Reader Dispatch From Trump Rally

March 10, 2016 10:28 a.m.

TPM Reader RB checks in with this dispatch from the Trump rally in North Carolina yesterday. The perspective of a fellow TPM reader is different from what you typically get from news reports, and RB’s take is particularly nuanced.

One point before you dive in: This was the same rally where an attendee was caught on camera appearing to throw a punch at a black protestor, apparently out of RB‘s view.

Here’s RB‘s account:

Last night I attended the Donald Trump rally in Fayetteville, NC. It was quite instructive. I still think either Clinton or Sanders would beat Trump in the general election, but I am more convinced than it would be a very narrow victory indeed because of the willingness of white, working and middle class voters to overlook Trump’s breaks with conservative/Republican orthodoxy. Trump is oddly charming, and the rally had none of the proto-fascist tendencies I’d expected as a result of media coverage and my own inclinations. And though the rally was as white as one would expect, I did observe a (to me) surprising number of African-American and Latino attendees (not counting the young ones who turned out to be protesters). Given that many of them were wearing some kind of military-affiliated hat or jacket, my operating assumption is they are retired military.

I arrived at the Fayetteville Crown Coliseum just in time for the second warm-up act, an African-American preacher who calls himself Pastor Mark Burns of South Carolina (@pastormarkburns), whose opening bid — received by the crowd enthusiastically and without irony — was this: “Are you ready to elect a man who believes in the name Jesus Christ?” Burns then railed against the Establishment to enthusiastic boo’s, because the Establishment (“and why is Mitt Romney opening his mouth?”) sends them “politicians” who do a “song and dance” to get their votes and then send their jobs away to other countries. Burns then ran the table of conservative applause lines: no Common Core, the Second Amendment is never on the table, the border wall, and then, surprising to me, “All Lives Matter.” This turned out to be a recurring applause/cheer line for all the speakers, because, I surmise, saying “All Lives Matter” means they’re not racists but the Democrats who say “Black Lives Matter” are racists — as Pastor Burns put it, don’t let the Democrats put you in a “category box.” Burns concluded by admonishing the crowd not to believe Trump is racist, because that’s the Devil talking. During Burns’ speech, any mention of Romney or “Little Rubio” drew hearty boo’s.

Next came “Diamond and Silk,” sisters Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson. Their message was: “Get behind Donald J. Trump or get out of the way! He is a job creator, a motivator, it’s up to you to help him make America great again! We want the government to work for us, not against us!” Voting for Trump, Diamond and Silk told us, is a victory over the Establishment!” Diamond and Silk then assured us “we are all part of one race, the human race, so All Lives Matter!” which drew full-throated cheers because African-Americans said it, so it must be true — Trump supporters aren’t racists. Diamond and Silk concluded by telling any would-be protesters in the hall to “sit down and shut up!”

Finally it was time for Trump, who spoke for nearly an hour, as is his wont, without notes or cue cards or Teleprompter (which he naturally pointed out). He spoke like …well, like Trump, and as I furiously transcribed his speech, I was amazed to observe that despite his long, circuitous, repetetive-tic digressions, he actually does return to his subject through some kind of public-speaking voodoo.

With respect to protesters, he was alternatively boorish and charming; some he demanded be “thrown out, throw ‘em out,”asking “where do they come from?”and observing that their protests are “disgraceful, because what do we want? We want jobs, we want a living, we want security,” as if these things by their very nature shouldn’t be protested. And China, Mexico, Japan, they’re killing us, they’re hurting us, but that’s going to stop, so why would you protest? Trump made thinly veiled jokes about the lack of sexual attractiveness of the female protesters and the lack of hetero-normative manliness of the males.

In another instance, however, a protester was waving a poster at him, and Trump had his son, Eric, go to the protester, take the poster, and bring it to Donald —who showed it to the crowd, showed it to the cameras, and then autographed it before having his son return it. This was actually a clever way of defusing whatever merits the protester might have had (it was too far away for me to read). In this case, the protester was so starstruck that I’d hazard a guess he’s now a Trump supporter.

Trump got a lot of mileage out of attacking the media (dishonest, the worst, terrible, so dishonest, awful people); out of “Little Marco,” whom he is squeezing in his “massive hands;” and out of “Lyin’ Cruz,” who “isn’t a Christian” (though he described himself, Trump, as a “Great Christian” to enthusiastic endorsement by the crowd). The military is “incredible.” ISIS doesn’t follow the laws, but we have laws, but he’s 100% for waterboarding, because if we want to win we have to do what we have to do. “They” (presumably the voters) hate “Little Marco.” Any time Cruz or Rubio was mentioned, their names were met with sustained booing.

Trump spent most of his time on an extended, stream-of-consciousness rant about Carrier moving their air-conditioning production to Mexico. Apart from endorsing torture, this constituted the only substantive policy discussion in the speech. He brought up the wall many times — and Mexico will pay for it — and reminding the crowd that Sheriff Joe Arpaio has endorsed him (“I’ve got great endorsements, great, fantastic, and Lyin’ Cruz doesn’t have any!”), he tried — through repeated protester interruptions — to tell a hypothetical story about how he, as president, would have personally called the CEO of Carrier and forced him not to cease American operations, Trump promised that every air conditioner Carrier tried to send back “through the wall” (“and we will have a very powerful wall”) would be subjected to a 35% tariff — to massive cheers.

So here we had a conservative crowd in a Red State affirmatively endorsing what by any definition of the term is a major tax. And Trump seemed to realize he risked having made an ideological faux pas, so he explained it: he’s a capitalist, very successful, he’s built amazing, successful, great, amazing businesses, smart guy, great schools, he likes free trade. But it’s “killing us.” “They” —the foreign Others —are “killing us.” So you have to be smart about it. He then excoriated the National Review: they say he’s not conservative. He’s conservative! But he’s a “Common-Sense Conservative!” He’s conservative on the wall, conservative on ISIS, conservative on Common Core, but he’s a businessman, and he’s not going to toe the line if it’s bad business.

One thing was clear: he’s every bit as thin-skinned as his tweet-haikus would suggest (sad!). He spent nearly 7 minutes talking about how dishonest and disgusting the media were for suggesting that his recent crowd raising its hands had Hitlerian overtones. In fact, he actually demonstrated the many different ways his supporters had been holding up their hands and arms, none of which, he was at pains to demonstrate, was even vaguely Nazi-like. So he wasn’t going to ask *us* to pledge our votes to him, just to be careful. Of course, this set the crowd to “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and, oh, gosh, you *want* to do it? So they did, in fact, pledge their votes — but without raised hands.

He closed it out by bringing his son, Eric, and daughter-in-law Lara, to the stage. Eric told us all his Dad was a great father and his best friend and will be such an awesome president and by the way they really, really love North Carolina because that’s where Lara is from.

Outside the stadium, vendors were doing a brisk business in “Hillary for Prison 16” and “Hillary Sucks But Not As Good As Monica” and “Trump That Bitch!” t-shirts, as well as the familiar red and white baseball hats.

I wasn’t surprised by the Hillary hate, and I wasn’t surprised by the demographics I could observe (a woman next to me told me she supports Trump because it’s like he can tell her what she’s thinking but can’t express herself). What did surprise me was the tolerance for breaks with conservative orthodoxy and the absolute, unfettered RAGE these folks have at free trade. These are Smoot-Hawley Republicans who take “America First” very seriously. They want to win wars, Geneva Convention be damned, and they want to win trade wars, market liberalism be damned. I came away convinced that Trump is a much more formidable opponent than many Democrats seem willing to recognize.

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