In many ways, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s rally today in Mesa felt a lot like the one he did in Phoenix earlier this year – just on steroids.
The message was the same: “We’re going to stop illegal immigration, we’re going to take back trade, take back jobs…We’re going to start winning again [and we won’t] let other people take advantage of us.”
But everything else about it was grandiose or otherwise classically trumped up – consider the venue, an airplane hangar in the Phoenix-Mesa airport with a dramatic view of airplanes outside or the heightened security checks and dark aviator-clad security patrolling the premise.
Even Trump’s entrance was over the top.
As his giant airplane — emblazoned with the word “TRUMP” — pulled up to the venue, a male voice boomed over the loudspeaker:
“Ladies and gentlemen, the plane has landed.” The crowd erupted into applause, the noise amplifying as it bounced off of the metal walls. The sound technicians took their cue and turned on the loud, dramatic music from the movie Air Force One.
After about five minutes, the plane’s engines rumbled to a stop and a mobile staircase was rolled over to the door.
As Trump descended, pausing every so often for that presidential photo-op, the music suddenly changed: “We’re not gonna take it anymore,” boomed through the building and people screamed or chanted, “Trump, Trump, Trump!”
“We love you, Trump!” one man shouted.
“Make America great again, baby! Oh yeah!” said another.
“In Trump we trust. He’s our only savior.”
Trump, surrounded by a security fleet in sunglasses, was escorted to the back of the room where a makeshift stage was erected since he had agreed to do a short interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly first.
He apologized to the audience for the delay but promised that after it, “We’re going to talk about all the important things for as long as you want.”
Snippets of Trump’s interview could be heard over the loud speaker: “He’s doing poorly,” he said about Jeb Bush. “And honestly, I feel a little bad for him.”
“I bring up important subjects [like] immigration. If I hadn’t brought it up, guys like you wouldn’t be talking about it,” he told O’Reilly a few minutes later.
While O’Reilly’s side of the interview wasn’t audible, at one point Trump appeared to respond to a comment about his lack of government experience by declaring: “I think I know more about policy than just about anyone, Bill.”
Whenever Trump fired off at the media – his two favorite targets of the day seemed to be Fox's Megyn Kelley and Charles Krauthammer – the audience’s cheers overwhelmed the room, interrupting the interview with O’Reilly.
“Hey Bill,” Trump yelled, pointing to the crowd behind him, “two days; 15,000 people. That’s pretty good.”
There were 3,000 people present.
“Merry Christmas, Bill,” Trump said as the interview wrapped up. “Merry Christmas – we’ll bring back the words ‘merry Christmas,’”
The audience went absolutely nuts.
As Trump stood up, the loud music resumed, and the candidate, surrounded by the guys in sunglasses, made his way back through a sea of supporters to the front podium.
For those in the audience hoping their candidate would make a new outlandish remark – it’s been about a week and a half since he called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States – Trump didn’t deliver.
His campaign speech, which meandered from foreign policy to domestic policy to Hillary Clinton’s love for pantsuits, was nothing he hadn’t said before.
He took jabs at Bush – “Last night, ugh. I had Jeb come at me – you know, low energy – and then I hit back hard.”
He railed against super-PACS, the nuclear deal with Iran, and those advocating for greater gun-control laws. He promised to dismantle Common Core, and even said President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Clinton were specifically responsible for the Syrian refugee crisis facing Europe today.
“We are led by the stupidest people. I used to say they were incompetent, I didn’t want to say stupid—that wouldn’t be nice,” he told the room, adding that the time has come to start using the word “stupid” because it appropriately describes the country’s political leaders.
After talking for about an hour, Trump appeared ready to wrap up the speech, but not before waxing nostalgic about how, when he started “this journey” in June, he was really concerned about trade and the border –“nobody can be stronger than me on the border,” he added. But then the attacks in Paris happened, and his focus began to shift to foreign policy.
And now the polls show, he stated, “that everybody wants Trump for protection because they know I know what I’m doing.”
For a rally with such a dramatic opening, the end, was relatively lackluster – no fireworks or balloon drops or confetti explosions.
Trump promised, as he has hundreds of time in the last few months, that he, and he alone, could “take this country back and make America great again.”
He then waved, posed for a few photos, and returned to his plane.
As the audience poured out of the venue, a few dozen protesters across the street amped up their anti-Trump rhetoric. At times they incited short shouting matches with event attendees, but the scene remained peaceful – a small kerfuffle erupted in the parking lot between two anti-Trump protesters and a few Trump supporters, but a flood of Mesa police officers quickly squashed it.
With the exits of the parking lot bottle-necked, many sat in the back of pickup trucks or huddled in small groups to chat while waiting for traffic to die down.
The parking-lot scene was celebratory – like a small, beer-less tailgate — though all conversation seemed to cease when Trump’s giant airplane headed down the runway and up into the sky.
“Trummmpppp!!!” many yelled over the noise of the plane. Most others, however, just raised their arms into the air and waved goodbye.