Politics & Policy

In Alabama, Trump’s Wizard of Oz Act Leaves Some Fans Underwhelmed

Trump makes his case in Mobile, August 21, 2015. (Mark Wallheiser/Getty)

Toto the dog wasn’t needed in Mobile, Ala., Friday night to pull the curtain from behind The Great and Mighty Trump. Trump let his own curtain flutter open, showing to much of the audience the humbug within.

In an hour-long verbal meanderthon at half-filled Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Trump allowed an atmosphere of electric excitement to dissipate, and then he split town without his promised post-show press conference. As I left the stadium, a red-hatted lady of my acquaintance spotted me and pulled me aside, saying: “Somebody needs to tell that man when to shut the you-know-what up. People were leaving in droves.”

Well, not entirely droves, but by my estimate, about 15–20 percent of the 18,000 or so attendees — Trump publicity organs had earlier said they expected up to 35,000 — had filed out before Trump wound up his many-versed hymn to his own toughness and deal-making skills.

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The line of the evening belonged to Rob Holbert, a former press aide to Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi and now the co-publisher of the port city’s Lagniappe weekly. “That speech was more disjointed,” he said, “than a skeleton after tumbling down four flights of stairs.”

And I woke up this morning to this e-mail from a retired professional who is an outspoken conservative and longtime Mobile civic leader:

What happened with Trump? Why was he so late going on stage? Why did he cancel the press conference? Was he insulted by the turnout and had to be talked into going on stage and canceled the press conference because he didn’t want to justify the smaller crowd? Is he a petulant child?

Not to say that Trump’s speech failed to earn some bursts of enthusiastic applause, or that his Mobile appearance was a total bust. Still, compared with the remarkable buzz leading up to the tycoon’s visit, the actual performance was missed opportunity. Typical was this frustrated Facebook post by a local tea-party leader: “Substance!!!!!!!!! No substance!!!!! . . . Trump, please stop rambling. Please, do you have a plan???”

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That early buzz had been so considerable that some Trump fans showed up a remarkable seven hours early to get in line for entrance to the 7 p.m. speech. At 3 p.m., a large, spiffy bus arrived, carrying a number of Republican state legislators from throughout Alabama. Most said they were committed to Trump already, although only three (Tim Wadsworth, Ed Henry, and Barry Moore) were ready to make their endorsements public.

“I’m not sure if I’m for him yet,” said one who asked not to be identified. “But I like that he’s getting people excited. We need higher turnout for our side in this election. If Trump can do that for us, that would be great.”

Trump greets some enthusiastic supporters. (Mark Wallheiser/Getty)

A little before 6, as the line was moving toward the gate, one family’s home-made signs, illustrated with clever pictures, stood out. “Trump: R.I.P. Politically Correct.” “The Trump mobile: Get on or get left.” Jimmy White, a 52-year-old construction supervisor from Bay Minette (35 miles up the road), was with his daughter Malary Thompson, 30, daughter Kricket, 20, and son Zach, 18. The elder White said:

This country is ready to go in the opposite direction. That’s why all the people are here: We need drastic change. It seems like we send the politicians up there, and then we don’t ever hear their names again — like Mitch McConnell, what is he even doing? I’m excited about seeing a big huge shakeup [by a President Trump] if it were to work out.

The crowd seemed well mixed socioeconomically, from laborers to white-collar types to reasonably well-off retirees. But the ethnic mix was, well, decidedly less diverse, a huge sea of white with only the rarest of black or Hispanic faces. And although almost everybody there seemed angry at the federal government, the overriding mood of the event itself was not angry but excited, even happy — upbeat people waving American flags and wanting to be part of something good.

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When Trump finally took the stage, though, nearly 20 minutes late, he first tapped their anger, not their hopes. “We have politicians that don’t have a clue!” he yelled. “They’re all talk, no action. They’re disgraceful!”

On immigration:

Now people are seeing I was right. Did you see that story the other day about that poor girl who was raped, sodomized, tortured, and killed by an illegal immigrant? We’re going to build a wall!

Trump threw in attacks at Hillary Clinton (about her e-mail scandal) and Jeb Bush (on Common Core and immigration) and pivoted to a shout-out to his “favorite book,” the Bible. (So said the famously serial adulterer.)

But he quickly came back again to immigration and an attack on the concept of birthright citizenship:

Seven and a half of all births in this country are to illegal immigrants. That’s 300,000 babies a year that we all have to take care of. We’re the only place, just about, that’s stupid enough to do it.

But once Trump’s familiar riffs against illegal immigrants ran out, so did almost all pretense of discussing policy. Again and again he asserted that foreign countries — China, Japan, and Mexico were his favorite targets — are taking America to the cleaners because we’re “too dumb” to negotiate well with them. And that led to what a great, terrific, fantastic, superb negotiator Trump is and how — repeated ad nauseam — Trump would make everything right because “we will have unbelievable deals” when he’s in charge.

Once Trump’s familiar riffs against illegal immigrants ran out, so did almost all pretense of discussing policy.

“Whatever it is, I know how to do things,” he said. “I just want to make this country so great, and that’s what’s going to happen.”

Oh, and did he mention that he’ll oversee better negotiations? “I have the hardest, toughest, meanest, smartest, most horrible people in the world. They’ll be my negotiators.”

As for American power, no problem: “The thing I’ll be great at? The military, because I am the toughest guy.”

And, in case he didn’t mention money in the prior two minutes — he referred to his money-making prowess about a gazillion times — Trump circled back again to his unparalleled, amazing, world-beating, stupendous ability to turn dross into gold: “I am going to be the greatest ‘jobs president’ that God ever created!”

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By this time — 50 minutes into his peroration — the crowd had more than understood his point, and surely many had started wondering whether anything Trump said or thought had anything to do with them rather than with himself. That’s when I noticed how many gaps were beginning to appear in the sections of the stands that had been filled earlier in the evening, and how many backs I saw disappearing through the exits.

#related#When Trump finally ended seven or eight minutes later — with no closing flourish, like a child’s old-fashioned music box that just wound down into silence — there was no exuberant applause, but a mere shuffling of feet as people headed for the parking lots. To be sure, some were chattering approvingly of The Donald, but others were muttering that his speech lacked substance and focus.

Trump vamoosed quickly: With local and national media waiting in a holding room, Trump’s staffers manhandled aside a respected local newscaster so Trump’s car could whisk him away, in silence, to his waiting 757.

Or maybe it was a hot air balloon, looking for another Oz to grace with his extraordinary, superlative, amazing, greatest-ever presence.

— Quin Hillyer is a longtime contributor to National Review Online.

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