WASHINGTON — More than his gilded triplex in Trump Tower or the palatial dining room at Mar-a-Lago, more than any of his golf courses or hotels, surely more than his current residence at the White House, no place feels like home to Donald Trump more than one of his rallies, those orgiastic displays of fealty and devotion. Nothing seems to give Trump more pleasure than taking the stage and basking in the adulation of his red hat-wearing supporters, especially after a bad news cycle or a rough day in the office.
Trump descended on Manchester, New Hampshire, on Thursday evening to hold a rally for his 2020 reelection campaign. It was a presidential visit set against the backdrop of a slouching stock market, evidence of economic trouble at home and abroad, and fresh indications a recession isn’t far off. The disturbing economic news had infused the president’s tweets with a streak of desperation.
His rally in New Hampshire, perhaps not surprisingly, felt more deranged than we’re used to seeing with this president, a mash-up of greatest hits, miscues, and misinformation.
On several occasions, the president took aim, as he always (and dangerously) does, at the “fake news media,” this time accusing journalists of publishing bogus polls that showed him tied with several Democratic candidates in New Hampshire. (A new poll by Trump’s beloved Fox News shows him trailing Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris there.) He used a racial slur to attack Warren, mustered a half-hearted Biden impression, and showed off some creative new campaign merchandise in the form of a red “Keep America Great” hat.
His performance veered into the bizarre and incoherent from there.
The protester who tries to disrupt Trump’s speech and gets escorted out to the cheers of the Trump faithful is a staple of these rallies. In the past, Trump has gone so far as to encourage violence on his protesters. In New Hampshire, he lobbed an insult at someone he thought was a protester — “That guy has got a serious weight problem. Go home, get some exercise” — but the large man in question was actually one of the president’s supporters. (Returning to his speech, he said that he was leading a movement “built on love.”)
From there, he touted, apropos of nothing, “a lot of great farming events happening really big in Wisconsin,” a rhetorically challenged sentence ostensibly meant to counteract the fall-out from the trade war’s impact on American farmers. Of course he brought up the Electoral College vote from the 2016 election but managed to get the vote total wrong (it was 304, not 306). And he claimed — yet again, without evidence, to the detriment of our democracy — that New Hampshire had been stolen from him in the 2016 general election.
Hours after pushing an evidence-free conspiracy theory that voter fraud cost him New Hampshire in 2016, Trump says, "New Hampshire was taken away. It was taken away from us … I am not holding it against you because it was not your fault." pic.twitter.com/4COpTJWROG
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 16, 2019
But by the second hour of Trump’s New Hampshire appearance, the president’s speech began to sound like a shtick that had lost its novelty, a routine worn-out from overuse. The attacks on Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, the chants of “Lock her up” and “Build the wall,” the racist dog whistles (“Many of us come from [Europe]. I do”), the word-vomit pledges about future policies (“We are working so hard on advertising and promotions to tell young kids, children, how bad drugs are, how dangerous they are and how horrible they are, how they destroy your brain, how they do so many bad things, and they are really very tough ads”), receiving the award of Michigan’s “Man of the Year,” an award that doesn’t actually exist.
Apparently even some of Trump’s fans have gotten tired of the act. Elaina Plott, a reporter for the Atlantic who attended the rally, tweeted that people were heading for the exits before the president had finished talking:
Trump's remarks tonight – going on two hours – are among the more aimless I've heard from him. Crowd thinning out significantly.
— Elaina Plott (@elainaplott) August 16, 2019
Has the Trump Rally™ lost its juice? Has Trump’s act grown stale even for his supporters?
It’s too soon to know the answer to these questions. But if the Trump fatigue felt by so much of the country is creeping into the president’s base, that’s an ominous sign for Trump in 2020.