The Changing Mood At Trump Rallies
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
President Trump is waging a reelection campaign alongside his political war against impeachment. And once again, he's holding lots of rallies, now officially billed with a pledge to Keep America Great after three years of promising to Make America Great Again. Trump's hallmark campaign events can easily look the same from the outside, but on the inside, a lot has changed. And, as NPR's Don Gonyea reports, it's more than just the slogan.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: I'm in downtown Monroe, La. To my right is this city hall. To my left is the Monroe Civic Center - that's where President Trump will take the stage in about nine hours, give or take. We've already got vendors set up and police barricades set up and more than a thousand people lined up waiting to get in. Some tell me they've been here since 5 in the morning. Let's meet some of them.
TANYA HATTAWAY: My name is Tanya Hattaway.
GONYEA: Where are you from, Tanya?
HATTAWAY: Calhoun, La.
GONYEA: I talked to Tanya Hattaway before Trump's Louisiana rally on Wednesday. She is 45 years old and owns a local hair salon.
HATTAWAY: I love Trump, and I wanted to get here - our whole salon is for Trump, and so we've been pumped. And so we knew we wanted to get in, so we had to get here early.
GONYEA: Hattaway makes it clear she's not one of those Trump supporters who wishes he'd tone down his tweeting or his rhetoric.
HATTAWAY: I like the vulgarity. I'm a little vulgar myself, sometimes (laughter).
GONYEA: All right. Fair enough.
UNIDENTIFIED MERCHANT: Yeah, we have onesies. We have children's sweatshirts, T-shirts, scarves, hats, flags.
GONYEA: Nearly every corner for blocks around is filled with tables stacked with Trump-branded merchandise - shirts, caps, hoodies, baby onesies. But those items are often sold right alongside merch emblazoned with the F-word. There's Donald bleeping Trump or Trump 2020, bleep your feelings on shirts. Those items sell briskly, too. Right along the main driveway stretches a 100-foot-long banner. It has three lines of type - three messages. First - let the president do his job. Then, a warning to Democrats that they, too, can be impeached. The third line is for Republicans - support the president, or lose your job. Tony Kane, a retired construction worker from Yazoo City, Miss., made the banner. I asked him about that warning.
You feel that's necessary?
TONY KANE: It is necessary.
GONYEA: The Republican part of it.
KANE: The Republican Party - they got her hands tied. I don't know if I need to call no names, but you got people like Mitt Romney and other Republicans that just won't support our president.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GONYEA: Now to the inside. Doors opened after 2 p.m., still more than five hours before the president would speak. A playlist blasts over the loudspeakers. It will play for hours and hours - Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Pavarotti, The Village People, Sinatra - on repeat.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY WAY")
FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) I did it my way.
GONYEA: The arena's capacity is listed at 7,600. Campaign volunteer Benjamin Marshall grew up in Monroe.
BENJAMIN MARSHALL: I was a child when this building was built.
GONYEA: And he saw Elvis Presley perform in this arena. What year was that?
MARSHALL: I want to say it was 1974. He was slightly overweight, but he still had his swag.
MARSHALL: Looking around, he says the president's swagger is what has filled this arena on this day. But he says he thinks the crowd also serves as a kind of therapy for Trump.
MARSHALL: He'll come out to a rally like this where he's loved and appreciated, and I think that helps him go back and face all that stuff he's got to face in Washington on a daily basis.
GONYEA: Finally, the official program begins. There are local politicians on the bill. Trump is here to campaign for Eddie Rispone, the GOP candidate for governor in an election this coming Saturday. But U.S. Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana got the bigger reaction, serving up this Trumpian attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
JOHN KENNEDY: Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to impeach him.
KENNEDY: I don't mean any disrespect, but it must suck to be that dumb.
GONYEA: As for the president, he took the stage at 7:45 p.m. and delivered a collection of greatest hits, starting with a look back to 2016.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Probably the greatest election in the history of our country.
GONYEA: Then attacks on Democrats.
TRUMP: The radical left Democrats are trying to rip our nation apart.
GONYEA: And impeachment.
TRUMP: It's a scam. And you know who helps them? These people right back here - the media.
GONYEA: And the audience knows it's part well, like when the president mentions the name Hillary Clinton.
CROWD: (Chanting) Lock her up. Lock her up. Lock her up.
GONYEA: It's the very familiar lock her up chant. As the president speaks, the vibe in the crowd is festive, fun - which is different from what Trump rallies felt like during 2016, when anger was a prime motivating force for a lot of people who came to see him. But not so much this year, even amid impeachment. Person after person told me it's not a real worry because they see no chance Trump will be removed from office. Benjamin Marshall, the guy who saw Elvis play, was typical.
So does anybody take the impeachment thing seriously?
MARSHALL: No. Nobody takes it seriously.
GONYEA: So the question becomes, will an arena full of happy Trump supporters, who expect him to be reelected, be as motivated to vote as when they were mad and wanted to throw the Democrats out?
TRUMP: And we will Make America Great Again. Thank you, Louisiana.
TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT")
CHORUS: (Singing) I saw her today at the reception, a glass of wine in her hand.
GONYEA: Back outside, where the line formed starting at 5 o'clock this morning, plastic water bottles, soft drinks, styrofoam containers, pizza boxes everywhere. It's going to be a long cleanup for somebody.
I walked past that long banner out front, now being taken down and folded up by its owner. He says he'll see me down the road at another rally. Don Gonyea, NPR News in Monroe, La. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.