Even before walking in the doors of the Broad River Electric Cooperative town hall with Donald J. Trump, it was clear this was a different sort of political event than the small, personal events Rubio and Cruz had held earlier in the day. Secret Service agents were stationed at each entrance with metal detectors at the ready. Inside was a huge space filled with folding chairs and a special, fenced-off area for the media.
The event opened with a prayer, the pledge of allegiance, and the national anthem playing as a slideshow of pictures of various servicemen and veterans graced screens scattered throughout the room. An employee from Broad River spoke about the three most important things to their cooperative — energy, education, and economic development — before leaving the stage and beginning a half-hour break.
For a half hour, the media stood in the center of the room in their pen, supporters chatted and exchanged compliments on the “Make America Great Again” hats and “Silent Majority” posters they sported, and Trump’s playlist blared through the speakers, featuring plenty of Van Halen, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and “Rocket Man” at least three times. Music still blasting, Trump’s name was theatrically announced as if at a sporting event. The crowd went wild, yelling and waving their signs.
Trump opened in a usual fashion, talking about how wonderful all the people in South Carolina are and how much business he has done there, before being very blunt: “If you’re going to vote for somebody else, just don’t vote.”
Either Trump is an extremely talented actor, or (more likely) his stump speech is not rehearsed at all. While familiar phrases (“I don’t have time for political correctness,” “we have a president that won’t say radical Islam,” and “we’re building a wall”) were definitely present, his speech seemed to be coming straight from his stream of consciousness. In the middle of a point about Obamacare, he changed course abruptly and reminded the audience that Jeb Bush “has zero chance” and Ted Cruz is a liar. In between a discussion on torture tactics with ISIS and a story about getting to know James Foley’s family, he slipped in that he had said in 2004 it would be unwise to go into Iraq.
However jumbled his strategy may be, Trump certainly gets his points across. Not two minutes could go by without a line leaving many members of the audience on their feat clapping. One popular method he used to get the crowd riled up was attacking the media. Pointing often to the risers on which reporters and videographers stood, Trump would exclaim that they are “the most dishonest, terrible people,” leaving his supporters with a common enemy to rally against.
Trump’s consistent lead in national polls and in South Carolina suggest he is doing something to set him apart from the other candidates, and his town hall spoke volumes to that. The large venues he employs rather than the small restaurants and gyms that his opponents prefer give him a wider reach, but they also lose the aspect of intimacy that is traditionally sought after by primary candidates. The one surprise blow to this campaign so far has been Trump’s loss in Iowa to Cruz. Perhaps this loss was due to the lack of personal connection that inspires the electorate to actually go to the polls. If this is the case, the same thing may happen again in South Carolina, and perhaps the polls will once again be mistaken.