by Jeremy Morrison
It was toward the end of the evening when the strangeness started making sense. Donald Trump had been rambling on for an hour at the Pensacola Bay Center about how he “will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” and how he’ll “build the wall” and how “nobody’s gonna mess with us!”
Slaying with his standard schtick.
Then from somewhere in the crowd a murmur of protest arose, hitting the cue perfectly. Something about “America was never great” and “you’re a racist!” Leaping into action, a collection of muscles and tattoos sporting ‘Bikers for Trump’ T-shirts helped hustle the protesters out of the venue.
And the crowd went nuts. It’s all part of the big show. And it’s perfect. A solid gold script.
“I like how the bikers followed them out,” laughed a woman from one of the TV stations. “They’re in deep shit.”
She was probably right. Maybe we’re all in it pretty deep. Sunk in and bought in to the greatest reality show ever. What would happen next? A beat down out front the Bay Center?
It barely mattered. All eyes were back on the main attraction as the Republican presidential nominee laid out his case in slogan form for renewing the series for another season to the sound of howling applause.
“We will be strong, we will be safe, we will win again, ladies and gentlemen, we will make America great again!” Trump promised, wrapping up his local campaign appearance with a wade into the crowd for a round of autographs and selfies accompanied by a recording of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
Campaign Carnival Comes to Town
The 2016 campaign carnival being dished out by Trump is providing a surrealistic glimpse into America’s cultural psyche. His trail events offer an open forum for people to plow boldly into political discourse, debating everything from trade to immigration to defense to the overall cultural compass of the country.
Supporters show up to celebrate Trump’s candidacy, hungry for change, fascinated with the celebrity, perhaps tickled with the vulgarity. Critics are attracted to the campaign events out of some sense of civic duty, convinced the GOP’s nominee is about to burn the house down. And others can’t stay away because they’re not about to miss the greatest American freak show of their lifetimes.
Trump’s Pensacola campaign stop was no different, attracting proponents, protesters and curious onlookers. It involved an afternoon of political tailgating and night of head-spinning speeches full of aggressive exclamation points.
People started showing up early. Ready to jump into the show they’ve watched unfold nightly on television.
Across the street from the Bay Center a bazar of campaign trail schwag — shirts and hats and buttons and flags — provided an opportunity to grab some souvenirs. The fare was a bit more colorful than the offerings at the official Trump-Pence merchandising table inside the venue. More creative and raw.
Stan Oman stood looking at a display of buttons. All kinds of buttons. There were ones profanely proclaiming “Donald J. Fucking Trump for President 2016” or “Bomb the Shit Out of ISIS,” and there were others with more playfully themes, featuring Trump as Captain American or Hillary Clinton in jail.
“Some funny buttons,” Oman said.
The 57-year-old ended up going with one featuring Donald Duck. The button reads “Vote for The Donald.” And he plans to.
Oman explained that he was ready for a change from the political status quo, from business as usual — “something new, something different” — and that he was willing to give Trump a shot because “maybe it’s going to take something to shake it up.”
“This is different,” Oman said. “Different good? Different bad? I don’t know.”
The Pensacola man said he made it to the Trump rally to experience the Campaign 2016 carnival. The “show.”
“For the show, it’s going to be entertaining,” Oman said, adding that he’d probably hit up a Clinton rally as well if given the chance. “Probably wouldn’t buy buttons if Hillary was in town, but I’d come.”
Closer to the street, a contingent of Clinton supporters are attempting to make a showing. They’re lining the curb, waving signs as police direct traffic through the intersection.
“We’re trying to show America we support Hillary,” explained organizer Bill King, of Pensacola.
King described the group’s roadside protest as “Pro-Hillary, Anti-Trump.” He said the group was opposed to the positions and tacts Trump had taken. Personally, as a veteran, he takes issue with the nominee’s critique of the nation’s military.
