I’m not sure what I was expecting when I went to the Donald J. Trump rally Thursday afternoon, but I wasn’t expecting anything quite so low key.
There were probably 6,000 or 7,000 people on hand, and while they waved signs and cheered loudly enough, it seemed to me that they were mostly excited about the fact that they were finally able to attend a Trump rally, rather than passionate about Trump himself.
What was even more surprising was that Trump seemed so much less menacing in person. All the comparisons with Hitler seemed ludicrous. He’s no Hitler and he’s no Mussolini. Hell, he’s not even a Huey Long.
He seemed more like that one very talkative uncle who was a star quarterback in high school and is still talking about the glory days 40 years later. In fact, Trump seemed like that one drunken uncle, you know, the druncle who’s always going on and on and on.
I was glad David Crisp was covering the actual speech. I don’t know how you’d untangle it. It was hardly a speech at all, but rather a collection of enthusiastic statements, odd, rambling, word-association riffs and stories that never quite got finished.
At one point he said something about a boxer who told him the trick was to knock the other guy out, or something like that. He paused, trying to capture a thought.
“Boxers,” he said. “I know lots of boxers. I love ’em.”
He knows lots of world leaders, too, and rich people in the Middle East. Loves ’em all, except the ones he wants to bomb.
The warmup speakers all made more sense than Trump, but the main speaker was a bit odd, too. She was Tammy Hall—she said it was “Just like Tammany Hall but without the corruption”—a motivational speaker and Republican activist from Bozeman.
She was a little volcano of enthusiasm in a red skirt who proclaimed her love of Jesus nearly as often as she spoke in support of Trump. There was some cheering every time she mentioned her Christian faith, but the crowd really loved it when she said she was born in Canada and had to become a U.S. citizen “the right way.”
Among other things, she said, “I had to prove I could speak the language.”
U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., also spoke, Billings Mayor Tom Hanel said a prayer, and Kristi Ostlund, wife of Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund, did a fine job of singing the National Anthem.
Before Trump’s entrance, an anonymous voice came over the sound system to say that while Trump is as big a supporter of the First as he is of the Second Amendment, this was a private affair, and protesters who made a stink would be escorted out of the building.
Anonymous urged Trump supporters not to harm the protesters, provoking much laughter, but merely to surround them with signs and chant “Trump, Trump,” until police officers arrived.
But there was not a hint of opposition, and, it must be said, no bad vibes of any kind, inside or outside of the building. It was a very Montana crowd, you might say. Trump did take a swipe or two at the media, but he spoke favorably more than once of Carl Cameron—he called him “Campaign Carl”—Fox News Channel’s chief political correspondent.
Tammy Hall also singled Cameron out for praise, saying he was her favorite. I was standing very close to Cameron in the media section. He put his hands together and bowed slightly at the compliment. I think he might even have blushed a bit.
But no one seemed the least bit annoyed with those of us in the media section. In fact, I was walking through one of the arena’s enormous corridors and dropped my driver’s license (I was carrying it in case I wanted to exit and come back in through security) when I pulled my phone out of my pocket.
A woman who appeared to be with the Trump organization, judging from all the insignia bearing his name, picked it up and called out to me, then handed my license over with a sweet smile, even though I was slinging a camera and wearing a media pass.
I’ll hang onto that moment of everyday kindness as long as I can. Election Day is a long ways away.