Trump’s New Hampshire Rally Is Just Like Reading the Comments
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire—Any fervent comments section has its factions. You have the like-minded masses, the vocal dissidents, and the rare few who are there to have a real discussion. But in the end, the loudest voices usually win out, and any sign of dissent gets shouted down.
And so it was at Donald Trump’s final rally here last night, just hours before the first votes would be cast in the New Hampshire presidential primary this morning. If Donald Trump’s speech was the main article, the cast of characters filling the Verizon Wireless Arena, a stadium that holds nearly 12,000 people, were its sparring commenters.
First there was the moderator: Before Trump had even arrived a man’s voice came over the loudspeaker warning attendees to not harm any protesters. Instead, the man instructed the crowd, if anyone sees such malcontents, “Please hold a rally sign over your head and start chanting ‘Trump, Trump, Trump.’ Ask the people around you to do likewise until officers have removed the protester.”
Quickly, the nonconformists emerged. The first protester, a man to my right dressed head to toe in orange, was ejected within the first 10 minutes, yelling, “Make America free again” as he was hauled off by a security guard through a side door. But there would be others, and when they were tossed out, Trump, from his perch at the podium would say, “Oh, they’re getting rid of some protesters. Look. Are the police the greatest?” And the audience would boo the offending protester, but Trump would continue, “I like protesters because that’s the only way the cameras show how big the crowd is.”
Never Read the Comments
Some have described Trump himself as a walking, talking comments thread, and his rallies bear that out. Aside from dissent, most other forms of free speech were respected, as it is in most generous comments sections. Like the freedom to say Senator Ted Cruz is “a pussy,” as one attendee did, because Cruz hedged on whether he’d allow waterboarding as a form of torture during Saturday night’s debate. Trump, upon hearing the outburst, asked the woman to repeat herself, then chuckled slightly and said, “Okay, you’re not allowed to say and I never expect to hear that from you again. She said … I never expect to hear that from you again.” Then Trump told the crowd, “She said, ‘he’s a pussy.’”
Trump asked the audience, cheekily, if the offender could stay, and their cheers were signals that yes, of course, that kind of language wasn’t grounds for removal. Later, Trump would tell the hosts of “Fox & Friends” that repeating the phrase was, “like a retweet.”
And as in most comments sections, there was the omnipresent disdain for the press. At one point, Trump told the crowd to turn around and look at the press. He meant to note the sheer size of the press area, which took up two sections of the arena—not to mention the flock of video cameras on the stadium floor. But the crowd, instead, took Trump’s instruction as their cue to boo the journalists sitting and standing silently behind them. Faced with the boos, most members of the press just laughed, for they know the cardinal rule: You never read the comments.
Here for Trump
Still more hallmarks of comment culture were on display, including the completely random asides, like the fact that the campaign played Elton John’s Tiny Dancer so many times throughout the night that it started trending on Twitter. In the context of the evening, the song was about as out of place as one of those ubiquitous spam links advertising ways to make $1 million overnight.
And there was, critically, the same suspicion of otherness that’s present in so many comment sections. Far from the kumbaya-campfire-gathering at Bernie Sanders’ stadium event in Iowa City, the Trump attendees did not appear to welcome outsiders. And there were outsiders, not all of them protesters. Some were there to take in the spectacle. Others were there to see if they could understand what so many Trump supporters see in their candidate.
One such person was Steven Stoddard of Manchester, who was sitting by himself in a back row of the stadium. When asked whether he would be supporting Trump on Tuesday, he replied, “Probably Bernie Sanders. But I like to see all the candidates.”
“I’m not stuck in my ways. I’m not stuck in my views. I like to hear it all,” Stoddard continued. “Donald’s in the lead. I figure there might be a reason.”
But Dan Grenier and his wife, also of Manchester, who were sitting in front of Stoddard had heard enough. Upon hearing that, they shot each other a look and stood straight up out of their chairs. Later, when approached for an interview, Grenier said, “I heard Bernie Sanders, so it depends what you want to chat about,” adding, “I’m here for a Trump rally.”
Grenier said he had been out of work for several years and received no help from the Obama administration. “Seven years of Obama has been a nightmare. Obamacare don’t work. His foreign policy sucks,” he said. “You want voice? You probably wouldn’t like what I had to say. I can be a little verbose.”
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