When the Access Hollywood VIDEO was first reported by the Washington Post, one of the first and most embarrassing responses among downballot Republicans to Donald Trump's lewd conversation was by SENATOR KELLY AYOTTE, in the middle of a tough reelection bid in New Hampshire. Having previously said she would vote for Trump, just a few days earlier during a debate she emphatically declared she believed Trump was a good role model. After the video, she fully de-endorsed, as flippy a flop as we're likely to see this cycle.
I took a different angle. I have been of the belief for awhile now that if Trump were clearly trailing in the end stages that he and his campaign chief Steve Bannon would call for Trump supporters to refuse to vote for downballot Republicans who had "betrayed" Trump. A tactic like that works best closer to the end when you can effectively stampede your supporters, but it also requires discipline not to fire until you see the whites of their eyes. Which meant there was a chance Trump would explode on Ayotte the next time he was in New Hampshire. So I checked his schedule and sure enough he was going to be there in a week, at noon on October 15 in Portsmouth, an easy drive for me up Interstate 495. So I reserved tickets and determined to be present for a good possibility that I would witness the historic moment.
Sure enough, the first protest sign I saw when I got there was a huge board attacking Ayotte. (If you can't read it, click for hi-res; I wanted to keep Beth Roth's sign in the image because she's really good. If you live in the THIRD DISTRICT OF THE EXECUTIVE COUNCIL OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, I urge you to vote for her!)
I had arrived a couple of hours early because I had noticed on Google Earth that parking was sure to be horrendous (which is exactly the term I later overheard a late-arriver telling a later arriver on her phone) and because at moments like that I like to explore, chat, absorb. The line for the Trump rally at first looked impressive until I noted the doors hadn't opened yet an hour past the posted opening. Just to the left of the Beth Roth sign above was a band of Planned Parenthood protesters:
So I chatted them up a bit. They were rightfully skeptical at first [old white-haired white again going to Trump rally]. But I was little concerned, too, that they might be Green Party supporters. So I said I was actually a Hillary voter infiltrating the rally, not attending. Turned out they were all Hillary, so to establish my bono fides I emptied my pockets of a bunch of Hillary buttons I had secreted upon my person. Then we chatted long enough that I was worried someone passing might have noted, so I walked the long way around and took those pics from across the street.
Then I followed this high-end anti-Trump billboard-on-a-truck for a few blocks:
before I saw the line moving at a sufficient clip to make entering it worthwhile. The line snaked through a gauntlet consisting of, on the right, it looked like first professional but uncredentialed media, then a few credentialed media near the entrance, but to avoid having my face show up unannounced on some video I had to crabwalk up the line facing left, which consisted of, first, unofficial Trump vendors with different tables attended by a couple of white guys and four or five African-American guys, then the official Trump Campaign gear near the door. I was forced to see all the ugly merchandise but I didn't take any pics. That is the visual cliché of this election cycle.
That's also when I first noticed something odd. I've done this before. I went to a Dole Rally in 1996 and a Bush Rally in 2004. I navigate the social dynamic by making small talk and/or talking about pretty consensus political views ("It's the most important election of out lives," blah blah) but in this case, I would have actually had something to say, citing, though not by name, Karl Marx's point in the 18TH BRAUMAIRE that there was a fatal contradiction between international trade and national sovereignty (and patriotism). Red Sox just lost, Brady was back, weather was great, lots to talk about.
Nope. It was all Trump Trump Trumpety Trump me Trump Hillary Trump me. A credentialed photographer came to the line and asked someone wearing a "Free Tom Brady .... Again" Shepard Fairey-SPOOF TEE SHIRT so I tried talking Brady/Pats but no takers. I realized that for all the investigation and speculation this year in the mainstream media and intellectual journals of the interior lives, spirit and motivations of Trump voters, when you get down to it, the key point is: They're boring.
I got to the front door, where the line took a sharp left and I saw, oh damn, a metal detector, having forgotten that these things are Secret Service events. Furthermore, the guy manning the table was also announcing repeatedly and often "All Metal on the table! Including campaign buttons! All campaign buttons on the table!" Do you know how screwed I would have been had I not gifted the PP protesters with my Hillary buttons? I would have spent a half-hour in line only to bolt in full view of law enforcement at exactly the moment I became aware of a metal detector on the way into a Presidential candidate's rally. That's a very, very bad look.
So I got into the venue, which was a Toyota dealership, expecting they'd have cordoned off the yard for an outdoor rally. Which they did. But only about tenth or less of it. I was stunned at how small the space was, maybe ten thousand square feet, give or take. Room for four thousand? Maybe? It was only half full, but there was over an hour to go, so I figured it might fill to overflow by the time noon rolled around, and that that was maybe a campaign tactic to continue to claim "packed venues." But nope, even when it filled up it wasn't full. Just before Trump came on stage I stood in the back gazing upon a veritable pond of red hats:
The sun was glaring harshly, so I took up a spot near the boundary right at the corner of a shipping container with enough shade so that the viewfinders and photos weren't ruined. That was also the "smoking section" so that worked out great for everything except conversation with my fellow smokers/amateur photographers. Again: Boring. The guy in front of me was interesting to the extent that he thought George Bush and Barack Obama had known all along where Bin Laden was, explained in long, excruciating detail to his buddy, but other than that, not much even worth eavesdropping on, let alone conversing about.
I wandered around a bit soaking in the crowd. There was one fewer African-American men in the rally than there were outside selling merc, and no overlap. Zero women of color. There were four or five infants two or under [keep reading] and a couple of dozen other children at most. The rest were all white adults, mostly but not all at least forty (there was a sizable contingent of young adult males but very few young adult women. Hard to count because, um .... staring).
