Early voting starts in 50 days in Ohio, which means both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will practically take up residence here in coming days as they compete for the battleground state. Here are a few takeaways from Trump’s visit to Akron on Monday:
Why Trump chose Akron.
The city of Akron voted 57-42 for Obama in 2012 and 58-41 for Obama in 2008, and while the city itself is reliably Democrat, this speech was covered by the Cleveland media market, which reaches nearly 1.5 million TV viewers. There are plenty of votes up for grabs in the surrounding suburbs and the dying manufacturing cities (Cleveland, Canton, Youngstown), so it’s no surprise that bringing manufacturing jobs back to Ohio was a major theme of the speech.
As most sports fans know, Akron is the home of LeBron James and a lot of people attending tonight’s rally were no doubt reminiscing about the days when LeBron’s high school games had to be moved to the JAR Arena because the crowds overwhelmed his private Catholic high school. This is a massive concrete gymnasium and the acoustics amplify every sound. The volume on Trump’s microphone was turned up at least three notches higher than it needed to be and the raucous shouting and applause from the audience made it sound like there were 10,000 people in attendance instead of the estimated 5000 that showed up. When Trump thundered, “I will be your voice,” it felt like the walls were going to come down. The audience was filled with true believers who cheered enthusiastically every few lines and chanted “lock her up” and “build the wall” right on cue, every time.
The rally began early—which made for some strange optics.
I’ve attended plenty of campaign rallies and you can almost count on the candidate being late for the event. I’ve never been to one that ran ahead of schedule—until today. The event was scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m., but actually began right around 6:00.
Trump went off teleprompter to explain the early start time: “We began one hour early because the place is packed, so why should we wait?” he asked. “I can start early because they’re filled up hours before I’m supposed to be there.”
Except that wasn’t the case in Akron. This picture was taken a few minutes after the rally began. At that time both of the side sections of the arena were still empty (which isn’t surprising given that it was still an hour until the appointed start time).
Ten minutes later, people who had been waiting in line outside started flooding into both of those sections. Trump noticed and gestured toward them saying, “Look at those people. They’re still pouring in. I love seeing it.” He added, “See, to me that means so much. When you see that scene. Look at the doors…pouring in. All filling up. Unbelievable. I don’t know how I explain to them that we started an hour early.” Likely they knew that, since it was still twenty minutes before the scheduled start time and it was clear that the event had been underway for some time.
I have no idea what the point this spectacle was. The arena eventually filled up and it looked like a capacity crowd, so there was no reason for Trump to tell tall tales about the place filling up “hours before” he arrived. It’s not unheard of for campaigns to book venues that are too small for the expected crowds in order to give the impression that there’s a groundswell of support for the candidate. But starting early in a half-empty auditorium and then drawing attention to the fact that it’s still filling up midway through the speech? The optics were poor if you witnessed it in person. And whatever the reasons for it, I felt sorry for the people who were stuck waiting to go through security during the first half of Trump’s speech.
Trump started early, but he stuck around.
I was a little surprised that Trump stuck around to shake hands and sign autographs after his speech. I’m not sure why I thought he wouldn’t do it, other than I hadn’t seen it reported in the media and I haven’t seen any images of him doing so. One of the songs on the campaign playlist was an opera number. It seemed like an odd choice, but it worked for Trump, I guess.
Who wasn’t there.
Usually when a presidential candidate is in town every elected official (and candidate) from senator on down to dog catcher wants to be on the dais and lobbies the campaign to get a speaking slot at the high-profile event. This was certainly the case when I attended Romney rallies in Ohio in 2012. Even a rally featuring VP candidate Paul Ryan garnered an impressive lineup of elected officials. While Rudy Giuliani was at Trump’s side to rally the troops, the only Ohio elected official to speak on Trump’s behalf was Congressman Bob Gibbs. His district is about an hour outside of Akron. Conspicuously missing were Senator Rob Portman, Governor John Kasich, and Congressman Jim Renacci (plus the dog catcher).
The population of Akron is nearly 40% minority. The poverty rate in the city is 25.8% compared to 14.8% for the rest of the state and nearly a quarter of kids in the Akron Public Schools don’t graduate from high school, even though the district spends over $13,000 per student. The media barely mentioned the fact that Trump went into a community with these demographics in the recaps on cable news Monday night—they only like to complain when he doesn’t. He repeated his line from Wisconsin, asking minority voters, “What the hell do you have to lose” by voting for him. This would have been a good opportunity for Trump to communicate his message to the minority community in the area—had any minorities actually shown up to the rally. You could have probably counted on two hands the number of black people at this event. The few I saw were in the VIP section directly behind the podium.
