Donald Trump is up there preaching to the choir, to the thousands of people who have flooded into a room at Plymouth State University in north-central New Hampshire on Sunday, two days before the primary.
He is like a television evangelist aiming at your wallet, except this is the Church of Trump, and he’s evangelizing for himself, asking for votes, not money. He takes a traditional political speech, cuts it into bits, tosses it into the air and delivers it as if he were picking up the disconnected pieces one by one in whatever order he finds them, as if he’s randomly flipping open pages in the Good Book and reading the passages aloud.
From disdaining special interests to how he’s financing his own race (he’s not) to education, back to the “bloodsuckers” financing his competitors, to water-boarding, back to self-funding (still not true), to the heroin overdoses ravaging New Hampshire, to the losers who negotiate for the United States, back to the special interests and lobbyists, to exploding Humvees and vets, to more insults aimed at his perennial nemesis, “poor, poor, poor” Jeb Bush, who had to bring his mommy to New Hampshire to slosh through the snow to try to salvage his campaign.
It is a symphony of superlatives when he’s talking about himself, a kaleidoscope of criticism when he’s talking about everyone else.
To see Donald Trump is to see a candidate who seems to be all over the place, but has his aim squarely set on the emotional wants of his audience. He is a marketer, after all, a larger-than-life version of the guys who find ways to convince people they really need this kind of toilet paper and not the other. Except in his case, it’s this hotel or golf course or spa — the one with “Trump” emblazoned on the side.
As much as any other candidate, he seems to find his way in to his people, a connection obvious in the call-and-response that goes into every speech. In Exeter, N.H., the other day, even Trump seemed a bit surprised when a supporter interrupted his riff about building the best wall ever on the southern border to suggest Trump construct one across the Canadian border as well.
“That’s a loooong border,” Trump replied just a little bit pensively, as if calculating the costs and complications in his head.
By necessity, since Trump is running against the status quo, there is a lot of doom and gloom in his standard speech. He rails against corporations taking their money overseas and trade deals with Japan, the country’s educational system, and the spending of military dollars. It all might seem disconnected, but he ties most of it together with a screed against special interests and rich political donors that to some — but not his most ardent supporters — seems odd from a guy who lives on Fifth Avenue and flies to campaign events in his own lushly appointed plane.
Trump’s is an updated version of the politician’s complaint that every government department is rife with waste, fraud and abuse; he’s saying it is all caused by lobbying and special interests and rich men like himself. And, further, that all of it would go away if a guy too rich to be bought was living in the White House.
Trump receives a lot of attention for his remarks against illegal immigration and Muslims, but another aspect of his approach — and his success — is that a big part of his speech is either apolitical or, sometimes, leaning left. It’s a made-to-order match for voters who despise the political system and define politics as us against them, not left versus right.
In almost every speech, Trump hits on the inability of the U.S. to negotiate with drug companies for prices paid by Medicare, which he says has cost the nation $300 billion. He doesn’t mention that his fellow Republicans have blocked the government from doing so and that candidates like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, Democrats, demand the same thing as he.
In Plymouth on Sunday, he freshened the attack by wrapping in the previous night’s debate, in which he was booed by the audience during a tit-for-tat with Bush, the former Florida governor. Trump declared that the crowd was made up of lobbyists and special interests, citing in particular Woody Johnson, Bush’s national finance chairman and the exceedingly wealthy owner of the New York Jets football team, born to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical family.
“So tell me, let me ask you: Do you think Jeb Bush is going to make drug prices competitive?” he asks. The crowd screams “No!”
Trump can’t resist adding an insult to Bush.
“Let’s say Jeb won, which is an impossibility, but this applies to everyone else,” he said. “You’re talking billions and billions of dollars that they won’t collect.”
Likewise, Trump gilds his they-can’t-buy-me argument by telling his crowds that he is funding his campaign himself, even though he has received $6.5 million from supporters and a large chunk of what he has spent has gone into paying his own companies for services. More than that, he says in a statement utterly impossible to prove, he’s $40 to $50 million under budget “and I’m No. 1 in the polls.”
“I want one thing on Tuesday,” he says, and it’s not money. “You have to come out and vote.”
For all the downbeat assessments, unprovable statements and gratuitous insults, Trump’s events are a show, the closest thing to stand-up comedy in this race.
In Plymouth on Sunday, he had gone through the myriad failures of the president and his administration and the entire political class, and how America is getting ripped off by everything, even the price of Kobe beef, before he interrupted himself.
“You know what? You gotta have fun,” Trump said. “If we can’t smile at ourselves and we can’t smile at how stupid we are being, then we’re just going to make ourselves —”
Make ourselves what? The words were lost to the audience’s laughter.