RIO RANCHO—Donald Trump came to New Mexico again.
And while many of the themes and images punctuating the atmosphere that hovered over the president's visit here Monday mirrored those from a 2016 campaign rally in Albuquerque, the air was decidedly less electric.
There was no shortage of the ubiquitous red MAGA hat outside the Santa Ana Star Center as thousands waited to glimpse Trump either inside the venue or on a massive Jumbotron set up just south of the entrance.
A young man in ill-fitting clothes puffed on a cheap cigarillo as he spat invective at a small band of a couple hundred protesters, who in turn shouted back with now familiar call-and-response chants such as "What do we want? Impeachment! When do we want it? Now!"
And ever watchful, a man in a backwards baseball cap menaced the anti-Trump crowd for hours, a T-shirt announcing that he represents the Oath Keepers—the self-styled "Guardians of the Republic" who have been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-government extremist group and who have taken up the MAGA cause.
A female voice intoned over loudspeakers in the parking lot, exalting Trump's love for the First Amendment—an odd juxtaposition against the protesters' confinement to a small pen a few hundred yards east of the venue until just before the president arrived.
Even Trump's speech didn't veer far from the hits—Republicans good, Democrats evil, news media fake—though it was tailored to his New Mexico audience in spots. To cheers, the president raked in credit for the state's recent economic turnaround, largely on the back of an oil and gas boom. He offered a salad of statistics, some of them approximating accuracy, others wildly exaggerated, but didn't mention how either the White House or the Trump Organization have helped turn extractives into cash for the state.
But the night never bubbled over.
Even before protesters clashed with police and Trump fans after the 2016 Albuquerque Convention Center rally, sometimes violently, that event had the feel of something different in American politics, something undefinable, something volatile.
Despite its identical trappings and underpinnings, Monday's rally felt calm, unsurprising, even normal. Perhaps the four years gone by in the news cycle's endless firehose of broken glass since Trump announced his candidacy have buffered the nation. Perhaps it's something else.
SFR chose not to go inside the Star Center. Instead, we sought out Santa Feans in the surrounds to ask a few key questions: Why are you here? Why do you think Trump is here? He says he can flip a state in which he got creamed in 2016; do you believe him?
We got the full spectrum in response.
Mary Larson and James and Marcos Rivera provided the widest, most divergent views on why people drove the 50-odd miles from Santa Fe to Rio Rancho to see Trump.
The Riveras, a father and son duo, are born Santa Feans. They made the trip to cheer on Trump's penchant for environmental and business deregulation, as well as his rhetoric on creating jobs and ending third-trimester abortions.
"Deregulation and being pro-business, pro-capitalism, opening up the ability for businesses to do things," Marcos tells SFR about why he supports Trump. "I'm a huge fan of [oil production]… I understand wanting to be moving to maybe a cleaner [economy] in the future, but we make so much money and so much revenue, and being oil independent is huge as well."
Both father and son believe Trump will flip New Mexico red.
"This is a Democratic state and I hope he changes it because that's why we're last in everything," James says.
Mary Larson stands with about 100 other protesters in the designated area. She is from Seattle, moved to New Mexico 16 years ago to teach on the Navajo reservation and now lives in Santa Fe.
She couldn't disagree more with the Riveras.
"I believe in an America that has clean air, clean water and welcomes everyone," Larson says, holding a white sign with "Send Him Back" written in black letters. "I think [Trump] believes he can win everything. I think he really, truly believes his own lies. I think he totally thinks he's the good guy."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story got James and Marcos Rivera's names wrong.