If in the early hours of a Saturday morning there is a traffic jam in your neighborhood, it won’t be because it’s the opening day of the county fair. These days, it’s more likely to be Donald Trump.
In Waterbury, Conn., this past weekend, three days before the state primary, people began lining up at 4 a.m.; the doors opened at 7 for a rally scheduled for 10. The adults being led to the overflow room were as disappointed as the children finding out that that they had been awoken early for politics, not a carousel and cotton candy.
Trump rallies are almost always the same because the candidate resists advice to grow in his candidacy. A rant about his wins, the polls, the wall, Obamacare, rotten deals and the awfulness of the media (which made him).
There is always one protester to be escorted out – though politely now – and interesting political wear hawked outside, a small demonstration of Trump’s ability to create jobs. As he begins to focus his heaviest insults on Hillary Clinton, the merch has evolved, too. So now you can own a T-shirt adorned with slogans such as “Hillary for Prison,” “Trump the B---ch” or one comparing Monica and Hillary that is too blue to quote.
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There is one moment of suspense: Will the Good, Presidential Trump show up along with the Off-the-Cuff, Stream-of-Consciousness, Insult-Spewing Trump?
The candidate’s new aide, the Republican establishment-whisperer Paul Manafort, was dispatched to the Republican National Committee’s meeting in Florida last week to court the very party officials who Trump accuses of running a rigged system. Manafort described the serious, presidential Donald who is known only to those who see him when the cameras are off.
This is a novel twist on an old trope about the real human said to inhabit every candidate. There was a funny Al Gore inside the somber one. There is another Clinton who approves staff proposals with a chipper “okey-dokey, artichokey,” douses everything with hot sauce she carries in her bag (for “health reasons,” of course), and throws her head back in raucous laughter when amused.
This may be the first time in political history that a candidate has been urged to be more Gore-like. The Trump you see – spontaneous, one-of-the-crowd, seeming to be having fun – is not the real man. We’re to believe that within the reality show star is a more authentic persona, ready to be chiseled onto Mount Rushmore, as stiff as a pinstripe and grim as an accountant.
The RNC meeting had barely adjourned before tissue-rejection of Manafort’s proposed personality transplant set in. In Waterbury, Trump said how easy it is to be presidential, taking mincing steps around the podium, doing a crack impression of the Hillary head nod, pretending to use a teleprompter. He warned how bored the crowd would be by her – and him if he were to change. The crowd agreed.
This left the Old Trump free to light into Sen. Ted Cruz He revived his birther rant, using his rival’s given name: “Rafael! Straight out of the hills of Canada.” He warned that if Cruz won the nomination, the Democrats would mount a challenge to his citizenship immediately. Trump quickly assured the crowd that Lyin’ Ted wouldn’t win even though he was “bribing” delegates.
During the RNC meeting, there was high concern over how much damage the party would endure if Trump, with almost 1,237 delegates and everyone else far behind, were to be denied the nomination.
There also was the recognition that self-interest would rear its inevitable head, and that Trump would have such critical mass after his expected sweep of the Northeast primaries on Tuesday that undecided delegates would jump on board, for fear of becoming the last ones on the train.
Hoping to slow the cannonball, Cruz and Gov. John Kasich announced a Hail Mary quickie marriage Sunday night: Kasich will leave winner-take-all Indiana to the ultra-conservative Cruz. Cruz will stay out of Oregon and New Mexico.
So far, that union only has produced another Trump talking point about a rigged system. Expect a quickie Cruz-Kasich divorce in Reno on their way to California.
On my way out of the Waterbury event, I stopped at a gas station jammed with cars, as was the roadway across from an open field that could have been the South Lawn of the White House. In a few minutes, 100 faces turned toward the sky. It was Trump’s helicopter taking off. It wasn’t only the children who waved.
Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.