When Donald Trump planned a rally in West Chester the day before the Pennsylvania primary, I volunteered to cover it. I wanted to see this thing firsthand.
For one thing, I’d heard he speaks for an hour at his rallies. Really? How could he talk for an hour? He doesn’t have that much to say. Which is true of many politicians, of course, but most of them don’t talk for an hour.
Anyway, I went. Here are five observations.
1. He gets down to business.Presidential campaign events take forever to cover. You get there early, the candidate is always late, and at least four local politicians have to speak before the candidate to get attention themselves (I spent six hours covering two back-to-back Hillary Clinton events).
There’s no warmup act. At precisely the appointed hour, a disembodied voice offstage says, “ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the next president of the United States, Donald J. Trump!”
The sound system cranks The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up,” the crowd goes crazy, and on comes Trump.
2. The Hour Flies byIt was actually 53 minutes — a no-notes, stream of consciousness set of improvisational riffs. He would start on a subject, interrupt himself, then interrupt his interruption.
He started to tell the story of the Ted Cruz-John Kasich alliance against him, and how he’d composed a clever response late at night. He was about to recite it, but that reminded him of Kasich, and how he’s a “stubborn guy who eats like a slob” who’s won only one primary, which Trump should have won anyway, which reminded him of how politics is a dirtier business than real estate, which reminded him of something else.
It was entertaining. I was never bored.
3. It’s a faith-based experienceTrump reels off promises at a breathless pace, without a hint of how he’ll actually keep them. He’s going to negotiate great trade deals, and bring back jobs from Japan, China, and Mexico. He’ll build the wall, take care of this student loan problem, because it’s unfair to you kids, and build up our military, make it the best in the world, so good we won’t even have to use it, except we’ll take out ISIS, gotta take out ISIS.
There’s no acknowledgement of the complexity or cost of any of it.
If you buy it, it’s because you believe this is a successful businessman who can do just about anything he sets his sights on with brains and determination.
I heard this from supporters I spoke to: Trump tells it straight, and he gets things done.
4. He’s not exactly disciplinedThis speech was the day before the Pennsylvania primary. He had maybe 3,000 people inside the gym and another 4,000 outside listening.
The one thing I figured he had to do was tell people that under Pennsylvania’s peculiar delegate rules, they’d have to vote not just for him, but also for three delegates on the ballot that would support him at the convention.
And since the ballot wouldn’t identify the Trump delegates, his people should go to his website and find the names of the people to vote for. Surely he’d say this at least twice, with emphasis.
He never came close. He mentioned the crazy Pennsylvania delegate thing in passing, but never told anybody how to find and vote for Trump delegates.
5. It works his wayIt didn’t matter. Trump romped the next day in Pennsylvania’s popular vote, and did extremely well in the delegate hunt too.
This is a bonafide movement. His delegates promoted themselves effectively, and his voters came out in numbers that overwhelmed the competition.
He got 56 percent of the popular vote. By my estimate, he’ll get 70 percent or more of the state’s delegates on the first ballot.
What does all this mean?
One of the state’s most experienced political writers, John Baer of the Philadelphia Daily News, writes in Monday’s column that despite polls and predictions, Trump could win Pennsylvania and the White House in November.
Plenty of experts say he’s wrong, but they’ve been wrong about Trump every step of the way.