Four years ago, I walked in from a freezing New Hampshire blizzard into my first Donald Trump for president rally. We knew a few things — at least we thought we did. At the time he wasn’t just a long shot, he was frankly an impossibility.
The event felt less like a campaign rally and more like a curiosity. It’s not a curiosity anymore. Monday night’s rally was a celebration, and unlike any any political event I’ve ever experienced.
I arrived at about noon for the 7 p.m. shindig. In a driving and freezing rain, the line outside seemed to stretch to Massachusetts. A jubilant crowd was hooting and hollering holy hell. The most tangible feeling was of brotherhood.
Trump supporters catch a lot of hate. Whether being mocked as deplorable or dismissed as uneducated rubes, there is always something or other wrong with them, according to Democrats and the news media. They know it. And in each other’s company a weird fellowship forms, of half college football game, half family reunion.
As the hucksters hustled merch to eager buyers, excitement was growing. Unlike the Granite State voters kicking the Democrats’ tires, in some cases flattening them, these were firmly decided folks ready to embrace their conquering hero. A group of young Trump supporters told me they were there because they have to live with America’s future. Others laughed at the former party of Jefferson and Jackson that appears poised to nominate a socialist to be president.
Young voters discuss their Trump support pic.twitter.com/hX50qdhZlQ
— David Marcus (@BlueBoxDave) February 11, 2020
Four years ago, things were different. Attendees at the February 2016 rally were still confused, but intrigued by Trump. That had been the first time I encountered voters split between Bernie Sanders and Trump, which seemed slam-the-door crazy to me at the time.
But it came to make sense. They just wanted a change. The broken DC flatfoots had disappointed them one too many times, and the people there were ready to announce, “You’re fired.” Suddenly a boorish TV star from Queens started to feel like a viable option.
Another difference is that in 2016 a curtain cut off part of the arena, a portion of the seating. Not so Monday night. By 3 p.m., a full four hours before Trump was set to speak, the arena was nearly packed. There aren’t a lot of things people will wait four hours for, but apparently Donald Trump is one of them.
This night the crowd was there for red meat. After a week that made the New England Patriots’ 2000s seem merely average, this was a group anxious to explode: impeachment acquittal, a strong State of Union, and a Democratic Party self-own in the Iowa caucuses were all fresh on the mind. A man whose fundamental slogan is #winning had, and it was in the air all day.
There were no angry gestures towards the news media. Why would there be? It would have been cruel to be mean to people so wrong and humiliated.
The theme of the night was “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” For the Trump supporters I spoke with, this is his strongest selling point: he means what he says and he does it. Many think they took a crazy chance four years ago and it’s paid off like 10 to 1 shot at the Acquaduct Raceway.
As the time approached, a fired up Vice President Mike Pence — yes, you read that correctly — pumped up the crowd. Somebody must have put something in his cocoa. Either that or it really had been just that good a week for the administration.
Upon entering, the cheering was so loud Trump could barely begin his speech. They could have drowned out a Megadeath concert. It sounded more like a national convention than a New Hampshire campaign rally.
By his standards, Trump took it easy on his current top enemies House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Mitt Romney. He made gentle barbs, but that didn’t stop his crowd from thundering boos at their mention. And then, it was back to State of the Union of prosperity and good news.
The rhetoric was restrained, and perhaps Trump realizes that this time he can’t run against Washington but must run on his record. As far as this crowd was concerned, that record is more than enough.