A competent advance team would have worked with grassroots organizers in the area to get minority voters to this event to hear what their candidate had to say. If there was any attempt to do this, it failed miserably. And if they didn’t bother to try? Well, that would tell you a lot about Trump’s campaign. For those who are under the illusion that the polls are all “rigged” and not a reflection of the electorate, this should be a wake-up call. There is no groundswell of support for Trump from black voters and it’s not going to magically happen in the next 77 days, no matter how many words other people write for him and load into the teleprompter. It’s pretty clear that his team is focused on giving speeches rather than GOTV efforts in minority communities.
The fear factor.
Trump’s speech was full of doomsday predictions—terrible things that will befall the American people if they don’t elect him president.
Leon Wolf made a great point at RedState about the planned negativity of Trump’s campaign. He explained why it makes perfect sense that Trump wasn’t tweeting about the Olympics:
Trump’s appeal isn’t to patriotism, it’s to people who believe that America used to be great, but isn’t anymore (thanks mainly to the damn foreigners). When the USA succeeds or does well, it doesn’t really fit with Trump’s narrative that the country needs him to fix it all again.
This isn’t an isolated thing for Trump, either. When global communism was floundering, the Berlin Wall was about to fall, and America was at her probable absolute apex militarily, Trump was out there saying the Chinese were much stronger than the Americans, that Gorbachev was making Bush look weak, and that the first Gulf War embarrassed us. He’s been running this “America sucks these days” schtick for the better part of 30 years. He just finally found the political moment in which it would work.
If you are a person who actually wants America to succeed and do well, voting Trump is probably a bad idea, because he clearly does not share that goal.
He appealed to people’s deepest fears in his Akron speech on Monday.
Speaking to minorities Trump said, “Right now, you walk down the street and you get shot.” But he promised that he’d make their streets safe again. “You’ll be able to walk down the street without being shot.”
And he warned those in Akron and the rest of Ohio, “As you stand here tonight, there are companies negotiating to leave, OK?” He suggested that he may have some inside information about these negotiations. “You’ll find out about it,” he said. No worries though. Trump will fix everything: “But we’ll stop ’em. Just hang in there. And it won’t be hard. Won’t be hard.”
If I were to write a campaign slogan based on Trump’s speech in Akron on Monday it would be: “America sucks and Trump is the only one who wants to fix it.” His campaign depends on convincing large swaths of the electorate that we live in a Third World hellhole—our streets are overrun with criminal aliens, there’s an ISIS terrorist hiding in every closet, and every elected official is corrupt. In reality, if you get outside of the major cities, most communities are relatively safe and the local governments are run with integrity. And your odds of being killed by a terrorist are about one in 20 million. You’re in far more danger every time you climb into your car, but Trump can’t gin up votes by railing against the 4-wheeled menaces roaming our streets. So buckle up and prepare for 77 more days of this depressing campaign.
The Hillary factor.
This speech was hyper-focused on Hillary, likely thanks to the additions of Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon to his campaign staff. In fact, hardly a paragraph passed without an attack on her. When Trump stays on the teleprompter and reads his talking points, he’s much more effective than when the thoughts go straight from his brain to his mouth. For what that’s worth.
Speaking of depressing, if you’re a parent, be warned that Trump events are PG-13 (at least). Outside the events you’ll be accosted by vendors selling t-shirts shouting “Hillary sucks but not like Monica!.” Yes, they’re shouting this and people are actually buying these shirts. Do they actually wear them in public? It’s just one more thing that you don’t want to have to explain to your kids, but now probably have to. Thanks, DT.
You’ll also be able to purchase signs and t-shirts with this message:
But in case you had any doubts about whether the GOP is still the “family values” party, there’s a sign for that, too! (It’s there, hiding behind “Hillary for Prison” and “Trump That Bi***)
Like it or not, this is the face of the GOP now. If you call yourself a Republican, people are going to associate you with the ongoing ugliness of the 2016 campaign. Trump is the leader of the GOP, so if you’re still a “proud Republican,” congratulations—you’re now the proud owner of the baggage that comes along with him and this campaign.
Note: An earlier version of this article said that Akron voted for Romney, 58-41 in 2008, when in fact, it was Obama who won the city.