “ambivalent” about Trump’s absence from Wednesday’s debate.
“If he was here it would have been nice but I understand he’s leading so much [in the polls] that he doesn’t really need to be here,” Wiers said.
Trump, the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination, declined to participate in Wednesday’s debate. Instead, he traveled to Detroit amid strikes by the United Auto Workers and spoke to nonunion employees at an auto parts company, taking shots at President Biden, electric vehicles and “environmental lunatics.”
There was virtually no presence of supporters of any of the candidates who actually took the debate stage Wednesday night.
While Trump supporters accounted for the vast majority of demonstrators outside the presidential debate, dozens of counter-protesters also lined the streets around the Reagan Library. Some expressed specific support for the Biden administration while others voiced support for LGBTQ+ and immigrant rights.
A group of about 50 members of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights marched outside the venue as a few dozen Ukraine supporters waved that nation’s flag, advocating for aid from both sides of the political aisle and pleading with Trump supporters to “not believe Russian propaganda,” as one demonstrator chanted.
But Wiers, who had stationed himself near the pro-Ukraine demonstrators, said there had been no violent encounters between groups.
“We knew that there’d be some Biden supporters,” he said. “I was surprised to see all the Ukraine support.”
A pro-Ukrainian demonstrator and a Trump supporter got into a testy argument over the merits of the U.S. support for Ukraine but the exchange, while heated, did not evolve into a physical confrontation.
Police could not be seen where the groups demonstrated, but about a dozen were stationed about 50 yards up Presidential Drive, where they attended to vehicles heading up to the library.
Lynn Featherston, also of Simi Valley, who held a Biden-Harris 2020 flag, said there had been no violence but a few protesters were subjected to homophobic and transphobic remarks.
“That guy was really rude to some of our LGBTQ people,” Featherston said, gesturing to a person dressed in Trump garb and standing in the center median. “We came as Democrats just to let them know that we don’t like their agenda.”
Around 5:30 p.m., as the start of the debate drew near, protesters from both sides began to peel off.
By 6:30 p.m., when the debate was underway, only a few lone Trump supporters remained.