“I think he’s a very repugnant individual,” King said. “And it’s a sad thing for America when he’s the nominee of the Republican Party. That shows you where the Republican Party’s head is at, and that’s in a dark place.”
Waiting for a crossing signal on the corner, a Trump supporter begins to debate various points of policy with a member of the Clinton camp. They agree on little, and decide to focus on labor and trade. Each whips out their cell phone and videos the other.
Across the street an entirely separate protest has unfolded. It consists of people most easily and conveniently described as Bernie Sanders supporters, holding signs denouncing hate, fear and “MEIN TRUMP,” while calling for “more love.”
“We’re not accepting Trump and Pence,” said organizer Sarah Coutu. “We don’t want them here.”
Holding a Black Lives Matter sign, Richard and Mardee Clayton settled in for an afternoon of political discourse on the corner. The couple felt obliged to come down and demonstrate their discontent with Trump.
“This bigotry cannot stand in my country, it’s such a distraction,” said Mardee, of Pensacola. “I’m out here to be a symbol, that this is not acceptable.”
“We just can’t be bystanders,” adds her husband.
The Claytons aren’t thrilled with either of the two major candidates for president this year — “I’m still Sanders, Bernie or bust!” — and are holding out hope that the Democratic party could continue its veer to the left.
“I believe the seed is planted,” Mardee said. “Maybe not this time, but next time.”
Watching rally attendees stream across the street and toward the venue, Richard pondered their attraction to the candidate. He thinks he understands why people are drawn to Trump, because “people have it tough, they’re finding someone to blame” and they’re “so fed up with the love-your-neighbor talk, they want a tough, firm line in the sand.”
“I think he’s saying what a lot of people want to hear, he’s waking up that quieted voice,” Richard said, explaining that he thought perhaps Trump gave people the go-ahead to embrace some of their darker leanings. “It’s almost like on one day, Halloween, you can come out and say what you really think.”
The sun was searing down on the afternoon. Nearer the Bay Center, past the barricades and news satellite trucks, a man sat in the shadows of some trees and negotiated a few degrees of mercy.
Loren Spivack had traveled from Massachusetts. Been traveling with the campaign for a while now, hawking the collection of books he held cradled in his arms.
“I write books that teach kids kind of conservative lessons in kind of a humorous way,” Spivack explained.
The books are parodies of classic children stories, relying heavily on Dr. Seuss, but also incorporating standards such as the “Wizard of Oz.” Each explores a particular issue with a conservative slant.
Spivack’s version of the “Lorax” features former Vice President Al Gore and details how “environmentalists are destroying our country for profit.” In the author’s Oz, “munchkins have been living off the government for so long they’ve forgotten how to take care of themselves,” Hillary Clinton serves as the “wicked witch,” and GOP Sen. John McCain is the “cowardly RINO” that “can’t ever be brave” because “when our budget needs trimmin’, I’m scared I’ll offend gays, blacks and women.”
The author was inspired to write his first book by President Barack Obama, who reminded him of “The Cat in the Hat.” In the book — which said has so far sold 25,000 copies — Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi show up as Thing 1 and Thing 2 and Obama wreaks havoc throughout.
“Obama has very much the personality of the Cat in the Hat — he shows up uninvited to the middle class American house and what does he do? He wrecks the place,” Spivack explained. “Until the last page of the book the cat never understands that he is the problem. Not in a million years would the cat think that he is the problem. That’s Obama.”
While these books draw from children’s stories, they aren’t really for kids. Although the books do the grab the attention of a certain type of kid.
“Kids who read them are kids who watch Fox News and listen to Rush Limbaugh, and after Rush is off they listen to Hannity,” Spivack said, recalling meeting one such kid who schooled him on the Democratic nominee’s various missteps — “which he knew better than I did, he was like the encyclopedia of what’s wrong with Hillary.”
Most of the author’s customers are adults. People buy the books for conversation starters, for a quick political chuckle.
