I watched in open-mouthed horror as the curtain fell on Donald Trump’s Republican coronation
‘Build that wall! Build that wall!’
CLEVELAND – Don’t judge a political speech from the headlines, but the reactions from the crowd.
The Tab was just feet away from Donald Trump, standing with the delegates from California as they cried tears of joy for their new leader.
We were in the front row to see him accept the Republican nomination and deliver one of his darkest speeches to date.
Just before the show, a delegate from Minnesota told me: “There is a very strategic mission of an Islamic brotherhood to infiltrate our country.”
Trump’s speech appealed to America’s basest fears.
The audience stood and cheered with every mention of sweeping immigration bans, building a wall to keep out Mexicans, and increasing the powers of law enforcement.
“I will restore law and order to this country, believe me. I am the law and order candidate,” Trump said. The crowd responded: “Blue lives matter!”
“We cannot afford to be politically correct anymore.” They chanted: “USA! USA! USA!”
“We don’t want them coming in here.” They shouted: “Build that wall! Build that wall!”
And it only took mentions of Hillary Clinton’s name for the audience to start howling pantomime boos.
Undecided voters will have watched tonight’s speech expecting to see a more reasonable Trump – someone they could actually imagine in the Oval Office with their best interests at heart.
They would have hoped to see a presidential candidate who was “much less abrasive, much more inclusive and embracing of people who are not like him,” as political analyst David Gergen explained to CNN.
But this was an evening of sinister political farce. Trump’s bombastic claims offered a bleak vision of America under his presidency – and his fans couldn’t get enough.
A misty-eyed audience of 10,000 thundered with deafening approval at every moment. It’s worth mentioning that the sound of Trump, Trump, Trump, in a stadium of this size is indescribable. It was loudest after a solitary protester was hauled out by security for unfurling a banner. It read: “Build bridges, not walls”.
“How great are the police?” Trump said as she was carted off. The crowd stood up and roared.
They loved it so much, at one point early on in the evening I saw a protester actually crying. What could have been going through her head?
A crying Trump supporter who, on seeing the reality TV star accept the Republican nomination, started openly weeping in front of thousands of her fellow Trump fans? She brushed away her tears with a delicate finger, started applauding, cheering, and chanted with the rest of them with a hand in the air: Trump, Trump, Trump.
I spent the speech next to the California delegation. The TV cameras never quite do justice to just how fluorescent his face is. In the blast of the stage lights, it beams out a sickly E-number orange and glistens. Trump’s skin hangs off his skull like a bungee jumper’s cord, which yanks itself back up again with a start when he smiles. His cheeks rise so high when he grins, his eyes are pushed shut. It’s the smile of the truly self-satisfied.
And this look is out in full force tonight, broadcasting his trademark high-beam glow among the weeping white faces, the Stars and Stripes ties barely concealing ponderous guts, badges pinned on lapels: all lives matter, Hillary for prison, build the wall.
Before Trump appears, delegates from across America are soaking up the carnival that comes at the end of the convention. There’s an infectiously happy mood in the air. “Excited” is the big word on everyone’s lips, which they say with a wild-eyed glow.
The security tonight is tighter than any other event at the convention, and all the staff are on edge. The dragon-faced workers tasked with wrangling the press pack at the front of the stage have been singling photographers out who get in the way, and get security to lead them to the back of the stadium – vaporized. “Brutal,” says a photographer next to me as another colleague is led away.
A bizarre moment occurs near the end of Trump’s speech when one of the event’s press staff points a fat finger at me, and my blood runs to ice. She jerks her thumb to yank me out of the pack. “You. Come out. You don’t have the right credentials,” she snaps. I protest that my passes are fine, and without any explanation why she took me away from my front row view, she relents and lets me squat down nearby. She gives me looks that could reduce men to dust for the rest of the evening.
Trump’s speech ends with a tumultuous “let’s make America great again,” and the old faces stand up from their seats as fast as their creaking joints will allow to cheer the finale.
The confetti drops, and I grab a few guests. Cary and Elizabeth from California fall over their words to speak, they’re so excited. “It was fantastic, unifying for Democrats and Republicans. I loved it.”
“He talks to people. Every part of it was amazing. So incredible,” says another delegate from the same state.
They all talk in the same breathless hyperbole. One delegate I meet from Wisconsin is so hyped up, she can only talk to me in adjectives. “Thrilling, motivating, inspirational, incredible. I loved it.”
Already they speak like The Donald. This is only the beginning.