We attended Donald Trump’s Rally at the Baton Rouge River Center on Thursday, February 11, 2016. The crowd of 10,000 was still filling in when he entered the arena 45 minutes after the scheduled start time.
We have been to hundreds of political rallies in our lifetime and the first thing that struck as about the crowd was how thin on the ground the elite types were. Most political events contain many people in suits, from young men puffed up with a sense of self importance because they are working crowd control, to wealthy donors and hangers-on who get some type of ego boost from being near the candidate. These types were like endangered species at the Trump event.
The crowd was mostly (but not entirely) white, but then so are most GOP political rallies. What struck us immediately in line at the event was how much attendees were just ordinary Americans. We could tell most of these people don’t normally attend political rallies. After talking to a dozen different people we’d guess that about 10% of the crowd was still undecided about Trump, mostly because they were worried he wouldn’t follow through. Voters feel so betrayed some of them just can’t believe that a candidate will deliver. They WANT to believe.
Before the speech began we overheard one member of the media saying “I’m no Trump supporter, but I have more fun at his rallies than any of the others.”
The pre-music was a collection of Billy Joel, The Beatles and Rolling Stones songs. As it became clear that Trump would make us wait, hearing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” seemed pretty appropriate.
Trump speeches meander a bit but he has a half dozen key promises he always touches on: Stop illegal immigration, eliminate hundreds of billions of dollars in wasteful government spending, renegotiate our trade deals so they are more fair to blue collar Americans, take care of our veterans, and project military strength to the world. The country’s elites try to pretend that his agenda isn’t specific. It is very specific and aimed right at the heart of the bipartisan consensus on trade, immigration, multiculturalism, and internationalism. The strength of the message and the sharpness of the pitchforks renders the messenger fairly immune to criticism about his quirks and affectations. The People have made him into the Teflon Don.
Trump is much more down-home in his dialogue when he talks about these things, but we’ve come to believe that’s entirely on purpose. The Americans we saw at the debate are non-elite in every way.
Trump appeals to a variety of different political motivations, but his core support comes from the people left behind by the economy created by our coastal and DC elites. They know he is flawed but they have found their champion and, based on the unbelievable energy we saw in Baton Rouge, he is heading to Washington.