Everyone except Kasich is in Iowa, so I’m returning home to shovel snow for a few days. Last night, I went to a Trump rally in Strafford county, town of Farmington, population less than 7,000. Trump manages to fill a high school gymnasium (maybe 800 people) in a town 35 miles from the nearest highway. (The only comparable in size event I’ve seen was a Hillary rally in Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city. As with previous Trump rallies, I am struck by the middle American, blue-collar normalness of the crowd. There is a short video here. A full range of ages, equally divided between women and men (a contrast to Hillary rallies where the ratio seems closer to 2-1). This demographic—“uncredentialed white people” in Mickey Kauss’s good phrase, have been singled out for the short end of the stick. Declining wages, declining life expectancies. If it was happening to any other group, it would be deemed a national crisis.
But people are cheerful here this evening. You have to park about 600 yards away, and make your way through the snow, but no one seems to mind. A few days prior, Byron York published an interesting story about interviewing state Republican luminaries at a political event last Saturday. Not only were none of them for Trump, but in most cases they claimed to not even know anyone who was for Trump. Considering these are people who make their living in politics, and that Trump holds a substantial lead in all the their state’s polls, this is a breathtaking admission.
With this in mind, I went around asking people before the event if they planned to vote for Trump (more than half said yes, no one said no) and what was their estimate of how many people in this crowd would get out and actually cast a vote for Trump. Or do people just come for the entertainment? I asked about a dozen people. All were from the area, so I assume to some extent they know their neighbors. The estimates ranged from half to about 80 percent, the median probably about 60 percent.
My guess is that a political scientist would consider that soft support, and it’s a pretty safe bet that the turnout will be lower here than amongst those attending a Jeb Bush town hall (where everyone is very nice, and “credentialed”). On that basis, I predict Trump would perform less well than his polls on election day, but not overwhelmingly so.
I’ve seen Trump speak three times now, and have grown tired of the basic speech. That doesn’t mean that those at the event were similarly restless, though the whole show seems very much toned down. The only real zest in it is when he’s going after Ted Cruz (“The Canadian,” someone yelled out). I wonder when he will begin to fill out what he can actually do to make America better, besides not hiring “idiots,” or making sure we have the “best people” negotiating for us. It would be nice if some of the best people were actually advising him now. I’ve made it clear before that I think Trump’s basic instincts in foreign and domestic policy are very good; his independence from the neoconservative or business oriented Beltway think tanks is as felicitous as his independence from their campaign contributions. I’m not sure when evoking General Patton and General MacArthur ceases to suffice, for any voter, as an meaningful indication of foreign policy direction.
Then again, what audiences hear from other candidates is hardly better, even if it is more detailed. Jeb Bush manages to say, in one five minute span, that we need show respect for Muslims in order to fight ISIS and that we will move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thereby signaling our acquiescence to Israel’s unilateral claim to the Holy City. (There is a reason, Jeb, why no previous president has done this.)
Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.