“It’s the kind of book that you can put on your coffee table and people will pick it up and read it,” Spivack said. “If you put out Friedrich Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty,” no one will pick it up and read it.”
The shade was slipping away with a couple of hours to go before Trump’s rally kicked into gear. A sweltering stream of attendees continued to bunch up at the entrance’s security checkpoint, as a news anchor readying for a live shot wiped his brow with a napkin.
Inside the nearby Crown Plaza Hotel’s Cavu Club, the air conditioner’s chill offered a brief reprieve. On the bar, ice clanked in glasses, visibly nervous each time the lobby’s revolving door hinted at the heat outside.
A man enjoyed his drink and explained that he wasn’t attending the rally. But he was waiting on some friends who planned to go.
“I’m trying to talk’em out of it,” he said, explaining that he thinks they’re only going to get a look at the spectacle. “I think 90 percent of the people that go to these things go for the show.”
A Brief Interlude with Juan
Juan Henrikquez entered the facility early. He secured a nice spot on the floor near the stage and hunkered down for a long wait.
Henrikquez is from Honduras, he’s a naturalized citizen. He’s also attracted to Trump’s positions on immigration and border security.
“I like the idea of building the wall, for one,” Henrikquez said, explaining that he feels immigrants should enter the country through the proper, legal channels. “We came and we had to work for it, I don’t think things are just given for free.”
The Trump supporter recognizes that this might seem an odd position to some for him to embrace.
“I know a lot of my friends don’t agree with me,” Henrikquez said, conceding that Trump’s talk of deporting illegal immigrants does give him pause. “It does, because I do have friends that I know are illegal and I hate that it may happen to them, but it’s just one of the facts of life. I hate to see them go.”
He’s a minority among his community, but he believes what he believes.
“I’ve been called a coconut, brown on the outside and white on the inside,” Henrikquez smiled. “But that’s what I support.”
“Y’all Ready for the Show?”
Leaning against the wall near the media entrance, Matt Gaetz surveyed the scene outside the Bay Center. The state representative and congressional hopeful had snagged a prime slot on the evening’s bill, playing rally emcee.
“Hey Mattie!” a group of guys called from the sidewalk. “What’s up?”
“Y’all ready for the show!?” Gaetz whooped a greeting.
Inside the venue, the young politico warmed up the crowd with breezy one-liners. He reminded them that the Clintons were “sellouts” — “Bill Clinton sold access to the Lincoln Bedroom to the Chinese!” — and that “crooked Hillary” should be in jail. He thanked them for missing out on Friday night high school football games to attend the rally.
“Raise your hand if this counts as date night,” Gaetz laughed.
The Northwest Florida congressional candidate also drew contrasts between the candidates and what he described as their respective views or versions of America. Trump’s America, he proposed, was the preferred destination.
“Do you want to live in Hillary Clinton’s America? We can do better, we’re American’s damn it!” Gaetz told the earlybird crowd. “In Donald Trump’s America we get back to winning again!”
To kick off the rally, recently defeated senatorial candidate and current state representative from Pensacola Mike Hill offered an invocation. He asked that God bless the Trump campaign and led the crowd in the Lord’s Prayer.
“Sure is nice in Pensacola,” noted Gaetz. “We still pray to God, don’t we?”
Gaetz proceeded to introduce a handful of conservative B-listers lined up to precede Trump on the stage. There was retiring Florida congressman Rep. Jeff Miller and Republican National Committee Co-Chairman Sharon Day.
Also on the bill was retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn. He informed the audience that “the biggest problem with Donald Trump is he tells the truth,” and tried to belay any concerns about the candidate’s temperament.
“I’ve gotten to know Mr. Trump well, very well, and I’ll tell you his temperament issue that’s come up is actually a strength,” Flynn said. “His temperament is about winning.”
The retired general, who has emerged as one of Trump’s top military advisers, was also able to cast the outcome of this year’s presidential election in direly dramatic fashion.
