Donald Trump came to a rally in Nashua, New Hampshire Monday night, musing on the state of the country, communing with his audience over their anger at lots of things and urging his audience to vote in the upcoming primary even though he wasn’t quite certain of the date.
While he drew a smaller crowd than at some of his past events Trump nonetheless had a large crowd. Held in a middle school gym the rally drew about 700-800 people, including 150 or so in an overflow room. For comparison, that total roughly equals the total audiences at five separate candidate town halls I attended last Sunday and Monday (with Carson, Christie, Rubio, Kasich and Bush).
Trump opened with a decidedly down take on the future, and worked his way through a litany of mostly familiar complaints and criticisms. His heaviest focus was a combined attack on rising rival Chris Christie and the Manchester Union Leader, a prominent New Hampshire newspaper which has endorsed Christie. Trump’s audience was loudly supportive, cheering and chanting on cue.
The audience was widely mixed in age but, like virtually every Republican campaign event I’ve attended in New Hampshire, entirely white. There were many college age men, more than at other other candidates’ events, perhaps in part due to schools being on break. The pre-rally mood was excited, more anticipating a show than awaiting a dry candidate presentation. The anticipated pulsing anger emerged from the crowd periodically as Trump spoke, but on a one-to-one level I had almost entirely pleasant and cordial interactions.
Press were permitted to roam the room as the crowd entered, with the campaign’s requirement of returning to our “designated work space” (read “fenced-in pen”) 20 minutes before Trump’s entry. I chatted with about a half dozen people, all of whom described themselves as Trump supporters. Among them were a man who said that he’s legally changed his name to Donald Trump Jr. out of admiration for Donald J. Trump and the guy who later knocked down an anti-Trump protester shouting “facist” at Trump. (He said he’s from Massachusetts, so he can’t vote in the New Hampshire primary.) The only person who avoided conversation was a woman handing out Trump campaign literature, who walked away from me with a terse “yes” when I asked if she is part of the campaign. A couple sitting to the side described themselves as solidly behind Trump, after having given serious consideration to Ted Cruz. The man, who said he’s voted in all but “a couple” of elections since 1972, voiced support for Cruz as Trump’s vice president.
Trump entered to cheers, shouts and waves, pronouncing it “beautiful”. He began with a somewhat down exhortation to vote, however, saying that “we have got to get out and vote … no matter what ‘s going on in your life, if you’re feeling miserable, if you’re depressed, if you’re down, if you’re whatever the hell you lost your job like everybody else is losing their job you have to get out and you have to vote.” It took less than a minute for Trump’s first reference to the “dishonest press” as he discussed the real question of how attendance at his rallies will translate into votes on primary day. Demonstrating his Howard Stern bona fides Trump replied “baba booey”, with a quick finger point and a tight smile and head nod combo, to a shouted “baba booey” from the crowd.
After a lengthy topic-hopping recitation of favorable poll numbers Trump declared “I demand the election be today.” His rambling poll analysis led Trump through a long list of topics, from Hillary Clinton to his Republican rivals to illegal immigrants and the “wall” to ISIS, all to supportive cheers and shouts. Trump ignored a shout of “he’s a traitor” while discussing Obama, Iran and Syria. That discussion thread led to declaring that “I gave up the word incompetent” in his assessment that “we’re incompetently led.” Trump’s replacement word? “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.”
“Everyone says that. I don’t say it” said Trump after saying “I should have been [Time Magazine’s] Man of The Year.” Pronouncing the press “very dishonest … sleaze bags … bad people” Trump gave a now-familiar complaint that the press does not show the size of the crowd at his rallies, while omitting any mention of his prohibition on the press actually being in the crowd. He then moved to a specific New Hampshire newspaper. “It’s going down the tuuubberrrs” began Trump as he attacked the Union Leader for its endorsement of Chris Christie, recounting being strung along for pre-endorsement favors by its publisher and calling him “a sleaze bag”. Declaring it a “piece of garbage”, Trump flipped a copy of the Union Leader into the air with pages fluttering down into a cheering crowd.
The pair of protesters shouting “facist” drew a “hello” with a small wave & head nod from Trump. As a Trump supporter knocked down one of the protesters and the pair were removed by police Trump joined in the chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A.”
Among the many Trump paradoxes is his simultaneous denunciation of the media as “dishonest” and the dominant role his own press consumption plays in creating the narrative he sells. In speaking of Syria, ISIS and Syrian refugees Trump rattles off as essential truths that Syrian refugees are “mostly men… strong .. physically fit” and “many of them have cell phones and they have the ISIS flag on it. I don’t know if you saw that one.”
The hour+ Trump ruminating was like a firehose of thoughts, running at a speed too high for absorption or digesting but more than capable of stripping the paint off whatever it’s aimed at. From Hillary to Obama to Jeb to ISIS to China to Russia to the wall to Christie to guns to Hillary to John Roberts to Obamacare to the press to trade to Hillary to Bernie and beyond, it all runs unimpeded from the skilled speaker through the crowd’s emotional channels. It’s not about plans or structured arguments but about winning, and it registers strongly with the audience. He doesn’t share the personal addiction-driven meltdown that drove Charlie Sheen’s public moment, but Trump has more effectively plugged into the emotion that Sheen desperately tried to ride.
With about 2/3 of the crowd standing on the gym floor, people began filtering out in the later stages of Trump’s speech. By his conclusion more than 100 had left. A similarly-sized group, numbering 100-150, pressed toward the front for a brief post-speech encounter and and an autograph as Trump worked the rope line. Trump then moved to a separate “overflow room” for a brief live speech to about 150-200 people who had not made it into the main room. The press was similarly penned in, put in a metal rectangle deep in the back and guarded by an early teenage monitor (14 or 15 is my guess). The main room was empty, with only staffers and some press when I returning during Trump’s overflow room speech. As I was packing up a shout rang out, seemingly from a Trump staffer: “press can be released.” It was met with derisive snickers from some of the small number of press still there as workers began dismantling the metal fencing.
Video: Here’s Trump’s full town hall: