For one sun-drenched Saturday afternoon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Donald Trump gave a peek at the outsider candidacy that might have been. Mostly. He also flashed traces of why that grounded, vital candidacy doesn’t seem to have come to fruition.
Trump estimated the crowd at 7,000 – New Hampshire police said it was closer to 3,000 – and there wasn’t a whit of “deplorable” behavior. No racism, no sexism, no xenophobia, not even any nasty T-shirts, at least by current standards. Nor was there a surly or aggrieved mood coursing through the pack. Folks were upbeat, there to have a good time.
What inspired the 300-mile drive Friday night from Long Island toward a noon rally up north was the sense that after a week of “Access Hollywood” tape replays and sexual assault allegations, Trump might finally be ready to completely blow his stack, start roaring and foaming and biting the heads off of members of the media.
What transpired was foundationally different: Most of Trump’s speech focused on specific problems facing the people of New Hampshire and the United States, and the steps a Trump administration would take to address them.
The Republican presidential candidate spoke at length about the opiate addiction ravaging New Hampshire. He called for lifting the limit on prescriptions for medication-assisted treatment drugs doctors can write, an important, intricate fix. He also decried the way Chinese drug manufacturers are moving deadly fentanyl into and around the United States.
On trade, Trump spoke about the amazing factories being built in other nations, and about how things like not understanding the value-added tax in a partner trading nation can lead to poorly negotiated deals. He talked about the jobs that have left and the dreams that have died, and he promised it would only get worse if he is not elected.
“Companies some of you work for right now are negotiating to leave for Mexico,” he told the crowd, and promised that he would stop it if elected.
He also did the “Full Trump” at times.
One highlight was the suggestion that he and Hillary Clinton be drug-tested before the next debate, like Olympic athletes, because “there is something going on with her.” And he did the now-obligatory rounds of crowd-baiting about the election (“rigged”), the media (“terrible people”), the allegations about his sexual assaults of women (“phony”) and Crooked Hillary (both crooked, and Hillary).
But at the root of the rally was the kernel of an idea that made his campaign catch fire when few thought it would: It is not going well for you, in terms of jobs, addiction, security, family structure, retirement or your feelings about the future. It is not your fault. The people in power do not care, and, in fact, have benefitted from the situation. None of the “politics as usual” people from either party, having caused the trouble or allowed it to happen, can be trusted to fix it, he said.
As the crowd was leaving, a man said: “Now that I saw it myself, I want to go home and see how it looks on CNN.” I knew what he meant.
It is possible for these two things to be true at the same time: that Trump is an inappropriate candidate for president, and the coverage of him is at times unfairly negative, if only by omission.
It is also possible for these two things to be true at the same time: that Clinton is the most appropriate candidate for the office, and the coverage of her is at times unfairly positive, if only by omission.
Beyond possible, it may even be likely all four of these things are true. And if that’s the case, then the premise of Trump’s (and Bernie Sanders’) campaigns were true all along, and the game won’t change as long as voters elect the people who wrote the rules and shuffled the cards in the first place.