The preview speakers started. Most of them as boring as their audience with the exception of a few individual statements. As I said, I came looking for Ayotte trashing but there was none. The only Speaker who even referenced the looming crack up of the Republican party was former SENATOR BOB SMITH, who said two interesting things. He was the only speaker who referenced Republican defectors, seeming to blame them in advance for Trump's loss because of their deficient patriotism. Clearly a shot at Ayotte but no mention of her by name.
The other thing he claimed, and so far as I know this has not been reported, was that he had souces inside the FBI who were telling him that if the "worst happened" and Trump were to lose, that the FBI would refuse to follow orders from a Hillary Clinton Administration. I know this is just another spurt of crazy, but still, the man is a former Senator and he surely does have contacts in the FBI. Should that not be followed up on?
The other prelude speaker worth noting was the owner of the dealership. The first thing he said was ... to sell cars. No kidding. "As long as you're here, stop by the lot afterward," he urged. In contradiction to Smith, he urged Republican unity and as many Senate seats as possible, again without mentioning Ayotte. He did oh-so-lamely mention the gubernatorial candidate, Chris Sununu, while pointing out that he had "work elsewhere" (i.e., as far from Donald Trump as the geography of New Hampshire allowed0 but, most importantly, had Sununu purchased his current car from Toyota of Portsmouth!
Meanwhile, it was right at the end of Smith's oration that I looked around and saw CNN's top Trumpkin Corey Lewandowski walk in front of me, as DOCUMENTED IN THE COMPANION TO THIS ARTICLE because, it turns out, IT'S KIND OF A THING that Lewandowski spent the day with the Trump campaign. My guess is, he slipped through the security entrance just to my left so he would not be seen at the V.I.P. entrance where the big media folks were stationed.
I wandered around some again after that and came upon this ridiculous scene of one of the babies in the crowd:
Now, I want to be clear here. The baby isn't ridiculous. The baby's mother isn't ridiculous. The "Adorable Deplorable" tee shirt the baby was dressed in is not ridiculous. The paperbook copy of THE ART OF THE DEAL the baby is carrying is not ridiculous. Well, okay, maybe that last part is a little ridiculous but no sweat. But still, while I may believe Trump voters are misguided or deluded, this is a pretty common scene at these sorts of things. Heck, the planned Parenthood protesters also featured a baby, ironically, also attired in pink, though with a different message of course. The Mom believes what she believes and hopes her children will believe it, too. This is human nature.
No. What's ridiculous is that the official pool photographer, probably the only one at this event, saw that mundane scene and thought it was worth capturing.
Talk about "visual cliché."
So finally the real speeches started, almost on time. None of the video or still photos I took of Senator Jeff Sessions, former Mayor Rudy Guliani or the candidate Donald J. Trump himself are very good or very interesting even if they were good. You've seen pictures of them before.
What they said wasn't very interesting either, except Sessions made some half-assed pander to New Hampshire about foliage and Rudy made some crazy claims about the Department of Justice and the FBI, but you can get that news elsewhere. I like the way Rudy talked about Trump's tax plan: "He's going to cut taxes for everybody! He's going to cut taxes for the poor! He's going to cut taxes for the middle class! He's going to cut taxes for the rich! .... but ... ah ... more for the middle class!" as he realized the sound byte he just gave his opposition.
One thing that struck me that all the preliminary speakers (and Trump, later) spoke of, and that a bunch of the conversations I overheard in the crowd were about, is their obsession with the WIKILEAKS revelations. Whether it's a desperate belief that there's a silver bullet that can win the campaign for Trump (most of his staff and surrogates, I assume) or simply profound ignorance of the mechanics of a modern presidential campaign (most of the rank-and-file, I assume, though come to think of it, maybe some of Trump's staff and family, too), the only time they seemed truly exhilarated was when talking about Wikileaks. Sure, they were passionate about everything they said, but they didn't seem happy except when talking about Wikileaks.
Then Trump himself took to the podium, to the strains of "God Bless the USA." And the first thing he did was lie. He said there were 7,000 people in the crowd. Not even. Half that, at most. I've seen nightclub dance floors as big as the venue and there is no way that crowd was 7,000. Then he buttered us up (and put a couple of icons in a delicate position) by invoking not only his "friend TOM BRADY," but also invoking his "friend BILL BELICHICK." First time I've heard that. It'll be a hoot if a reporter follows up at one of Bill's press appearances this week.
Then he lit into Hillary. You've heard the news about the DRUG TEST. That was new. Other than that he blathered on and on saying all the same things he's been saying. About 20 minutes in he went off on the emails again talking about how she deleted them with "acid wash and hammers" and asked "They destroyed them with hammers! Have you ever heard of anyone ever doing that before?!?"
So I giggled and whispered to the lady next to me "Well, yeah. Tom Brady did it in Deflategate."
So now it's a half-hour in and it's obvious he's not going to go after Republican defectors, which is what I came to see. The crowd's chants were lame and predictable. And not very loud or enthusiastic. And Trump is a pretty terrible speaker in person. Whether it's the amplification or what I'm not sure, but whatever it is, I've now seen his stump speech in person and on television and it works better on tv. It all started to get tedious.
Guy in front of me turns to his friend and says "I got a football game" and leaves. I look up and see a stream--single file, but steady, of folks behind the crowd making for the exits. While Trump was still speaking. Red hats and all. So I'm standing there bored out of my mind thinking to myself, "If they can't stand it anymore, why should I?" So I left, too.
I think they know it's over.
I think I do, too:
*Headline reference: "Verses upon the Burning of our House," by Anne Bradstreet