On Wednesday, Donald Trump held an enormous rally at Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Oral Roberts University. You may have seen the video footage already. From all outward appearances on TV and YouTube, this sure looks like a low-key rally attended by a smattering of attendees. This wasn’t the case, and I will confirm that Trump is correct when he complains how the media doesn’t reveal his “beautiful” supporters. The close framing of speech coverage doesn’t allow for an accurate portrayal of what a Trump rally is like.
I experienced the dubious pleasure of attending this event, which was to be no ordinary Trump rally, for Sarah Palin was also on the bill. After Tuesday evening’s unhinged speech, anyone who spends time on the internet would suddenly view this double billing more exciting than the average, repetitive Trump rally. It seems bizarre to consider Trump’s moves as “stale,” but he knew his campaign needed extra pizzazz after his shock value wore thin. Palin is perfectly game to add her own shtick to the mix.
As we’ve already covered, Palin virtually blamed President Obama for Track Palin’s domestic abuse incident. That was the one segment of Palin’s speech that didn’t receive rip-roaring applause from the arena, perhaps because people were shocked to hear her draw the connection. Palin aimed for sympathy from a military-loving audience, which didn’t work out as planned. However, I’m delivering observations rather than re-analyzing already covered ground, so let’s back up to what the rally looked like from the outside.
The protesters landed in full force outside the arena with one fellow branding the event as a KKK rally. Inside, there were three separate incidents where Trump instructed security to boot hecklers, but nothing approached the level of last fall’s violent ejections from assorted rallies. Trump finally wised up and trained his security to ward off embarrassing recurrences.
Also outside the arena, I met an intriguing man named Ernest, though he may have been using a pseudonym. When one stands outside ORU and yells, “Bomb the sh*t out of ISIS!” for hours on end, a pen name (of sorts) wouldn’t be unexpected. Ernest sold buttons with that slogan along with a variety of other memorabilia, including purple “Hot Chicks For Trump” pins. As you can see, there wasn’t as much demand for the latter design as the former. Still, Ernest was a trooper even after four teenage girls (who all cut class for Trump) ribbed him for offering those buttons (“a $3 value!”) to the ladies.
I expected to enter the venue and witness an arena full of Ernests, but that wasn’t the case. An estimated 15,000 people are said to have attended, although a few thousand less is probably a more accurate count. The Mabee Center comfortably holds 12,000 bods, and this was a packed house. Trump also claimed 5,000 people were turned away, but he’s a master of exaggeration. Some folks were turned away (according to an officer I spoke with after the event). People did go to great lengths to see their candidate speak. Most stood in 27 degree weather for more than an hour after doors theoretically opened at 10 a.m. CST. Patrons still flowed inward at the promised noon start time. Trump didn’t arrive onstage until shortly after 1 p.m. So, there was a whole lot of waiting around with an empty podium on hand.
A scene of abject boredom also took root, but these photos show how Tulsa’s Trump supporters don’t fit the Ernest stereotype, which made it fairly easy to blend in and simply observe. His fan base is shockingly widespread in the city with young, old, bro-like, and motherly all in the mix. However, there’s one thing nearly all these folks have in common: the color of their skin. The only person of color I saw at the rally was one who was selling merchandise.
Once the action began, folks perked up when Trump arrived to introduce Palin, who introduced Trump in return. Their working relationship seemed purely set in showbiz ways; that is, a convenient arrangement with benefits for both parties. Trump is not only gaining a high-profile endorsement, but he’s playing his cards to look fairly reasonable in comparison to the high-strung Palin. She’s happy to receive attention in return, but I’d also bet on a prominent administration role being in her cards if Trump becomes president. What you didn’t see (or hear) on the telecast is this: Trump came out swinging like Rocky Balboa to “Eye of the Tiger” (of course), and Palin’s entry was about on par.
The Trump speech is available on YouTube, but the in-person effect revealed exactly how loud these voters cheered for their candidate. Boomingly loud at times, in fact. That quality doesn’t come off well on video, and — although Trump willingly provides many reasons for criticism — he works his live audiences well. They were into the experience, and I witnessed very few ironic attendees while weaving in and out of crowds. Trump’s Oklahoma fan base is strong (and startlingly “normal”), and they forgive him for all flaws to the point of embracing them. After watching this rally from within, I think Trump may truly have the GOP nomination cinched. His fellow candidates and the media detest him, but fans would be hard pressed to ever abandon his bid.
Ultimately, Trump’s blustering ways did not surprise, but he appears softer, less aggressive in person than when the camera zooms in on his shouting face. With Palin by his side, he also seems much more “human” (while she’s happy to play the role of the nightmarish cheerleader). She’s the party making the most frightening statements, which downplay the Trump persona to a scary degree. Palin now stands as the dominant personality, and in comparison, Trump appears like a grandfather, set stately in his own ways.
Although — to be certain — you haven’t lived until you’ve stood in the same room as Donald Trump when he says his favorite word, “disgusting.” Rally attending goal accomplished. I’d possibly do again.