by Ivan Foley
Tom Hutsler, a Parkville commercial property owner and businessman, has done a lot of things in his life. But what he took part in Sunday in St. Louis was a new experience.
Hutsler served as the driver of the Ford 10-passenger SUV that transported much of the family of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump from the airport to the hotel and on to the debate held that night at Washington University in St. Louis.
“I had never had the opportunity to assist in a motorcade. It was a great experience and I’d certainly do it again,” Hutsler, age 61, said this week. “It was a big responsibility.”
A call had gone out for Republican volunteers to assist at the venue for Sunday night’s heavily watched presidential debate. Joan Harms, former county clerk for Platte County, contacted Hustler and sent him information. Hutsler had previously been a delegate to the state GOP Convention so he isn’t a complete newcomer to this type of politicking.
So Hutsler made the trip to St. Louis.
“They asked for people to fill certain positions. They needed drivers and I volunteer to be a driver,” he said.
“My car was a Ford Transit 350, a 10-passenger vehicle. It was designated as the Trump family car,” he said.
Passengers in the vehicle driven by Hutsler included Donald Trump, Jr. and his wife and Eric Trump and his wife.
“Ivanka (Donald Trump’s daughter) rode a car or two in front of us. She had her own security, her own Secret Service detail,” Hutsler explained.
Hutsler said his goal, other than to provide safe driving for the group, of course, was to make them feel at ease.
“I just wanted them to make sure they felt comfortable. I let them know there was a lot of support from my hometown and I wished them well. I wanted to make them feel good, with all the things going on in the media right now,” Hutsler said. “In that situation sometimes families need positive reinforcement.”
He said interacting with the Trump children was easy.
“They couldn’t be more down to Earth. When you meet people like that who are in the public eye sometimes they are not so nice but the family was very personable and thankful for us volunteering,” Hutsler remarked.
After picking up the group at the airport and driving them to their hotel, Hutsler said he had a lot of down time in his day. That time was spent conversing with security folks, not just the Secret Service but also Missouri State Highway Patrol officers and local St. Louis police. He also got a chance to know some of the other volunteer drivers.
“All of the security officers were extremely nice and professional. One of the Secret Service officers talked about how she had been on Nancy Reagan’s security detail,” Hutsler said. “It was free time for conversations with the security people, learning about what they do. And they were equally wanting to know what we did for a living and about our families.”
At about 7 p.m. Hutsler drove his portion of the Trump entourage to the debate venue. The trip included driving past groups of what Hutsler said were not necessarily protestors but rather supporters of Trump and others who supported Democrat Hillary Clinton.
While the debate was going on he and other drivers were able to watch it on their cell phones thanks to livestream coverage.
After the debate, Hutsler said the Trump family members “were all very excited. I told them they looked good on TV and told them they should really be proud of their father for his performance. I also thanked them for the sacrifices they make in helping him in the campaign. I told them I appreciate what they are doing to try to help him get elected.”
Other notable figures Hutsler had the opportunity to meet in St. Louis included Dr. Ben Carson, who had sought the Republican nomination for president.
“He was very personable,” Hutsler said of Carson.
One person who was there but Hutsler did not get the chance to meet was Rudy Giuliani.
“I lived in New York in the 1980’s prior to him becoming mayor. New York City was tough and very dangerous back then. He came in and cleaned it up,” the Parkville businessman said.
Hutsler did get to bump in to news media from all around the globe. And he was around the “spin room” after the debate, where supporters of each candidate gather to try to craft a positive message of their candidate’s debate performance to the news media.
“I was within 15-20 feet of Sean Hannity (of Fox News) watching him do his thing,” Hutsler said.
It was a long day for Hutsler, running from 12 noon to midnight. But worth it, he says.
“It was a great experience.”