The line to get into Harrisburg’s venerable Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center snaked around the huge buildings. It was, to borrow a phrase, “yuge.” And it was still a full three hours early.
After all the fuss about Trump rallies, finally here was one mere miles from my front door. I could see for myself — and I did.
Some 10,000 Pennsylvanians and others would eventually pack inside, and it can be seen here in several places.
Yes…ahem…that is me The Donald is referring to in the beginning and a few other places. But I’m not writing about this rally for that reason — (although thanks, Donald, for the shout out!)
What interested me most were the people in the audience. I was seriously privileged to meet many of them. Listening to them it was quite clear that they are exactly the kind of people I have had in mind for all these months when I defend Donald Trump on CNN or in this space. They are hard-working, family-oriented Americans who are very concerned about a country they see going off the rails. They were all ages. There were Moms with young kids. Parents with teenagers. Middle-aged couples and seniors. They ran the age gamut from literally a baby all the way up to the silver-haired.
Were there protesters? Yes. But by now the Trump rallies have settled into a pattern, well anticipating protests. Before Trump arrives a recording is played over the public address system asking respect for the First Amendment rights of the rally-goers. These rallies are, after all, a private event. The request is made that if protesters open up to simply surround them with raised Trump signs and shout “Trump! Trump! Trump!” This in turn serves as a signal to the police to zero in on the protesters — and move them out. In fact this happened a few times, including as Trump began to speak. He spotted the problem and briskly commanded “Get ‘em out.” Within a minute they were gone, with nary a fisticuff exchanged.
With that, and introductions dispensed with, Trump was on with his by now trademarked speech. What strikes is the style, a style the nation is becoming familiar with and which I first observed in a 2013 Trump appearance at The American Spectator’s annual dinner. (Where, by the way, interestingly enough Trump shared the spotlight with Senator Ted Cruz.) The Spectator’s founder and editor-in-chief Bob Tyrrell has observed that Trump is revolutionizing politics and political speechmaking with his decidedly un-Obamaesque, non-teleprompter off-the-cuff style of communicating with his audience. Watching this in person last night it was abundantly clear that Trump was connecting with his audience. Connecting with them both as an audience and as individuals. It was fascinating to watch the faces. Absorbed, intent, heads nodding in agreement at certain points, chuckling at others as if Trump were a beloved member of the family whom they particularly loved to listen to.
It reminded me of exactly why Ronald Reagan came to be called “The Great Communicator.” Reagan too had a unique ability to connect with his audiences. One knew in listening to him that he believed passionately in America, that he was direct and honest — a trait that was valuable whether dealing with political opponents in the GOP, Democrats in Congress, or Soviet tyrants.
So too with Trump in Harrisburg — or for that matter with Trump anywhere. What horrifies the GOP elites and for that matter the elites of the media and political world in general is that Trump refuses to back down from his beliefs, saying exactly what so many millions have quietly been thinking but were afraid to say on their own.
As Trump ran through the statistics of job loss in Pennsylvania, of lost Pennsylvania manufacturing jobs, of a damaged steel industry he said it this way:
“Pennsylvania has taken harder hits on trade than just about anywhere else in the United States. Not good! Not good! The state of Pennsylvania has lost more than 35% of its manufacturing jobs since 2001. Not good! What are you guys doing? How do you let this happen guys? How do you let this happen? Don’t worry. Doesn’t matter. We’re bringing it back. They’re all going to come back. Better than that. Better than that. And that includes steel, and that includes coal — clean coal — but that includes a lot things and a lot of industries that are being decimated.”
And on he went, mixing the numbers of Pennsylvania’s economic decline with policy, communicated first, last, and always in a colloquial style that bonds instantly with his audience. Of American leaders in general? “They are dumb as rocks. They don’t know what the hell is happening to the country!” And of course there was talk of the wall, the naysayers that say it couldn’t be done, and the observation that the Chinese built the 13,000-mile-long Great Wall of China without “Caterpillar” — the iconic American maker of earth moving equipment. “Who’s going to pay for it?” he asks. “Mexico!” yells the audience. Trump cups his ear, insisting he can’t hear them. “MEXICO!” bellow the folks.
Then he was off on a litany of specifics. Wages, part-time jobs, repealing and replacing Obamacare. The subject of Pennsylvania’s steel industry brought on a brief segue to “Big Ben” — not the famous tower of Britain’s Parliament, but Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a Trump golfing buddy. Campaign contributions brought up a discussion — still — of the vanquished Jeb Bush and his $100 million campaign fund raised by all those Washington lobbyists. One could almost feel the ripple of disgust sweep through the crowd. Having worked through the numbers and statistics that profiled the economics of Pennsylvania, he was on to that viral video of the employees of Indiana’s Carrier Air Conditioning being informed their jobs were going to Mexico. Trump, but of course, buys a lot of air conditioners for Trump properties — but he won’t be buying Carrier anymore.
Then there was the description of Obama dealing with Iraq. “We went — mistake. But the way we got out — mistake.” This in turn leads to “Crooked Hillary” and all her mistakes — with a quick “get ’em out” to another batch of protesters and a salute to the police. “By the way,” he enthuses, “aren’t Trump rallies fun?” The audience roars its approval.
None of this was delivered with that iconic staple of both the Obama presidency and the modern presidency itself — the teleprompter. This was communication at an almost visceral level with an audience.
As the Harrisburg rally was proceeding there was another Trump story making the media rounds.
NBC News headlined it this way:
Manafort Tells RNC Trump Has a Different Private Persona
The breathless story read in part this way:
Donald Trump has a different persona in private than he does in public and he’ll shift his personality to appeal to women, minorities and other voters in a general election, his top aide told a meeting of the Republican National Committee on Thursday.
“When he’s sitting in a room, he’s talking business, he’s talking politics in a private room, it’s a different persona,” top Trump aide Paul Manafort said during the meeting, a recording of which was obtained by NBC News. “When he’s out on the stage, when he’s talking about the kinds of things he’s talking about on the stump, he’s projecting an image that’s for that purpose.”
One can only be agog at the non-news value of this particular.
Does anyone out there really believe that when Hillary Clinton mimics a black voice as she repeats the words of the black Reverend James Cleveland by saying “I don’t feel no ways tired. I come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy,” that she actually speaks this way in private conversation? Seriously? To be bipartisan about this, I can attest that Ronald Reagan never once said to me, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” And I’ll take a wild guess that when JFK was in private he never started jabbing the air with his finger, yelling “And so my fellow Americans. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Of all the criticisms of the Trump campaign — and I must admit rating them on a scale of sheerest idiocy is a difficult task — the charge against Manafort that somehow the private Trump is different from the public Trump is pretty close to winning the gold medal for idiocy. In truth, I’ve never met a single human being whose public demeanor was not different in degree or kind from their private behavior. This goes double for every “public” person I have ever met, and I have met more than my share.
Which brings us back to the Trump rally in Harrisburg.
Donald Trump the public personality was on full display in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the other night. And just as in this campaign and every campaign the question always becomes: Can the candidate communicate his or her message? And is the message a good one?
Based on what I saw in person in the Farm Show complex in this Harrisburg Trump rally? The results of this Fox poll are accurate. The headline:
Fox News Poll: Trump holds huge lead in Pennsylvania, Clinton up over Sanders
Indeed. And there in the Pennsylvania Farm Show in the shadow of the state capitol in the middle of conservative Central Pennsylvania, every person I saw and spoke with at this Trump rally Thursday night was the enthusiastic, quite passionate physical embodiment of exactly why Donald Trump has been such a stunning success in this primary season.
GOP Establishment? Take note.