Having lingered a little too long at a Scottish outfitter’s booth learning about the art of falconry, I assumed I’d be relegated to the overflow arena of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex, where Donald Trump was addressing attendees of the NRA’s Great American Outdoor Show last night. I was surprised to learn from a friendly security guard, however, that there were said to be some seats still available in the nosebleeds of the main arena. I tried my luck at the handiest entrance, and a kind man with a cane and his three companions all stood up and made way for me to sit in a prime seat.
In addition to being way less crowded (the nosebleeds were empty, and there were ample seats down below, maybe because most show attendees were packing and couldn’t make it through Secret Service security?), the mood also seemed more subdued than other Trump events I’ve attended. It could have been because this demographic is accustomed to sitting stone-still in hunting blinds for hours on end and are naturally more reserved and patient, but aside from two visors with Trump wigs attached, I didn’t notice much in the way of bodacious MAGA regalia. These people seemed to be attending the event out of a sense of duty rather than eagerness. Or it could have been the music — a dramatic ballad from the Cats soundtrack first, followed by something operatic, followed by a series of Elvis B-sides didn’t help to get the crowd jazzed.
Then the new president of the NRA — someone named Cotton, with an accent to match — came out to introduce the former president, and “We want Trump!” erupted as a brief and feeble chant. Then the man himself appeared and stood stiffly like a stage actor in his blocking position for the duration of “God Bless the USA,” which seems a lot longer than three minutes when all you have to do is stare at a man people are taking pictures of with their cellphones.
The speech itself was run-of-the-mill, and Trump seemed worn out, like an aging coach trying to rally his team for the championship when his soul longs for retirement (in fact, at least twice, Trump pointed out that he didn’t have to run for president; he could be enjoying his Saturday afternoons in peace). He made jokes — “we only have a forty-two-point lead” in South Carolina — bragged about himself — “I was right about everything; I was right about Joe Biden” — but he tended to ramble and was less convinced of himself. Distracted. Going through the motions.
As did the audience. They weren’t overly captivated, and many drifted out early like antsy churchgoers who showed their support and checked the box and were eager to get it over with and go eat somewhere nice. The sixty-something guy to my right was scrolling through Facebook. “Are you bored?” I asked. “No!” he insisted. “I’ve just heard him say this stuff over and over.”
The stuff he said over and over was also more all over the place than usual. He said at one point, “I don’t know what’s going on with Catholics, but they’re being treated very badly. Very, very badly,” and sometime later spoke about how much he loved the German Shepherds who sniffed out drugs at the Mexican border. It was as if he was giving himself a pep talk, reminding himself of his accomplishments, with special attention to the Second Amendment. He kept gun dealers open as “critical infrastructure” during Covid, remember that?! Oh and he also opened up public lands. And by the way, his sons love hunting and the great outdoors. “They love it, and it’s good for them,” Trump reflected, forcing himself to add for humor’s sake that he has often wondered when his boys would ever come back from their wilderness excursions.
Trump began his speech by talking about “when” we take back the White House. Later on, in an uncharacteristic shift from egomania, he said he didn’t like to say “when,” but “if,” because there is still work to be done, then he finally settled on, “if and when” we win.
The “not bored” social media man to my right determined it was a good speech, and anyway, we can’t have Biden again no matter what. I asked a guy on the exit escalator what he made of the speech. “I liked it,” he said, “Trump seems more… polished” than he has other speeches. “Well, he’s a politician now,” the man reasoned.
Trump is a politician now. He’s also pushing eighty years old, and, as the Atlantic is gleefully tracking for us, is facing “ninety-one felony counts across two state courts and two different federal districts, any of which could potentially produce a prison sentence.” Like the rest of us, 45 is exhausted by the political rigamarole and just wants to go eat somewhere nice already. The good news is, his competition, for now anyway, checked out after the Senior Early Bird Special.