“This election will decide which direction our country will go, not just for the next four years, but for the next 40 or 400,” Flynn said. “We’ve got to get this election right.”
Next up, was former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Or, as his introduction always includes, “America’s mayor.”
Giuliani managed to ratchet up the room’s energy considerably, charging the air with his wild eyes and frantic hand gestures. The man that editorial pages have begun referring to affectionately as “unhinged,” drew parallels between the Reagan-era Cold War and today’s fight against terrorism, boiling everything down to an irrefutably simplistic simmer.
“They lose! We win!” he snarled.
Giuliani told attendees that Trump would secure the country’s boarders and “bring back jobs, jobs, jobs.” That he saw the candidate look Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto in the eye — “he didn’t blink!” — and that under a Trump presidency “China will look at us and they will be afraid.”
“That’s called negotiating from strength!” Giuliani said, harkening to Trump’s business roots.
And like every other speaker, Giuliani also took a few swipes at Clinton, chastising her for “the vicious, horrible, negative ads and saying terrible things about Donald Trump” and accusing the former secretary of state of lying to federal investigators.
“It’s a crime to lie to the FBI,” he said. “That’s what Martha Stewart went to jail for.”
While these warmups were nice, that’s not what brought the people out to the Bay Center. That’s not why folks had dressed their twin toddlers in conservative-themed onesies — “Lil’ Weepublican” and “Raised Right” — and its not why the Bikers for Trump showed up in matching shirts.
They came for The Donald. And soon they’d get him, emerging from a black cloaked tunnel — part catwalk, part birth canal — at the far end of the stage. Would pyrotechnics be involved?
Winning Again, So Tired of Winning
Trump opened up his speech with the pretty much the same load of bull he dropped during his local stop last winter.
“There’s thousands of people outside that can’t get in,” the candidate bragged. “This is what’s happening. It’s a movement like they have never seen before.”
It clearly wasn’t true, as the venue could have accommodated additional people. As a member of the Bay Center staff stationed at the entrance would later put it, “the stragglers got in.”
Never mind. It sounded good, and the crowd didn’t seem to care. They were enjoying hearing about how “a new American future will begin Nov. 8” and “the citizens of this country will be in charge again.”
“This will be your time, you’ll be running the show,” Trump said. “This is a movement like they’ve never seen. The show is beginning.”
Besides, Trump was nailing his Charlie Sheen impression.
“We’re gonna bring back victory, we’re going to bring back common sense,” the nominee told the crowd. “We’re going to bring back something that the country has not had in a long, long time, we’re going to start winning again!”
During his Pensacola stop, Trump managed to hit most of his bread-and-butter issues. Getting it rolling with some reliably crowd-pleasing media bashing.
“Very, very dishonest people,” Trump huffed at members of the media stationed in the press area, complaining that the size of his audience was never properly conveyed. “Why don’t you show the arena, fellas? Why don’t you turn those cameras? Why don’t you do that?”
This served to adequately rile the audience. Chants of “U.S.A.!” intermingled with the verbal barbs being lobbed into the press area.
“Tell the truth!” someone yelled.
“You suck!” another man jeered.
From there, Trump jumped from topic to topic. Suggesting imposing an import tax on companies choosing to manufacture goods outside the country, and trashing the Trans Pacific Partnership as “just another catastrophe.” Lamenting the United State’s relationship with China and assuring that “the era of economic surrender is over.” He talked about how he planned to overhaul the country’s education system — “we’ll be doing it with love and smarts, believe me” — and about how he would “lift up millions of African-Americans and Hispanics out of poverty.”
Trump spent considerable time speaking about the country’s military. He said its size and might would increase under his leadership, throwing out specific numbers he’d like to hit.
“Remember these three very famous words: peace through strength,” Trump explained.
