By 4 p.m. Monday, two hours before the Donald Trump rally was scheduled to start, long lines of fans of the unconventional GOP presidential candidate already were stretching around Dallas’ American Airlines Center. Old-fashioned martial music was blaring from loudspeakers on the building’s north side, not far from a group of Latino protesters and a long-haired Anglo man holding a homemade sign that read, “The KKK and Nazis Support Trump. Do You?!” Two 20-something, frat-looking guys — Daniel Jensen and his pal “AP” — made a beeline for the man with the sign, but they were quickly intercepted by a couple of uniformed cops. “Get off the sidewalk,” one of the policemen snapped. And the frat-looking guys did.
Inside the big sports arena, meantime, the atmosphere was anything but contentious. Red, white, and blue signs saying, “The Silent Majority Stands with Trump” had been placed on many of the seats, and, on every third one or so, there was a tiny American flag. Down in front of the press riser, where CNN’s Gary Tuchman and Ben Ferguson and Gromer Jeffers of the Morning News and Bud Kennedy from the Star-Telegram were working, Chau and Sam Tila were holding their sign and waving their flag proudly. The Tilas, a Thai couple who live in Orange County, California, said they’d been visiting a friend in Frisco and heard about the rally on the radio.
“We like Trump’s style,” Chau said. Added her husband: “He’s a celebrity, like Ronald Reagan was a movie star. But not like Arnold. We don’t like Arnold.” As Sam was talking Calvin Hull, a Dallas commercial real estate broker, ambled past, and so did Byron York, a conservative columnist for the Washington Examiner who’s often seen on Fox News. Why was he in town? “I’m following Trump around, and I decided to see this one,” York explained, smiling slightly. “I’ll go back to the hotel tonight and write a piece about it. That’s what I do.” Just then Randy Barber, an independent courier from Mesquite, peered up into the press riser, fascinated and impressed by the TV reporters doing their stand-up shots.
What had brought him to the Trump rally? “It sounds corny, but he just makes you feel good,” Barber said. “He makes you proud to be American again. He’s somebody that’s successful, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I do believe he’s going to provide some jobs. I think his heart is in it, and I don’t think he’s a liar.” All around Barber the arena was filling up fast, and the loud music — “Heartland” by George Strait, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Stones — had the Trump aficionados pumped.
Among them: one woman in a dress made of dozens of photos of Trump, and two others clad in identical bejeweled caps and T-shirts that read like a voting ballot … “Republican, Democrat, and Pissed Off” (the Pissed Off box was checked; the other two were blank). Cheryl Surber, a hardcore “birther” activist from Fort Worth, explained why she’d made the drive to Dallas: “I love Trump, because he can’t be bought. He says things that people like me have been just screaming about. Politicians like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi are the reason we’re in the mess we’re in.”
Finally, after a couple of red-meat warm-up acts—”The silent majority will not be silent anymore!” one of the speakers cried—as well as a prayer by First Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress, it was time for The Donald to take the stage. “Wow!” the orange-haired real estate mogul exclaimed for openers, after a long, thunderous ovation. “You notice what’s missing tonight? Teleprompters! No Teleprompters!” And with that the candidate was off and running, riffing in his humorous, rambling, off-the-cuff style on the well-worn themes you’ve probably heard many times on Fox or MSNBC or CNN, if you’ve been paying attention at all.
The new polls have been coming out, Trump declared, and “we are really killing it.” The silent majority is back, and “it’s not silent. Maybe we should call it the noisy, aggressive, want-to-win majority.” The political media is less honest than the financial media, he said; “George Will is a disaster … and Karl Rove is a totally incompetent jerk.” President Obama also is incompetent — someone “who doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.” Trump is winning in Idaho, in South Carolina, in Florida, and so, “This is going to happen, I’m telling you. I’m not going anywhere.” He’s “surging with women,” whom he “cherishes,” and he has “tremendous energy — to the point that it’s almost ridiculous” — for this fight to bring back the American dream.
He’s funding his own campaign, while Jeb and Hillary are bought and paid for by the lobbyists and the special interests, Trump said. As a result he’ll be able to reduce taxes, to forge better deals with countries like China and Iran with the help of “phenomenal negotiators” like Carl Icahn, and to stop the flow of illegal immigrants with a wall along the Mexican border. The reason: “Walls work. All you have to do is go to Israel to see — walls work.” He’ll also repeal and replace Obamacare (“We’ll call it Donaldcare,” he said), make “our military so strong and so powerful,” and take care of the country’s military veterans. Then, wrapping up: “We’re going to do fantastically well. If I’m elected, you’re going to be so proud of your country again. You’ll remember this evening. You’ll say to your children, we were part of the movement to take back our country. We will make America great again!” With that the arena exploded with cheers and applause, and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”—the Trump campaign theme—blasted out over the P.A. while The Donald pumped hands and signed autographs and then left the building.
Down in front of the stage, a group of Dallas high-rollers began drifting away with the rest of the crowd: billionaire banker Andy Beal (he’s been a friend of Trump’s for at least 10 years, he said), residential Realtor Allie Beth Allman, Tom Bennison of ClubCorp, Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne. Is the mayor a Trump supporter? “I haven’t endorsed anybody yet,” Van Duyne answered carefully. But,what did she think of his talk? “Entertaining.” Then there were “AP” and Daniel Jensen, the two guys who’d tried to talk to the protestor with the KKK and Nazi sign outside the arena earlier, only to be rebuffed by the cops. They said they thought the Hitler comparison was a little “excessive.”
In an email late Monday night, Jensen recalled speaking with me at the rally. “I believe we may have compared [the Trump candidacy] to Charlie Sheen’s ‘Tornado of Truth Tour,’ which was also hosted at the AAC a few years back,” Jensen wrote. “In fairness to Trump, though, this comparison was made before he took to the stage. Whether it actually was a sort of tornadic disaster is up for you to decide. [But] his speech did seem to share, at times, the sort of spontaneous and indiscriminate trajectory of a tornado.” Jensen was right. And it was a helluva storm.