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Trump Still Alive After Iowa

Like the global elite he disdains, his appeal isn't going away.

No post-Iowa polls have appeared at this writing, but everyone wants to know whether Donald Trump’s New Hampshire lead will survive his supposedly surprising defeat in Iowa. Of course, finishing second in Iowa wasn’t really astonishing: the New York Times pointed out two weeks ago that his ground organization in the state was more or less pathetic. NBC’s Chuck Todd observed, correctly I think, that Trump might have finished third or fourth if he hadn’t made a desperate push there in the last two weeks—like cramming for a final after not going to classes all semester. Meanwhile, Rubio and especially Cruz had been working the state for the entire semester. In any case, I doubt the meme you may have heard a lot of in the last two days: that this single setback will collapse Trump’s followers’ magical belief in his apparent invincibility and “burst his bubble,” so that they will all decide sensibly to stay home next Tuesday.

Some evidence was provided by the turnout for the Trump rally in Milford, New Hampshire on Tuesday evening, one night after Iowa. Roughly five thousand people were packed to standing-room-only capacity into two buildings in an athletic facility with indoor tennis courts.

Many people go to sports events or concerts all the time where there are more than 5,000 people. But they are likely in major cities. It’s worth relating what you have to go through to attend a large Trump event. For the Milford rally, you had to drive your car to a designated nearby parking lot sometime between 4 and 5 p.m. Then you had to wait outside for 15 or 20 minutes for a shuttle bus to collect you and take you to the rally site. Then you waited outside in line for maybe an hour, went through airport-style security, entered the building, and waited once more—standing up, surrounded by the crowd, and wearing all your winter clothes—for an hour for Donald Trump to appear. It might have been cold outside, but inside, it is warm, too warm. No one fainted, to my surprise. I haven’t seen another political event in New Hampshire draw more than 600.

Trump was endorsed by Scott Brown, the handsome Massachusetts-turned-New Hampshire figure who narrowly lost a Senate bid to popular incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in 2014. Brown is an appealing and somewhat populist politician. He doesn’t say much that is especially brilliant, but people like seeing and hearing him. It’s an endorsement that certainly helps Trump.

Before Brown introduced Trump, Ann Coulter spoke for ten minutes. I knew Ann slightly in the late ’80s and ’90s when she was a smart lawyer and aspiring journalist, long before she was her own brand. It’s really quite a show, this woman with a luxuriant mane of blonde hair and a flamboyantly broad-A accent letting out a long series of subtle, ironic right-wing nationalist jibes. In a different era, 30 or 40 years ago, her class affect might have irritated a Trump crowd. What’s that debutante got to say that could possibly interest us? But times have changed. People who on ethnic, class, and cultural bases might once have been at each other’s throats are all threatened, if not equally, by the elite program to get rid of America’s borders. Ann was received warmly. “She’s really funny” was the phrase I most overheard in the crowd around me.

I’m not sure what more to say about Trump. This is the fourth time I’ve heard him in a month. He doesn’t talk about policy in any serious way, he just riffs. Much of what he says I very much disagree with. (I think climate change is a major problem; I support the Iran deal). But that really isn’t the main point. The main point is, if I were to put it in a way Trump never would, much of the bipartisan establishment believes that borders are an outdated concept (except for Israel’s borders, which are sacrosanct), and that human progress requires higher levels of immigration and no real barriers to international trade. If Americans are hurt by these policies, so what? Their residual nationalism is outdated, if not actually bigoted. Anyway, that’s what much of the establishment, left and right, apparently believes.

No one knows whether Trump would actually do anything to slow or stop these processes. But he might. He is, after all, not paid for by the special interests pushing these agendas. And the only other candidate who might is a socialist, less appealing for myriad other reasons.

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.



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