Donald Trump appeared in Mobile last night for a campaign speech at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium. CNN estimates the crowd at 30,000. The turnout was impressive by any reckoning, as was the speech itself (video below). Having watched the speech live on cable, I offer these random thoughts.
Trump began the speech with a reference to Billy Graham. “Now I know how the great Billy Graham felt,” he said. Where did that come from? I found it endearing.
Trump mocked two candidates by name: Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. His mockery is powerful in general and his mockery of Jeb Bush in particular is utterly devastating. I find it persuasive in Bush’s case, but he could turn it on any of the other contenders as well. Watching Trump do his thing (however briefly) on Bush last night, I was struck by the resemblance to the effect of Ross Perot on the first President Bush. I have been unimpressed by Bush’s prospects. Trump is going to finish them off. So I thought last night.
Halfway through the speech, I thought, Trump is Elvis; Jeb Bush is Ward Cleaver.
Trump is a fantastic speaker. Billy Graham in his prime was the best orator in the United States. Trump might be the political or theatrical equivalent.
In the course of his speech Trump called a member of the audience up to the stage so that he could sign her copy of The Art of the Deal — the second greatest book ever written, as Trump explained. The greatest book? Think Billy Graham.
Trump is a phenomenon of the end of the Obama era every bit as much as Jimmy Carter was of the Watergate era. Trump’s theme — the promise to make America great again — is the sane response to the closing years of the Obama administration. It answers to a deeply felt need. Trump’s understanding of the conservative side of the political market is shrewd and the promise, coming from him, carries a certain credibility.
Trump’s economic message also harks back to Perot. He referred to “the sucking sound” of which Perot made so much. Trump pitches a powerful populist message that is internally inconsistent, a mix of sense and nonsense. His professed advocacy of free trade makes sense. The rest of it, not so much. But it all carries a powerful populist appeal.
He pulled Senator Jeff Sessions up to the lectern several minutes into the speech. Trump and Sessions boosted each other. If Senator Sessions vouches for Trump, and if Sessions is the kind of guy Trump would call on to fill out appointive office in a Trump administration, I may be ready to surrender.
He said we need to do something about immigration and referred to the building of a wall, but otherwise avoided specifics. He did not discuss the deportation of illegals. It would have detracted from the upbeat tenor of the speech. Treatment of the issue requires a seriousness and care that are not Trump’s stock in trade. I fear the damage he may do to the cause of immigration control.
Toward the end of his speech Trump responded to someone in the audience who called out “Israel.” “How would you like to be Israel right now?” he responded.
At this point Trump has put the rest of the field in his shadow. Watching this speech last night, I could see why.
UPDATE: I see that David Paul Kuhn captures my thoughts in a more coherent form in the NR column “Will the political establishment be Trumped by the Donald?”