ROCHESTER — Soon Donald Trump will land in Buffalo. He’s coming for a rally, one with a memorable slogan – “Make America Great Again!” – and a clear intent: Translate his Republican front-runner status into becoming the clear-cut presidential nominee.
The billionaire’s April 17 event in First Niagara Center precedes the state primary by two days. The timing, the slogan — it all has the makings of a standard-fare political rally.
Trump’s event, however, will be anything but normal. If his Sunday rally in Rochester – and his assemblies around the country – are any indication, it’ll resemble something more akin to a sporting event, one complete with Jock Jam music, fat sound bites, a revved-up crowd, a hard-core opposition and even knock-off merchandise for sale outside.
There’ll be the side portrayed as the home team – that’s team Trump, of course – but the people singled out as the opposition won’t be as far away as you’d think. At least not all of them. Sure, Trump will hit Republican rival Ted Cruz (“Lyin’ Ted,” he repeatedly called the Texas senator) and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton (“I can’t wait to go after Hillary”).
But Trump and his supporters will also claw with people within earshot: most likely (as was the case Sunday), the media and protesters.
In the JetSmart Aviation hangar in Rochester, Trump and the speakers who preceded him painted a vivid narrative that’s been staged at rallies throughout the country: Trump as the business-smart, deal-making protagonist swooping in to save America.
Carl Paladino, the wealthy Buffalo developer and city school board member who’s championing Trump’s efforts in New York, was one of those introductory speakers. He previewed several of Trump’s familiar talking points, including Second Amendment protection and the candidate’s promise to control immigration by erecting a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.
“We’re gonna build a wall,” said Paladino, a former gubernatorial candidate. “And we’re gonna make Mexico pay for it.”
The crowd erupted, soon chanting in unison, “Build that wall!”
Paladino let the chants soak the air for a few moments, then said, “He’s gonna love you guys.”
Minutes later, Pastor Mark Burns, a Trump friend and founder of The NOW Television Network, took the podium. Behind him was draped the massive American flag that would soon provide the backdrop for Trump.
“The media,” Burns said, punching down every syllable for emphasis. On cue, a large portion of the crowd craned their necks or wheeled around to look at the bank of a dozen-plus cameras stationed on a platform at the back of the hangar.
“The media will never persuade us to turn our backs on Donald Trump!” Burns said, as the crowd unleashed a hiss of boos like those that greet visiting teams in a sports arena.
That was all a warm-up for Trump himself, who arrived via airplane and took the stage a few minutes after 3 p.m. The arena-jam song “Get Ready for This” blared through the hangar. Trump was wearing a familiar dark suit, white shirt and red tie. His material, too, was familiar for anyone who’s inhaled the seemingly ubiquitous coverage of his campaign, from his support of gun rights to his promise to end Common Core and repeal Obamacare.
Trump tailored his message on free trade – he called America’s current version of it “dumb trade” – by pointing out Rochester and upstate New York’s significant job loss, especially in manufacturing. Trump promised to bring jobs back.
“People say, ‘He can’t do it. I can do it, just watch,” Trump said, later adding, “If I get elected, Rochester is going to boom again. Our whole country is going to boom again.”
As Trump said those words, he sounded like a coach delivering a pep talk — one to a massive crowd. (In his speech, Trump tagged the audience at 10,000, and noted that several thousand more weren’t able to get in.)
At one point, in the midst of criticizing the Washington Post (Trump, like Pastor Burns, crushed the “really bad, dishonest media”), the candidate interrupted himself. A protestor was being led out of the hangar and Trump decided to make a point.
“You know what’s nice about our rallies? Our people protect themselves and protect each other,” Trump said, then added a line that even his fans, people accustomed to his razor tongue, may have been surprised to hear.
“That’s the way our country is supposed to be: We’re supposed to love each other, and we will love each other,” he said. “We’ll love them someday too.”
Outside the hangar and across the street, the vibe was wasn’t loving. Several dozen protesters lined the curb holding signs with message such as “Love Trumps Hate” and “Trump is an Entitled Baby.”
Those were some of the tamer signs; many were edgier, and so were the words between Trump supporters and protestors.
“Stop raising racist pigs!” a Trump protester yelled at people walking into the rally, to which a Trump supporter retorted, “We need walls, not traffic cones!”
It was trashing talking, but this is where the sports comparison ends. The message was deeper, more visceral, than any contest that can be settled by sheer points.