The really scary thing about the Donald Trump rally in Cabarrus County in North Carolina last Thursday afternoon is that he looked almost presidential.
With election day looming, gone was the bombastic Trump from the primaries, the lecturing Trump from the Republican National Conference, and the by turns petulant and menacing Trump of the debates.
Instead, as the all-age crowd – they could have been at a holiday parade, until you read the slogans on the T-shirts – stamped and cheered, a remarkably relaxed looking Trump played the charisma card. It was almost as if he had been taking oration lessons from Barack Obama.
He more or less stuck to the script which was more or less what he has been saying all year – build the wall, lower taxes, Hillary is stupid, all Washington is stupid, NAFTA’s a joke, to kill the job-killing TPP and so on – and when he did veer off, it was to masterfully play the adoring crowd.
He called for a doctor when one woman fainted after waiting for hours in the stadium on an unseasonably hot autumn day (no, climate change did not get a mention). He called her ‘darling’ and promised the crowd would make way for her when she had recovered. ‘And if they don’t, I’ll come down there myself,’ he promised.
The rally was near Concord, which locals say was known as Textile Town USA until the factories closed down through the 1990s and early 2000s, and Trump spoke a lot about jobs. He talked about ‘the greatest jobs theft in the history of the world’, about how he would bring them back and who had taken them away. ‘When you see the rusted out factories just remember Hillary Clinton did this to you.’
When he did briefly turn his attention to the rest of the world, he spoke about China and its activities in the South China Sea.
‘It’s building one of the biggest fortresses anywhere in the world,’ Trump said. ‘Ripping the hell out of the sea. Excavators, they say the biggest ever used, ripping it up. They conceived of the idea on say, a Monday night. Started construction on Tuesday morning. They shouldn’t be doing it. It’s against everything we have with them. But China has no respect for us. Russia has no respect. Putin has no respect for Hillary Clinton. He dreams, he dreams of Hillary becoming president.’
Trump was at times boastful, when talking about his business success, and at times humble: ‘I am just a messenger’. People clapped and waved their signs but he wasn’t serious and they didn’t believe it. This was all about Donald Trump coming to save them. He mentioned the Republican Party hardly at all. He didn’t give a shout out to the other Republicans in close races in the state. He didn’t even mention his family.
He told us he had a winning temperament. The crowd roared back. They sounded like they had already won. Joe, a 76-year-old farmer in denim overalls and gum boots who declined to give his surname, was grinning ear to ear. ‘I’ve never seen a crowd this enthusiastic three days before the election,’ he said delightedly.
There were also, up the back, stamping steel tipped boots, young men with an air of menace about them. And everywhere, as the crowd chanted ‘build the wall’ and ‘jail her’, one could sense immense satisfaction. Their guy was saying it how it was.
It was easy to imagine them ecstatic if Trump wins on Tuesday. It was equally easy to imagine their anger if what they view as their chance to fight back through the ballot box is not successful. Their long-simmering anger and resentment has been legitimised by a businessman and TV star in a blue suit who has promised to give them everything on their wish list and most of it in the first 100 days of government. It makes no sense, of course – how can a president, for example, lower both corporate and income taxes and still spend, spend, spend?
But Trump supporters don’t care about the policy detail. They just want to believe. As one voter told local newspaper the Charlotte Observer ‘I have no use for Hillary and you have to trust someone’.