Having covered this campaign for a while now, the only candidate I had not seen speak live (other than Jim Gilmore) was Donald Trump.
Now, like the rest of the known universe, I had seen on him on television roughly as often as all the Kardashians squared. Further, I have watched him in numerous debates from the press room, from ten feet away in the spin room, etc., but never, until I braved the snow storm last night with approximately four thousand others and caught Donald at Manchester’s Verizon Wireless Arena (yes, the cell connections were good — even on my AT&T), had I seen a formal, or should I say informal, Trump address.
When I arrived, Puccini was playing. Somehow grand opera fit the occasion, but it soon segued into the Rolling Stones (again fitting — Mick Jagger being more or less a man of the right) with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (somehow ironic because The Donald has gotten more of what he wants than just about anybody I can think of) booming out when the candidate finally hit the stage.
He was immediately preceded by a professional video montage, which began with a close-up clip of Megyn Kelly saying “And now comes Donald Trump!” The crowd roared. It was out of context, obviously, but quite witty, as was the rest of the montage.
Trump began by introducing his family. Besides the clear glamour of that entourage (Melania and a nine-months pregnant Ivanka), Trump is truly a family man in every sense, well-loved by all his children, maybe even his ex’s. It’s more impressive, actually, than the Clintons and even the Bushes. Well, the Clintons have deteriorated into a pathetic self-parody, if they were ever anything beyond that.
Further, Trump is the most relaxed politician — if you can call him that — in front of an audience that I have ever seen, with the possible exception of Rick Perry when I accompanied him to the NASCAR races. But that was definitely “home territory.” Trump seems to be at home everywhere, truly comfortable in his own skin and with what he thinks.
This is a tremendous advantage and is the secret to why he can say such outrageous things and make them, ultimately, seem not so outrageous after all.
The speech, though an amalgam of the many statements we have seen Trump make already, still seemed completely spontaneous. He has, as the old saying goes, the gift for gab. If he does win the presidency — a distinct possibility now (who’d a thunk it?) — he may be the one president in memory whose public speaking doesn’t sicken us after a year or two. Listening to Obama at this point is a sure-fire ticket to a migraine. W, in his final years, wasn’t a whole lot better.
It will be interesting to see if Trump, if and when president, continues to speak off the cuff with just a few notes, as he does now. It might be skating on thin ice, but it could be figure skating.
The big spontaneous moment last night came when Trump was discussing Ted Cruz’s rejection of waterboarding during the New Hampshire debate. Trump, who supports it and more, wondered aloud why Cruz had his view. A woman in the audience stopped the speech by yelling “He’s a pussy!”
The press corps around me gasped. Such language! And then Trump made her repeat it — more gasps — before Trump playfully reprimanded her in order that the press wouldn’t vilify him (not that he cared). Whatever you think of waterboarding — I’m for it when necessary — the exchange was great fun.
I’ve come a long way in my thinking about Trump. Though there are several Republican candidates whom I would be quite happy to see in the White House, including the two senators, I have to admit I’ll be disappointed if I don’t get to see a Trump presidency. I’m sure I’m speaking for almost everybody when I say it’s something I never would have expected in my lifetime.