Why Trump Isn’t Going to Win the Election, and Other Things I Learned at a Trump Rally.
I’ve been cheering on Donald Trump as the republican nominee since his campaign started to pick up steam early in the Republican primary. Not because I’m a Republican or support his message, but because I really enjoyed seeing how he was shaking up the status quo within the party, annoying all of the party leaders. I hoped Trump would secure the nomination and I would get to witness the collapse of the Republican party. So when the Donald announced he was coming to Austin, I knew I had to go. I had to see if everything that the news says about him, his rallies, and his supporters was true.
I decided to play a persona — the undecided voter deciding between Trump and Johnson. I had even rehearsed my answer in case I was asked how I’d voted in 2012 (I’d explain my deliberation between Obama and Romney, and how I finally decided to vote for Mitt). None of this is true, but my top priority was not getting beat up at a Trump rally.
As I approached the rodeo hall there were many different groups of people hawking Trump paraphernalia. It wasn’t clear that any of these people necessarily supported Trump, but it was clear that they wanted to make a quick buck on “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts and those iconic “Make America Great Again” hats. All of the gear looked similar, but none of these vendors sold official campaign merchandise — they were just looking to profit off the Trump brand.
As I found my seat, I ran into a coworker’s wife, embarrassed that she might think I was actually a Trump supporter. We grinned sheepishly at each other and shuffled away in silence. I was able to find a great spot in the standing-room-only section. Apparently Trump supporters like to find a seat at their political rallies.
The first speaker to take the podium was Trump’s pastor, who’s black. It’s obvious Trump was trying to build his appeal with African Americans. Behind the podium, visible to the TV audience, sat about 20 black people, though I’m not sure that there were more than two other African Americans in the crowd. The crowd was inattentive during the pastor’s speech. They weren’t there for policy ideas, they were there to hear Trump pontificate about his wall.
I could tell that others in the crowd were curious onlookers like myself, not Trump supporters. Like myself, they didn’t clap, instead taking photos and posting them to social media. (Truth be told, I mostly went to the rally for the likes, ❤s, and views.) Slow music played during a break between speakers, and I realized that no one had asked me to phone bank, volunteer, donate, or register to vote, as campaign staff have at the other (Democratic) rallies I’ve attended. Trump’s campaign sidestepped the opportunity to engage the captive audience of about 5,000.
I couldn’t help thinking how surreal the rally was. There I was, listening to Donald J. Trump talk, the crowd of 5,000 people from the blue dot of Austin actually thinking Trump could be our next president. I wondered what crazy things he might say tonight. But we weren’t getting unscripted Trump: Tonight he was sticking to the teleprompters. The media was in tow, 25 different cameras corralled together.
Soon after Trump began speaking, there was a disturbance in the crowd. A small section began chanting Trump’s name over and over again, pointing at a protester standing among them. Trump gestured, throwing a fist with extended thumb over his shoulder, as if he was an umpire. Security quickly arrived to escort the protester out, and Trump continued speaking, unfazed. He was obviously used to this type of disruption, and several other protesters were escorted out during the speech.
Trump’s speech was aimed at courting African American voters. He talked about the dangers of life in the inner city, the imminent threat of death around every corner. He asked black voters to take a chance on Trump. His logic, it seemed, was that things couldn’t get any worse. He turned his attention next to illegal immigration, riling up the crowd as they began chanting “build that wall!” Trump promised the Mexican government would pay for the wall. He introduced the mothers of several children killed by illegal immigrants, wearing shirts bearing their kids’ images.
The crowd merely tolerated Trump’s words about the black and illegal immigrant communities, but they perked up when he used his favorite nickname for his opponent, “Crooked Hillary.”
Midway through the speech, many attendees began to leave. Those who, like me, had just come to see the spectacle seemed to have enough after about 20 minutes. And it was a spectacle indeed. Trump stuck to the script, the protesters caused a commotion and rallied the crowd around Trump, and the candidate continued his speech unfazed.
As Trump finished his speech, the crowd’s applause reached its crescendo. Trump waited until that moment to ask the supporters to vote on election day. Many had already left. This missed opportunity to court votes demonstrates everything that went wrong at the Trump rally, and I’m sure at every one of his events. Trump gathered a captive audience, with protesters and curious Dems, sure, but also plenty of supporters, but he didn’t ask them to vote, volunteer their time, make a donation. He certainly didn’t impress the crowd with his rhetoric. It was a spectacle, a circus, a rodeo (befitting its venue), but nothing more.