Donald Trump billed his New Hampshire appearance Wednesday as a "town hall," evoking a storied New England tradition that allows some of the nation's most informed voters to engage candidates in thoughtful dialogue on the issues.
But as he has done with most every other political tradition, Trump blew up the rules. He took just seven questions in 45 minutes, using them as launching points for extended riffs.
Trump waxed on almost poetically about the wall that could bear his name on the Southwest border.
“I want it to be so beautiful because maybe someday they're going to call it the Trump wall,” he said.
He repeatedly taunted one of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was holding his own town hall a few miles away, as a feckless bore with "a very small crowd."
And he dismissed a voter who noted the void of issues on his campaign website.
"I actually think the press wants the so-called policy positions more than the people," he said.
Trump could have a point. The crowd who filled the 850 seats in the auditorium of the Pinkerton Academy, and more watching from an overflow room, cheered uproariously until the end, when "We're Not Gonna Take It" by 1980s band Twisted Sister blared over the speakers.
Even the question about whether he had too much hubris to win the presidency elicited a response about building "the greatest wall you've ever seen" and a boast that he had the guts to put himself out there in the face of a dishonest and vicious press that is trying to take him down.
Trump has built a passionate following of disenchanted voters who have given him a solid lead among Republicans in public opinion polls. At the same time, his inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants, women and others have raised his unfavorability rating.
But Trump called his supporters the "silent majority."
He painted a dim picture of the country. He spoke of major companies like Nabisco moving plants to Mexico, gangs of immigrants roving American streets committing crime, and "cunning" leaders in China who were exploiting the nation's weakness.
“China has taken so much of our wealth. They’ve taken our jobs. They’ve taken our businesses," he said. "They’ve taken our manufacturing.”
The nation's unemployment figures, he said, were vastly underestimated. "As a country, we don't have victories any more," he said.
Trump framed his appeal as a product of his wealth, which he said was proof of his talent and his ability to say whatever he wants.
“All of that money that’s going to Hillary and Jeb and Scott and Marco and all of them, the people that are putting up that money, it’s like puppets, bing bing," he said, calling Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democrat, and Republicans Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio by their first names. "They're totally controlled by special interests, lobbyists and donors.”
As Trump has maintained his lead in the fractured Republican race, his defiance in the face of detractors has only grown.
When a reporter asked him before the town hall about accusations that he used offensive language about children of immigrants, Trump said he had no intention of changing the terms of the immigration debate.
"People like to say 'undocumented' because it's politically correct," he said. "I'll use the word 'anchor baby.'"
Trump seemed amused when asked about his 16 Republican rivals' standing in the polls, saying they go up and down like yo-yos.
"The only thing constant is Trump," he told reporters. "I'm not going anywhere."