All Trumped up: tales from the American campaign trail

I’m in a roomful of media waiting for a press conference in Hampton, New Hampshire. The date is Aug. 14, 2015.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to supporters following a rally at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, N.H. on Aug. 14, 2015.

I’m in a roomful of media waiting for a press conference in Hampton, New Hampshire. The date is Aug. 14, 2015. My birthday a week later has come early. I’m freelancing for an American political commentary website after a stint running a paper in Ontario, and it’s brought me to the Granite state. Tough-looking security guards appear speaking into hand-mics just like in the movies, followed by loud cheers from the hallway outside.

A tall man with a halo of golden hair prances in.

“Wow, great crowd, great crowd,” intones Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump about his fans in the hallway as he steps to the press conference podium and slams the Bush family, Hillary Clinton, the mayor of Boston, ALS ice bucket challenges, his Republican opponents, free trade, the Iraq war and a number of other policies, politicians and public figures.

It’s a long way from the Cowichan Valley, where I grew up.

The reporter next to me from Paris Match draws Trump’s disapproval as his extravagant musical phone ringtone sounds off several times (“You OK over there!? You done yet?” Trump asks sarcastically). I sense the chance to ask a question and come up with something about Trump’s opinion on the Democratic contest. He easily runs with it to castigate Clinton for her classified e-mail scandal.

In person Trump is much more serious and poised than comes across onscreen. He seems ultra-focused on his messaging and repeating key phrases to dodge and emphasize.

He doesn’t appear to be enjoying himself so much as obsessed with winning (so much so that he overcame his dislike of shaking hands to run for president). During the ebola outbreak in 2014 Trump had speculated that one potential positive was nobody would shake hands anymore, but this hope did not come to pass, so grinning supporters still hold out hands and Trump still shakes them and poses for selfies.

There’s a price to pay to get your paws on the presidency.

Hands and fingers more recently have become a much larger (or smaller?) hot-button issue in the Republican race, but the topic of how the future of the free world came down to mockery of hand and finger size and palming off middle school insults to crowds in Palm Beach is another matter altogether.

I’d been covering rallies in New Hampshire for a few weeks, everyone from Marco Rubio to Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders to Clinton, but the energy in the Trump auditorium was on another level.

The Trump speech facility was also in top shape, whereas the campaign trail is often less glamorous than people envision. Ultra-rich former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, for example, had to walk up sagging steps into an old Veterans of Foreign Wars hall (equivalent of the Canadian Legion) and speak beside a glass Budweiser lampshade over the pool table, and Paul shared speaking room with a row of dormant exercise bikes and weight racks as he spoke at a community centre (with a chainsaw on top of stacks of paper representing the federal tax code behind him).

At the Trump speech, people of all ages shouted loud support, holding up flags and pumping their fists, sort of like the atmosphere of a wrestling match on steroids. The crowd was constantly rising for standing ovations as Trump slammed the mainstream left and right wings for failing working Americans, presenting bad education policy and supporting unnecessary foreign wars. Trump, of course, claimed he would make things better: In fact, so much better that people would get “tired of winning.”

“You hear that sucking sound!? You know what that sucking sound is!?” he bellowed to the audience.

“Jobs!” shouted several people in the crowd.

“That means jobs. That means money,” Trump agreed.

He went on to promise “so many victories” and avowed perfection of everything from health care to foreign policy, plus a strong crackdown on illegal immigration.

“You don’t want a politically correct president!” he said, as the crowd of around 1,000 rose to its feet with deafening cheers. His standard denunciation of the media was met with howls of approval.

Since then Trump has gone further than political incorrectness, advocating war crimes (numerous other presidents and leaders have actually done and ordered them, so it’s a saying versus doing thing), a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration, playing off suspicion of refugees, retweeting white supremacists online, mocking disabled reporters and steadily eliminating opponent after opponent as he drills down on their perceived or actual policy weaknesses and personal insecurities.

Now poised to become the Republican nominee, Trump supporters are ready for the greatest reality show on earth, while opponents are scrambling to support an alternative among a flawed field of Republican candidates (someone who doesn’t want to “carpet bomb” or start World War III would be a good start) and Democrats continue to split along supporting the ethically challenged Clinton or socialist Sanders.

In any case, I can always say I was there when this whole political volcano erupted. Plus, when people ask why my hair is so good I’ll have an easily flowing answer: My hair isn’t having a bad hair day, it’s in a comb-a.

What happens next is anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to say that worldwide and south of the border the winds of change are blowing at gale force enough to disrupt even Trump’s hair. Business-as-usual has been fired.

Paul Brian is a journalist from the Cowichan Valley who has been working as a travelling freelancer. He is currently calling the Citizen home.

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