The crowd pic.twitter.com/89o5rZmJEQ— Robert Costa (@costareports) August 21, 2015
It seemed that Trump, in a fit of hubris, had booked a too-large venue for his rally. If that was the case, I expected to wake up to news stories describing the rally as a failure and an embarrassment. Reporters would be telling us that Trump might finally be peaking; Trump would angrily deny it, of course, and he'd blame an aide for the stadium decision. The campaign would roll on, but the Mobile rally would be a bad moment.
So I turned to Costa's story, written with Dave Weigel -- and it's a love letter. Costa and Weigel may not be falling in love with Trump exactly, but they're head over heels in love with the Trump campaign. And that's dangerous, because coverage like this, if we get it from more and more influential journalists, is going to make a Trump presidency seem increasingly thinkable:
It was the most audacious Donald Trump spectacle yet in a summer full of them, as the Republican presidential front-runner, in his Boeing 757, thundered over a football stadium here Friday night and gave a raucous speech to one of the largest crowds of the 2016 campaign.Clearly the earth moved for Costa and Weigel.
But Trump’s flashy performance was about more than showmanship. His visit to Alabama was coolly strategic, touching down in the heart of red America and an increasingly important early battleground in the Republican nominating contest.
The Manhattan developer, who strode onstage to “Sweet Home Alabama,” is trying to show that his candidacy has broad and lasting appeal across every region of the country -- especially here in the South, where Alabama and seven other states are holding a clustered voting blitz March 1.
The scene Friday night put an exclamation point on an extraordinary run in which the flamboyant mogul has thoroughly disrupted the presidential campaign and kindled a national discussion about not just politics but American culture itself.
I know what's going on: Our campaigns are interminable, and reporters whine endlessly about the tedium. The campaign press corps hates Hillary Clinton, so I've been expecting the journos to develop a crush on some Republican or other, but I thought they'd turn to whoever seemed like a frattish glad-hander, the equivalent of George W. Bush in 2000, who also ran against a Democrat the press loathed, just because he at least made his part of the trail a welcoming place. Instead, reporters seem to be delighting in the Trump spectacle more than Trump himself, because it's lively and entertaining and not at all tedious. They're having fun -- and the coverage is just going to get better and better as a result.
The press is now starting to see the Trump campaign as not only enjoyable but smart -- Costa and Weigel accept the campaign's premise that Alabama, and the South in general, might be the key to a Trump victory in the primary contest, a notion to which Bloomberg's Joshua Green devotes an entire non-skeptical article. Yes, the media is now treating Donald Trump campaign strategists as wily savants. We truly are in the last days.
Costa and Weigel are impressed by Trump's newfound friendship with Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, who was brought onstage at the rally and donned a "Make America Great Again" hat. (Costa notes on Twitter that Sessions still hasn't endorsed Trump, however.) This is also catnip for reporters -- they know that you're not supposed to be able to win the nomination without support from party elites, and now Trump has some. He's legit. Reporters are starting to swoon.
The coverage of the rally in The New York Times is less breathless, but it's still somewhat giddy: "Donald Trump Fails to Fill Alabama Stadium, but Fans’ Zeal Is Undiminished." Those fans are, um, a little creepy. Here's a quote about the candidate from one of them:
“Hopefully, he’s going to sit there and say, ‘When I become elected president, what we’re going to do is we’re going to make the border a vacation spot, it’s going to cost you $25 for a permit, and then you get $50 for every confirmed kill,’” said Jim Sherota, 53, who works for a landscaping company. “That’d be one nice thing.”Costa and Weigel turn up this Trumpite:
Cheryl Burns, 60, was on a road trip from California when she heard that Trump would be in Alabama. She turned her car around and got in line, warning people of what happened to states when liberals took them over.Michael Froomkin writes:
“There is no more California,” Burns said. “It’s now international, lawless territory. Everything is up for grabs. Illegal aliens are murdering people there. People are being raped. Trump isn’t lying about anything -- the rest of the country just hasn’t found out yet.”
Various online commentators have suggested that the two attackers of a homeless Hispanic man in Boston, who cited Trump as their motivation, are the forerunners of American Brownshirts.Also in attendance at the Trump shindig, though perhaps more interested in picking up recruits than showing support, was this guy:
... I’m always alert for those brown signals, but I didn’t find nearly as strong signal in the actions of a couple of thugs (so long as it remains just a couple...) as I do in quotes like the one above. If large numbers of voters are living a reality-distortion zone in which California is now Mad Max land, anything is possible.
On the street, Olaf Childress, a neo-Confederate activist, gave out copies of “The First Freedom” newspaper, which had headlines about “Black-on-white crime,” “occupied media” and “censored details of the Holocaust.”The Southern Poverty Law Center reported on Olaf Childress in 2008:
The neo-Confederate stalwart plans to transport a casket bearing a copy of the 14th Amendment from his southern Alabama home to the shores of the Potomac River for burial....At one point in 2008, the SPLC story goes on to tell us, Childress and his hearse were stopped at a police checkpoint:
The vehicle carrying the deceased will be none other than Childress' "Death to the 14th Amendment" hearse. After buying the 1995 Buick Roadmaster about a year and a half ago, Childress outfitted it with magnetic Confederate battle flags on both front doors and the words "Death to the 14th Amendment" on the rear doors....
Childress, a 32-year resident of Silverhill, Ala., population 616, announced the amendment's upcoming interment in the September issue of his newspaper, The First Freedom (motto: "Inviting the Zionist-controlled media'cracy to meet a rising free South").
As he tells it on his website in a post headlined, "Alabama's Mossad-trained stooges capture politically-incorrect hearse," when Silverhill's police chief asked to see his license and insurance, he informed her that she had no legal right to stop him. He even offered to show her where it says so in the Constitution, a copy of which he just happens to keep in the hearse. But the police chief wasn't interested. Instead, because Childress refused to sign some papers, she hauled him off to jail. Not only did Childress have to spend the night behind bars, but also police impounded the hearse at Dixie Auto Body Repair. He had to pay $135 to retrieve it two days later.(You'll notice that he wasn't shot or Tased or beaten to within an inch of his life. Childress, of course, is white.)
Childress continues to publish The First Freedom -- check out this article, in which he argues that the culprits in the Charlie Hebdo massacre were trained agents of the Mossad. This is a guy who thinks a Trump rally could be fertile ground for recruitment. And hey, who knows?
But is the mainstream press going to pay more attention to the ugliness of the Trumpites' rhetoric or to the increasing professionalization of the campaign? I fear it's the latter -- and thus I fear for America.