Listen up, Trumpophobes. It’s not so hard to understand the president’s appeal. Try going to one of his rallies and, instead of turning up your nose at the Walmart people, listen and learn.
The abuse of President Trump and his supporters that passes for analysis from his opponents is a strategic error.
The more abuse, the more Trump’s base is energized to turn out on Election Day.
At his Thursday-night rally to launch his 2020 New Hampshire campaign, he broke Elton John’s all-time attendance record with a crowd of 11,500 inside the Southern New Hampshire University Arena. It wasn’t just a Trumpian boast but a number confirmed to reporters by the Manchester deputy fire marshal. An overflow crowd of 8,000 people watched outside on a giant screen.
The audience this night are patriots, veterans, moms and dads wearing “Trump 2020 F–k Your Feelings” and “Proud to be a Deplorable” T-shirts, American-flag boots and MAGA hats, as baby-boomer anthems from AC/DC and the Rolling Stones whip them into a lather of excitement not seen since the last WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
“Good people,” Trump calls them.
Within 10 seconds of taking the stage to Lee Greenwood’s anthem “God Bless the USA,” he’s telling them, “I will never, ever let you down.”
This is a president who connects with people in an intensely personal way.
“I love you”, he says, again and again. And they yell, “We love you, Trump” right back.
He tells them he’s back to win the state he missed out on by fewer than 3,000 votes in 2016. Back where it all began, because the New Hampshire primary delivered him the thumping outsider victory that sent the Republican establishment into a spin.
“Where it all started, right? The greatest political movement in the history of our country,” he says.
Then he launches into a pitch-perfect stream of consciousness schtick that entertains for an hour, with jokes and insults and the obligatory pause for a collapsed fan overwhelmed with excitement or the ordeal of camping out for 24 hours.
“Is there a doctor in the house? Take your time,” he says, prowling the stage. “These are great people that love our country, just remember that.”
The intense audience interplay makes it a peculiarly participatory form of theater, more like a Christmas play than a political rally, with Trump the conductor orchestrating the crowd’s emotions.
“America is winning again and America is respected again, respected like never before.”
“USA! USA! USA!”
“More than 7 million Americans lifted off of food stamps.”
A huge cheer.
An even bigger cheer greets his new off-Broadway motto:
“I know you like me,” he tells them, “and this room is a love fest. But you have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k)s are going to be down the tubes. Everything’s going to be down the tubes. So whether you love me or hate me, you got to vote for me.”
A crowd favorite is Democrat bashing, but he doesn’t give them too much.
“Is there anything better than a Trump rally? What about a sleepy Joe Biden rally? … I sort of hope it’s him. I don’t mind any of them. You got Pocahontas rising. We got Kamala. Kamala is falling. You got Beto. Beto is like gone.”
The audience loves the Clinton barbs more: “33,000 e-mails!”
For a 73-year-old whose only exercise is golf, his energy is extraordinary.
Another crowd favorite is defending cops.
The Democrats “slander our law-enforcement heroes. You see what they’re doing with our police that we love … Has anyone ever seen anything like the water being thrown on New York’s Finest?”
Half an hour in, he reaches his crescendo, wrapping the economy, patriotism and fear of the enemy in one soaring riff.
“Wages are rising, and you know who’s the biggest beneficiary? Blue-collar workers. My administration is fighting to expand opportunity for citizens of every background and every race, religion, color, and creed …
“Because we are all Americans. We all share the same home. We all share the same heart. We all share the same dreams. We are all children of the same almighty God.”
God elicits the biggest cheer of the night.
“But at the very moment when our country should be coming together to enjoy these wonderful blessings, the radical Democrats are trying to tear America apart.”
Having started on trust, he ends on love.
“Our movement is built on love, and it is, and we love our family. We love our faith. We love our flag, and we love our freedom, and that’s what it’s about.”
The crowd knows what’s coming and they roar for it.
“We are making America safe again.”
They chant along with him: “And we are making America great again”.
Suddenly, he’s off the stage. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” plays over the loudspeakers as the crowd hurries out with a parting thumbs-down to the media penned in the center of the stadium.
“You really feel he’s talking to you,” says Nick Isgro, 38, who drove almost three hours from Waterville, Maine, with his 14-year-old son.
“He’s the most powerful man in the world, yet he doesn’t feel out of reach. He feels like he’s one of us.”
This is Trump’s secret sauce, which his antagonists can’t feel because they hate him so.