TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — President Donald Trump knew where to go Saturday for home field advantage, finding comfort in the Deep South with college football fans cheering the nation’s top two teams — and him.
His reception at the showdown between Louisiana State and Alabama contrasted with the scene at Game 5 of the World Series in Washington, where he was booed, and the mixed response to his appearance at a martial arts fight in New York.
Trump, sitting one tier above the field, waved as fans turned around to look up at the president. He smiled, gave a thumbs-up a few times and threw a couple of fist bumps into the air as the Alabama fans waved red and white pompoms in response. First lady Melania Trump got an equally enthusiastic welcome.
There was little sign of political sentiment on campus but plenty of bipartisan grumbling about the long lines to get in due to enhanced security. Trump left in the fourth quarter of the game, which LSU won 46-41.
The inflatable figure depicting a baby Trump wearing a diaper, which has been seen at protests around the world, made an appearance in Tuscaloosa.
The organizer of the group that “adopted” the balloon for the event told police a man with a knife cut an 8-foot-long gash in its back, deflating it. Tuscaloosa police said in a statement that a 32-year-old local man was charged with criminal mischief in the incident.
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The orange, diaper-clad, cellphone-clutching caricature of the president is often taken to Trump appearances as a way to protest him.
Baby Trump first rose over London when local activists brainstormed a way to troll Trump. Now several groups raise money to bring balloon replicas around the U.S.
Robert Kennedy, a volunteer “baby sitter” who brought the balloon to Tuscaloosa, said it immediately began to sag after it was cut.
The day had been going mostly smoothly, Kennedy said.
Some people yelled “Trump 2020” as they passed while others posed for selfies with the balloon. But then Kennedy said a man sidled up on the back of the balloon and attacked it with a knife. He ran away but was caught by police officers, Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he has accompanied Baby Trump to many appearances and never witnessed an attack on the balloon, although someone did stab a Baby Trump balloon in London earlier this year.
“It is rare to get that kind of anger,” Kennedy said.
A protester did carry a sign that said “Roll Tide Impeach 45” and another held a sign saying she had sold her ticket and donated the money to the Alabama Democratic Party.
But there were more pro-Trump signs. One woman wore an oversized red MAGA hat and carried a sign saying: “Make BAMA #1 Again.” There were flags emblazoned with “Trump 2020″ and banners that read: “Keep America Great Trump 2020.”
Presidents have long used sporting events to woo support, but these events have also become a venue for fans to express their own political leanings.
Suzanne Ciechalski contributed.