The approach to the Millington Jetport Hangar, where Donald Trump was to speak on Saturday evening, was a long, slow crawl for miles of automobiles bumper-to-bumper. It had the look of Woodstock to it, and, at 5:45 p.m., the car queues were being diverted away from the main approaches by uniformed local officers of various kinds and onto a back road that emptied directly onto the tarmac. From there it was a not-too-longish trek by foot through a gated area where peddlers a-plenty were selling Trump paraphernalia and finally, through metal-processing points into the hangar.
Uncharacteristically for the presidential campaigns in this election year (and unlike Trump’s once or twice in New Hampshire when the snows fell hard), this event conformed fairly closely to the advance schedule. At roughly 6 p.m., the appointed time, Trump’s big private jet taxied up close to the massive hangar’s open area, where a speaking platform had been set up, and the huge crowd inside the hangar, easily numbering several thousand, let up a roar, simultaneous with the raising of a host of cell-phone cameras to capture the event.
There had been rumors that Trump would have a surprise guest, and, sure enough, down the ramp, along with Trump came New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the recent presidential-campaign dropout whose endorsement of Trump on Friday had somewhat offset that day’s other big news meme, his brutal tag-team mugging by opponents Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in Friday’s Republican debate in Houston, broadcast by CNN.
Even as Trump and his new bromance bud strode up to the speaking stand, the continually building roar gave sufficient proof that The Donald had lost no luster among these masses, a packed-in assembly of just-folks Americana, largely white to be sure, but otherwise running across various class, gender, and age lines, from cap-and-jeans blue-collarites to a generously sized section for people in wheel chairs to the likes of Steve Ehrhart, the dapper Liberty Bowl exec who pointed out that he had grown acquainted with Trump in New York, presumably in the course of some deal that must have redounded to the benefit of both.
Christie spoke first, issuing some preliminary blasts at Rubio and Cruz and making it clear to the crowd that his endorsement of Trump was something more than that, it was an enlistment in the same cause that had attracted the thousands of attendees.
And then there was Trump. It was the usual philippic, mixing boasts, such as a claim that “every poll” had shown that he had won “every debate” with his rivals with familiar insults of those rivals, especially of “little Marco” — depicted by Trump as a quivering, sweaty-wet about-ready-to-pass-out “choke artist” whom he had spotted overtly leaguing with Cruz in a conspiratorial handshake before Thursday’s debate — and a distancing of himself from the rest of the field, too, indeed from the whole of the GOP establishment, with a claim that he was ever “the nicest person” on any stage with any of them and proudly boasting that he was creating a new Republican Party, indeed a new American consensus, including Democrats and independents as well.
The crowd, which was plainly not the usual muster of political junkie-dom (though any number of local GOP regulars could be spotted here and there) was uproariously with him on all of this, chanting “Win! Win! Win!” along with Trump and delighting also in his disparaging of the ex-Mexican president Vincente Fox who had famously said on Fox News that Mexico would not pay for the “faw-king” wall Trump says he’ll build on the border. The crowd rejoiced at Trump’s mockery of Fox and his tut-tutting at the “f-bomb” usage, and it suddenly became possible to imagine this and future such crowds hailing threats against uppity nations, near and far, that might go beyond the employment of bricks and mortar and electric wire.
Not that Trump, who for the record is much more non-interventionist in a military sense than his fellow GOP contenders, sounded any violent note per se. Indeed, when, as often happens at one of his rallies, a protester began to chant against him from inside the hangar, he calmly directed the crowd to “get him out” but “don’t hurt him.” And so the crowd did, with its counter-chant morphing from "Trump! Trump! Trump!" to "Win! Win! Win!"And finally to "U.S.A.! U.S.A! U.S.A!"
Call it what else you will, but this is a movement.
Meanwhile, Rubio and Cruz, building on what they must have imagined to have been the great gains of the debate, were releasing their tax returns over the weekend in the apparent belief that they could shame Trump thereby and embarrass him in the eyes of the American electorate.
It was hard to imagine such a thought crossing the minds of those in these approving multitudes. In fact, it was absurd to think they would side with the battling Mambo Brothers or the IRS against their new idol — or hold him blameful for possibly gaming a system that has done them no favors.
Could Trump, as he had boasted, actually get away with shooting someone at high noon on Fifth Avenue? With these supporters, he might. Not with the law, but — to say it again — Trump is come not to uphold the law but to abolish it.
Finally, there was the after-speech rope line, with Trump spending serious person-to-person time with each beseecher that handed him a cap or a poster or even an American flag to sign or smiling for the inevitable selfie. All the while there were desperate cries of “Mr. Trump! Mr. Trump!” from people trapped behind secondary rope lines further back, still hopeful, despite evidence to the contrary, that they, too, might get close enough to touch or be touched.
And then, finally, he was aboard the plane and gone, off on his quest to Make America Great Again, no doubt secure in his conviction that the minions he left behind in the Memphis area would go to the polls on Super Tuesday, just three days away, and do the right thing by him.