I Spent the Day with Trump's Undying Fans in Maine
A hot afternoon with They Who Will Not Be Swayed.
PORTLAND, MAINE—Somehow, my press credentialing e-mails from the Trump campaign keep getting blown off the porch of the Intertoobz.
So, on Thursday, I decided to be just another face in the crowd at an event at the Merrill Auditorium, a lovely old piece of big government memorabilia attached to City Hall here. I applied through the website, and I got my confirmation that I was invited to be a guest at what the website said was going to be a "town hall" with the Republican candidate for President of the United States. Doors would open at 7 a.m. for a 10 a.m. start. No, wait. The doors would open at 11 a.m. for a 2 p.m. start. Hold on. The doors will open at noon for a 3 p.m. start. Technically, you're not running late if you keep changing the time.
I assumed that the last e-mail was the final one, so I got to the venue at 9:30 on Thursday morning. There already was a line. People stood in the shadeless plaza, broiling and being heckled from all over the sky by raucous seagulls. (You'd have sworn Tippi Hedren was in line, wearing a God, Guts, and Guns tanktop.) A lot of the people were elderly, and most of them were white and pale. (For the record, I am both.) You'd have thought the campaign would have kicked in a few pallets of Trump Water for the faithful.
I fell into conversation with Gloria and Mo, a nice couple from Lewiston. (Mo's brother worked concessions at the second Ali-Liston fight, which is the only reason anyone ever has heard of Lewiston.) Mo helped develop the communications system for the space shuttle. For some reason, Gloria attracted the attention of various microphones and cameras that were grazing the line. She told them that she didn't trust the president and the $400 million that he sent to Iran because she had heard Oliver North on Fox TV explaining how terrible it is secretly to pay off the Iranians to obtain the release of our hostages. At that point, I confess, I mentally tapped out and tried to pacify my stomach, as Satchel Paige advised, with cool thoughts. I also eavesdropped.
And, oh, the things I learned. I learned that Elizabeth Warren used "affirmative action" to pay for her college education, which must have been quite a thing, since Senator Professor Warren graduated from the University of Houston in 1970, before there was affirmative action anywhere. I heard a deep dive into the international conspiracy of liberal fire marshals. I also learned that the Obamas and the Clintons really hate each other because the president stole the 2008 nomination from HRC through some shenanigans with ACORN, and that's the reason HRC was not named vice president, because the president knew that, if he picked her, she would have him killed. Oh, the things I learned.
(Let us stop for a moment to appreciate the latest in snarkitude from SPW. She was asked by Bloomberg Business why Wall Street seems to prefer HRC to He, Trump. "Nuclear war," she replied, "is bad for business.")
Shortly after noon, the doors to the auditorium opened and people dashed as best they could for the cool and the dark. They would sit in the hall for three hours, as the notoriously eccentric Trump playlist, including the completely non-ironic rendition of "You Can't Always Get What You Want," ran over and over again. Chants broke out from time to time, but they died as the afternoon went on. If you are a Trump fan, I was learning, you better be ready to give up the better part of a day. Slowly, everybody began to chill, in every real sense of the word.
"Of course the protesters were out there," said a guy sitting behind me. "It's not like they have jobs to go to." It was about there when I decided to go upstairs to the very last row of the balcony.
(And let us stop for another moment to appreciate an anti-Trump sign held by a woman out on the sidewalk. It read, "If your Muslim ban is an attempt to avoid the prophecy of 3 witches," it read, "you haven't read Macbeth, either." OK, it makes a lousy bumper sticker, but it's nice to see some respect for the classics.)
To be completely fair, and after a lengthy introduction by Paul LePage, the human bowling jacket who is the governor of Maine, He, Trump hit the stage reasonably close to his scheduled time, albeit the third scheduled time that his campaign had sent out. He has a new chewtoy to play with: the $400 million that the United States sent to Iran as part of the settlement of a 37-year old lawsuit.
"$400 million in cash?" he said. "I wonder where that money really goes."
He also talked at length about this tape that Iran had put out of the plane's landing in Tehran and the cash's being unloaded. "There's only one reason for Iran to put out that tape," he said. "And that's to embarrass our country, and to embarrass our president, who is an incompetent."
It is here where it is incumbent on us to mention that nobody ever has seen anything like this tape. Ever. Anywhere.
It didn't matter. He was off again in his usual style, speaking to his audience in fluent confetti, ideas half-formed fluttering in the air and landing like blessings on the people who had come to hear him, who had stood for three hours in the broiling sun, and then sat in an auditorium for three more, to hear what they had come to hear.
It was about then, right after some folks were removed from the hall for standing mutely and holding up pocket copies of the Constitution, that the thought struck me: Whatever happened to the town hall? This was another speech, virtually the same as all the others. How many people, I wondered, stood in the heat and sat through the long afternoon because they expected actually to ask the candidate a question? Did they care?
I suspect not. These folks are what MSNBC's Chris Hayes has called Trump's "floor," the 30-odd percent of the country that will not be moved away from what they believe. There were no votes to be "splintered off" in that auditorium. That's the way it's going to be all the way to the election.
I admire people who will stick this way. I admire them far more than the candidate who is playing them like violins.
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