Last night, I attended my first political rally in Springfield, Illinois. This is the same city where Barack Obama launched his 2008 presidential campaign near the old state capitol building. Of course, Springfield is most famous for being the home and resting place of Abraham Lincoln. So, I didn’t want to miss out on experiencing possibly a little slice of American history up close and personal. Actually, it was my 17-year-old daughter who convinced me to go. She’s not a Trump supporter but this is the first elections she’ll be able to vote in and she’s fired up.
I’m not a Trump supporter either, nor a Republican, so it felt a little odd being there but I wanted to be fair and try to understand his supporters. Looking through the crowd from my vantage point, I saw only 3 African Americans out of a sea of thousands of faces. There were some young people there but it was mostly middle-age, white people. Basically, it looked like the Republican Convention. Not much diversity there.
The biggest rounds of applause came when Trump attacked Hillary Clinton and President Obama. He said Hillary was the worst Secretary of State the country has ever had. I couldn’t help remembering that Trump was a staunch Hillary supporter in 2008. At least he has remained consistent in his utter disgust with Barack Obama. It was clear the crowd also shared in his disgust. One sure way to rally Republicans is to mention Obamacare or Benghazi. It works every time!
But Trump didn’t only attack Democrats as he went after Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Ben Carson with equally mocking rhetoric. It’s undeniable that Trump’s style is crass and unapologetic. Some in the crowd responded well to that and others not so much. I got the sense that there were quite a few Rubio supporters in the crowd but that many seemed to be in agreement that Jeb Bush really just needs to hang it up.
Early in Trump’s speech, a small number of people Hispanic people in the crowd chanted, “Trump, Trump, Trump,” and he thanked them twice. But it became clear that they were not there as supporters. It wasn’t Trump, Trump, Trump but Dump Trump, Dump Trump with a few “Feel the Bern” chants tossed in. With a quick swoosh of his right arm Trump shouted, “Get them out of here!” And the crowd went nuts. I had warned my daughter moments before that there would probably be hecklers in the crowd but she didn’t know what a heckler was. She found out real quickly.
There were also about a dozen protesters outside the convention center, mostly female college-aged students. Their signs read “Dump Trump” and “Feel the Bern”. One man referred to them as, “Silly socialists girls.”
The only time that Trump fell flat was when he spoke of Chicago, “Everyone loves Chicago.” The crowd moaned and booed. Obviously, Trump wasn’t aware that downstate Illinois, Springfield most profoundly, is not fond of Chicago. I think it took him by surprise.
I didn’t find myself agreeing with too many of his remarks other than his disdain for many of our trade agreements that have sent millions of American jobs overseas. My city has been hit hard by policies that have incentivized corporations to ship jobs elsewhere.
I was surprised to learn this morning that trending on Facebook was Trump’s statement on Starbucks red holiday cups. It really wasn’t a big part of his speech at all but Trump knows how to tap into trending topics to get attention. He suggested boycotting Starbucks and then said when he is president, “Everyone will be saying Merry Christmas.” That drew huge applause.
So, why do I think so many people are supporting Trump after attending one of his rallies? It’s clear that people are not interested in a moderate candidate, at least not on the GOP side. However, I think the same can be said of many Democrats in their support of Bernie Sanders. Both Trump and Sanders are tapping into a similar vein, which is people’s disgust with the status quo. I was a rabid Hillary Clinton supporter in 08 but I’m leaning heavily towards Sanders because I think the country needs more than tweaking. I think it needs major changes as do Trump’s supporters.
The funny thing is, Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters aren’t so different from one another. On both sides there’s a disgust with corporate America and what has become of the middle-class, like the fact that most of it has disappeared in the past 30 years. Like most elections, it’s probably going to come down to economics and there’s a lot of Americans who are suffering economically. The attraction to non-traditional candidates to traditional voters is there on both sides. That hasn’t been the case in many presidential elections.
This is a different feeling presidential election. No doubt about it. Let’s face it, it’s odd but it’s easily explainable. People want major changes and they’re willing to go unorthodox to make that happen.