Sitting at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City waiting for Donald Trump to show up for his Friday rally, I couldn’t help but think how it feels to be at a strip club in the middle of the afternoon hoping not to be seen by someone from the office.
Not to say Trump is like a pole dancer, but he does put on a show. And his audience comes for it.
At the risk of over-generalizing, I would place most of Trump’s crowd into three categories: 1) the disenfranchised and feeling put-upon middle-aged white guy whose attitudes, both political and personal, walk the fine line separating a grumpy Mr. Wilson (you know, Dennis’s neighbor) from a criminal misanthrope; 2) the WWE and NASCAR crowd — of all shapes and sizes; and 3) fans of Celebrity Apprentice. All of them like a good show.
And, yes, not to make too big a deal about it — because one or two rotten apples do not spoil the barrel — but there was at least one Trump-sign-holding white supremacist attending, wearing the “White Pride World Wide” t-shirt with the racist Storm Front organization’s logo; and, some murmurings from people seated near me about that “bitch Hillary” and some reference I did not catch entirely about “Obama’s nut sack.”
I, being the guy who my conservative friends think is a “Libertard” and who my liberal friends think may be a closet Reagan fan, did feel somewhat uncomfortable in this crowd, waiting to see what sordid show was about to begin and what tawdry response may erupt. Would I be the guy some yokel would point to as a protester because I wasn’t applauding enough or carrying a Trump sign? Would I be spit upon and hauled out by the cops?
OKC: Marco Rubio throws zingers, kitchen sink at Trump by Jeff Packham
My worry lessened as I realized most of these people are my relatives.
But there were also others there like me: Wondering what all the hullabaloo of the Trump campaign is about; curious as to what person might think the man — who spits ad hominem attacks on his seemingly adult opponents like a school-yard bully throws dirt clods at some stuttering kid with glasses — could remotely be presidential material. Or, looking for some morsel of hope that the Trump who might take up residence in the White House won’t be quite as loony as the Trump seen on cable TV.
Trump’s OKC appearance Friday came on the heels of Marco Rubio’s sudden change in campaign tactic: to instead throw as many dirt clods back at Trump as the billionaire has tossed his way. So, Trump used the convention center stage to let his fans know that Rubio puts makeup on with a trowel. Well, that’s good to know in case we get into a nuclear crisis with North Korea.
Trump does have an economic message
It is true that Trump’s message is short on specifics and long on nationalistic platitudes. But it is also true that he brings up issues that some of the other candidates don’t talk about. Namely, the trade deficit. I attended a Bill Clinton speech the next morning — he was stumping for his spouse like a good husband should do or a husband trying to make amends should do — and although he talked about education and mental health and removing debt and other barriers to prosperity, he didn’t mention the trade deficit once. (Me thinks his administration’s trade policies might have caused some of the problem.)
It’s axiomatic that, if it is cheaper to buy products from China than to buy American ones, then most folks are going to jump on that ying/yang and buy from China no matter the effect on jobs in Ohio. Trump makes a good point that something needs to be done about that. (He is, after all, a Super-Negotiator and Businessman, or so he says.)
Interestingly, Trump’s whole trade deficit topic fell flat. The audience was quiet. I am sure they were ruminating about how The Donald’s statements fit into Keynesian theory. (OK, that’s a sarcastic joke.)
But, Trump, being the good entertainer that he is, sensed his speech had hit a pothole with this crowd and immediately went into how he would protect the Second Amendment.
You would have thought Baker Mayfield had just run backwards 30 yards, done a cartwheel over a Texas linebacker and then tossed a 90-yard touchdown pass to win on the last play of the Red River Rivalry. The audience shot to its feet. The signs went high. The 6,000 to 7,000 people in attendance rendered a deafening roar that would have made Simba proud. Boomer Sooner! Guns, Baby!
“You really do like your guns here, don’t you!” Trump responded.
I felt as if I could read his mind. His next thought — left unsaid — was, man, these Okies are crazy.
It was a moment of telepathic understanding that suggests maybe, just maybe, Rubio and Cruz and others in the GOP race are right about this guy. Trump really isn’t like “us.” He really isn’t a conservative. He just plays one on TV.
‘A malleable candidate’ looking for ratings
Now, before you think I believe that opens the door to some acceptability of Trump as the president (i.e., he’s not as nutty as he seems on television), remember this: Trump is a campaigner like you wouldn’t believe. He pushes all the right buttons. He says all the right things — whether he believes them or not — to tap into a voter pool of angry people. No matter how much he wants you to think it’s his way or the highway, this guy is a malleable candidate who will transform into whatever gets ratings. Right now, he’s tapping into a certain segment of the population unhappy with change in America. They are downright mad about it. So, Trump is a peddler of “Angry Porn,” a phrase coined by one east coast elitist columnist a few weeks ago that I appropriate here quite unabashedly. Is that the kind of guy we want in the White House?
He has also grabbed the fancy of those who watch a lot of television reality TV shows. He is a reality TV show. And his voters aren’t policy wonks who listen to NPR and worry about the consequences of the Glass-Steagall Act’s repeal. These are indeed Nielsen voters. The people who love Celebrity Apprentice. And if Donald Trump wins the White House, they get to see Celebrity Apprentice every day on cable news for at least a four-year run. It doesn’t get any more entertaining than that, and gosh darn these folks need entertainment because, to them, the world is going to hell in a hand basket.
And so, after a rousing speech in which Trump promised to Make American Great Again, it was fitting that he spent at least 45 minutes walking the crowd line, shaking hands and, more importantly, signing autographs. It was like everyone’s favorite Hollywood celebrity had come to town, and in exchange for some scribbling with a Sharpie, they delivered all the love and adoration that a self-centered narcissistic celebrity wants.
And, there is the possibility of a movie deal in November.
Fitting all this happened on the weekend of the Oscars.
(Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on Michael Duncan’s personal Facebook page.)