The candidate offered specific examples of how he would have reacted differently to recent international events. He wondered how we could allow Russian planes to buzz by our ships — “taunting us, toying with us” — or how the Iranians managed to take custody of a group of U.S. sailors in the Persian Gulf.
“And listen, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and they make gestures at people that they shouldn’t be able to make, they will be shot out of the water,” Trump said.
The candidate also discussed the notion that he was too cozy with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He dismissed such talk, but said Putin did laugh at the current administration — “believe me he laughs” — and “takes them to the cleaners again and again.”
“‘Donald Trump likes Putin,’ ‘Putin likes Donald Trump.’ Honestly, I don’t know the gentleman,” Trump said, adding that the Russian leader had “been nice to me” and that perhaps the country could assist in fighting ISIS.
“I’ll tell you this, if we get along with Russia, that wouldn’t be so bad, would it?” Trump asked.
And there was the dire warning about the potential impact immigrating refuges could have on the country. A Trojan Horse nightmare, but worse.
“They won’t talk about the Trojan Horse 500 years from now,” Trump said, “they’ll be talking about what happened in the United States.”
And, of course, there was plenty of time spent on Clinton. On how she’s a “very dishonest candidate of the past” and “trigger happy” and “unfit” and “unstable.” About how she could walk into the venue and shoot someone without fear of prosecution and about how her policies will be accompanied by certain “death and destruction.”
“Hillary Clinton is not just part of the corrupt establishment,” Trump said. “She is the corrupt establishment.”
Throughout the speech, regardless of topic, there was a consistent thread. It was the thread Gaetz had laid out during the warm-ups: do you want to live in Hillary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s America?
The answer was painted as obvious. Trump was promising to deliver the goods. The jobs, the money, the pride, “no more apology tours.”
“When was the last time you can honestly say that you saw the United States do something that was great and you put your chest out and you said ‘that’s great!’? When does it happen? Doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen,” Trump said. “It’s gonna happen a lot. You’re gonna get so tired of winning.”
The After Party
Outside the Bay Center rally attendees filled the sidewalks and flowed to their cars. Maybe stopping off to purchase a button from the vendors still encamped across the street.
The group of protesters escorted from the building earlier stood out front. They’d been spared by the bikers — “a lot of yelling, a lot of cursing, pushing” — and were ready to elaborate on their abbreviated protest inside.
“Trump is a bigot, Trump is a racist, Trump is a homophobe,” Asia Smith, from Mobile, Ala., ticked off her list.
“We just plain don’t want him,” added Teresa de Jongh.
Across the street, heading against the flow from the venue, two men journeyed from Emerald City with giant rainbow flags. One also carried a standard-issue Trump campaign sign. They said the gesture was only half-ironic — they were also interested in the candidate’s relationship with the LGBT community.
“I don’t care about the crowd he attracts, I care about the candidate and what he believes in,” said Dwayne D. Beebe Franqui, noting that the candidate had made previous positive overtures to the community, but that he wasn’t convinced about the sincerity. “If he wants the LGBT vote he’s going to have to give more than lip service.”
And then there was the issue of Trump’s vice-presidential pick, Mike Pence. The Indiana governor is not viewed favorable in the LGBT community.
“This weekend he’s meeting the whole anti-gay community,” said David Cragin, referring to the candidate’s engagement before the Values Voter Summit.
The pair wasn’t entirely sure why they were venturing into the waning minutes of Trump’s campaign spectacle. People over at Emerald City had warned them not to.
“A lot of people said don’t go over there because you’re going to get shot,” Cragin said.
But so far their evening at the carnival was going well. The flags were adding a splash of color and the Trump crowd appeared delighted. They were jumping into the show, becoming part of the scene and infusing the evening’s script with some new energy.
“You don’t want to sell that one?” a Trump supporter asked, trying to buy Franqui’s sign as one more souvenir from the evening’s show, “I didn’t get a red one.”
Protesters & Bikers at the Pensacola Trump Rally (video)