‘They say he’s not going to win re-election,’ blurted a tank top-wearing twenty-something as he scanned the crowd outside SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. ‘But look at this shit!’
Pressed into the throng, I couldn’t help but agree. At his first re-election rally in New England, President Trump’s supporters had filled the arena’s 12,000 seats. Denied entry, thousands more filled an adjacent plaza in which the campaign had erected a jumbotron.
For them, proximity to the Trump rally was well worth the afternoon heat and the sticky urban humidity. Many wore Red Sox shirts or Patriots jerseys. Dozens showed up in shirts reading ‘Donald Fuckin’ Trump’ on the front and ‘I’m President, Bitch’ on the back, or ‘Trump 2020: Fuck Your Feelings’. True New Englanders all.
The red-hatted host — a diverse bunch including South Asians, blacks and Orthodox Jews — milled about the packed plaza. Restless clusters of the audience broke out into short-lived ‘USA’ chants at random while waiting for the president. A token protest gathered far to their rear, but it soon dissipated. So dwarfed by the pro-Trump crowd, it was invisible and inaudible to most in the plaza.
When Trump began to speak, the crowd fell silent. Then the rally’s first full chant began.
‘Turn it up!’ the overflow audience roared. The jumbotron’s volume was too low to hear the president’s opening lines.
During Trump’s remarks about the economy and the great benefits reaped by the people of New Hampshire, almost every sentence received an ovation. A rally audience seldom disapproves of being called ‘the heart and soul of America’. Of course, the appreciation was sincere. Trump’s crass sense of humor (highlighting the ‘weight problem’ of a disruptive protester, for instance) was perfectly suited to his audience of blue-collar New England conservatives, and he knew it. He praised his audience for defying New Hampshire’s reputation for ‘very staid, elegant’ people.
Trump on protestor removed from rally: "That guy's got a serious weight problem. Go home, start exercising." pic.twitter.com/0nZGnbzAXD
— Axios (@axios) August 16, 2019
The viewers’ loudest cheers and applause came as Trump proclaimed that ‘the forgotten men and women of America will never, ever be forgotten again’. This kind of expression is the essence of Trump’s appeal. The drive into Manchester demonstrates just how poorly past administrations had remembered the towns and cities of New Hampshire.
Trump’s compliments to his campaign staff and various New Hampshire Republican leaders bored the viewers, who offered only lukewarm applause — until he mentioned Corey Lewandowski. The invocation of Lewandowski, a Granite Stater, inspired cheers. Touted by Trump, his potential 2020 US Senate run from New Hampshire elicited even more.
Only once did the outdoor audience’s applause for Trump falter. A few boos were heard when he declared his intention to keep guns out of the hands of the insane. Unyielding an inch, New Hampshire Republicans take ‘Live Free or Die’ quite seriously. Still, there was no dissent when Trump declared his support for involuntary commitment.
The crowd thinned as the night went on and three hours of standing started to take its toll. A haze of cigarette smoke settled low on the viewers. Attendees trickled out of the venue and through the crowd.
‘The audio’s better out here than it was inside,’ a man said as he left the arena.
Nearby, a butch young woman took an iPhone video of herself and her neighbors. ‘Where are all the Klan members the media keeps talking about? I don’t see any!’ she said, grinning at the camera. ‘Everyone’s been pretty nice here.’
At the end of the night, those out in the plaza didn’t seem to mind that they weren’t inside. They recognized the rally’s success. While the Democrats stumble through their primaries and away from average voters, the president drew thousands to gather momentum — in New England.
And they say he’s not going to win re-election.