Yesterday Amanda and I attended the Donald Trump rally in Colorado Springs. Since announcing his presidential bid in June 2015 we’d heard much about his candidacy, as all other non-cave dwellers probably have.
But we wanted to hear him, unfiltered. And we wanted to better understand his supporters, which in a few weeks will constitute 35 to 40 percent percent of our fellow Coloradan voters (per recent polls). Plus, we thought this might be our last opportunity — Election Day is rapidly approaching, and a Trump rally in Boulder is, well, improbable.
In a break from backpacking gear lists and poop tutorials, I’d like to share some thoughts about the event. It will be apparent where I will come down this Election Day, although with a different candidate I might have checked a different box. I first registered to vote as a Republican. As a small business owner I regularly encounter state and federal regulations that discourage me from growing it. I believe that free markets are best for economies and public policy. I’m a hunter and a gun-owner. And in my twenties I took several long walks through what is now known as Trump country, like Appalachia, the Rust Belt, and the rural West.
If you’d like to watch the full event for yourself, go for it:
Expectations mostly met
Little about Trump or the crowd surprised us. His speech was a compilation of lines that I had heard previously in the news or on the debate stage. And his supporters were almost entirely white and working class; we saw just one black guy, although he seemed like he was there to spectate, like us.
The event was more subdued than I thought it might be. The crowd moved quietly through security beforehand, and dispersed peacefully afterwards. There were no altercations with the half-dozen protesters, and no mob-cheering while I was there. Trump stuck to his teleprompter, with a delivery that seemed half-hearted relative to the fiery riffing from earlier in the campaign. I can sympathize with how he might be feeling at this point — I, too, have spent months on the road as a lonely entertainer.
The media: Public enemy #1
On multiple occasions Trump slammed “the dishonest media,” which elicited boos from the crowd every time. Overall, I think he spent more time talking about the media than about the woman who stands in his way of the White House, Hillary Clinton. This odd behavior seems better explained by TrumpTV theories than conventional campaign wisdom.
The right’s media-bashing has always sounded whiney to me. When the Big Three broadcast channels dominated American televisions, this may have been a more valid case. But cable television and the internet have allowed new outlets to flourish, and Americans can now pick the sources that best fit their narrative, fortunately or unfortunately.
Hyperbole, half-truths & credibility
I like facts and data. I appreciate counter arguments. And I’m comfortable with nuance and complexity. So when Trump speaks in hyperbole, half-truths or conspiracies, and overly simplistic terms, I struggle to take him seriously.
For example, he described his campaign as “maybe the greatest movement in the history of our country,” (16:15). But I think most would hesitate in putting it on par with Civil Rights, the New Deal, or the original Tea Party. He alleged voter fraud — and specifically referenced Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis — (18:10) without any evidence and despite assurances to the contrary by Republican officials.
And he described NAFTA as “the worst trade deal ever signed, ever made, by anybody in the world” (19:55). No doubt, it has ravaged parts of our country, especially the Rust Belt, but repealing it would hurt industries in Colorado and elsewhere. Colorado exports $1+ billion in goods to Mexico, including $350 million in agricultural products; Mexico is our second biggest export market behind Canada. Plus, I’ve never heard Trump mention any other trade deal besides NAFTA and TPP, so I wonder if he really has the context to make such a statement.
Trump pointed out that he is self-funding his campaign. That’s not entirely true, but he has contributed much more to his campaign than other presidential candidates did or have.
When you look at the treatment of special interests in our tax regulations and appropriations bills, it’s difficult not to conclude that campaign contributions at least buy access, if not outright legislation. Self-funded campaigns could be part of the solution. Although I’m pretty sure that I don’t want all of our elected officials to be billionaires, either.
There was no mention of a Muslim ban, a fat Miss Universe contestant, a biased federal judge from Indiana with Mexican heritage, a loser Vietnam POW, or a weak and ineffective House Speaker. He avoided locker room talk, and he didn’t tell the crowd that he’d pay their legal bills if they beat up protesters. If he’d been able to avoid the most offensive statements and controversies of his campaign, I wonder if Colorado would still be considered a battleground state.
America First nativism
Besides his criticism of the media, the largest applause lines had nativist (aka “America First”) themes. To paraphrase: “Build the wall and make Mexico pay for it. Renegotiate our awful trade deals and bring our jobs back. Keep out Syrian refugees. Prohibit lobbying by foreign countries and firms.”
The crowd clearly believed that they have been hurt — their jobs, their culture, their safety — by an increasingly global world. Unless we want another divisive campaign like the one we’ve had, our next round of elected officials should try to address some of the issues that have caused these feelings.
Cause for economic pessimism?
Claims that “the economy is a disaster” and that there are “no jobs” and “no growth” sound particularly out of place in Colorado. Our state unemployment rate is 3.8 percent, as of August; the economy has added 1.1 million new jobs since 1990, an increase of 70 percent. And the median home price in the state has increased 37 percent since 2007 in the depths of the housing crisis, and increased 11 percent last year alone.
I understand why Trump’s economic pessimism resonates elsewhere, like my wife’s hometown in rural northern Michigan. There is always room for improvement, but in Colorado the future looks very bright.
Short on details
If Trump has specific policy plans to accomplish the laundry list of things he claims he will do as President, he did not share them. He said, for example, that he will create 25 million new jobs in 10 years. That’d be awesome! But how? Reforming the tax code, eliminating or rewriting regulations, opening up new international markets, increasing infrastructure spending? Crickets. Thankfully, his website has a few more details, shorter in length than a term paper I may have written for a public policy class in college. Still, the man on the stage gave me nothing to think that he cares about these finer points or that he thinks it important to educate his electorate on the issues.
This was a new proposal, to me and the campaign (which announced it a day earlier). Its proposals — which would ban Congressional members and executive branch officials from lobbying for five years after they leave office, among other things — seem intuitive, and I’d love to hear this debated more. In a campaign speech that was otherwise devoid of details, this tangent was refreshing.
When is Clinton coming?
Election Day is less than three weeks away. If HRC gets back to Colorado, I suspect that Amanda and I will have a shorter drive to see her.