The circus rolled into the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area yesterday, as Donald Trump delivered his first big speech as an official presidential candidate. As one of the outlets that said, repeatedly, not to believe that Trump was running until he filed his paperwork with the FEC, we at Salon figured it was only fair that we cover his address to the Maryland Republican Party's annual Red, White, and Blue Dinner after he made it official.
The dinner was at the very beautiful, very classy airport Marriott in Linthicum, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore. Trump's own press release announcing the speech noted that there would be "a record setting crowd" in attendance to hear him speak. Trump has a tendency to inflate crowd sizes, but this was actually true. The event quickly sold out after Trump was announced and the Maryland GOP had to add tables at the last minute to fit everyone in.
But what were they hoping to see? A celebrity entertainer from the teevee, or a candidate whom they could see themselves supporting for political office?
Because not many Republican voters could see themselves supporting Donald Trump for political office. We know this because the most recent NBC national poll asked Republican voters directly if they could see themselves supporting Donald Trump for office. A full 66% of Republican voters said that they could not see themselves supporting Trump, 11 percentage points higher than the second-worst candidate, Chris Christie, the butt of many jokes about whose presidential campaign is the most dead-on-arrival. Even the Suffolk University poll of New Hampshire voters released yesterday, which put Trump in second place with 11% trailing only Jeb Bush's 14%, showed how difficult it's going to be for Trump to build much more support than that. The poll found Trump's favorability rating underwater, 37 percent to 49 percent. He was the only candidate with a net-unfavorable rating, so there's not much room for him to grow.
Oh my God, though, this Suffolk poll. As soon as the numbers came out yesterday, the Trump campaign determined that Suffolk was basically the finest, most precise, most brilliant pollster in the history of pollsters. Trump's team suggested to the assembled press last night that they might want to ask about this singular poll from the singular Suffolk University during his pre-speech press availability. About a dozen or so reporters came to cover the event -- mostly local Baltimore news outlets, plus one stupid Salon scribe who foolishly decided to drive northbound on 295 during rush hour to cover a Republican party dinner at the BWI Marriott. An apocalyptic thunderstorm was rolling through the region, as it has every night this summer, and thunder boomed from outside the "Apprentice"-esque boardroom from which Trump was holding his press conference. Several reporters' phones erupted with emergency alerts in the midst of Trump's Q&A session.
"I heard that, I just heard that news," Trump said when the Suffolk news was brought up. "We're number two in Suffolk, which is a great poll." After briefly trashing Jeb Bush on Common Core, immigration, and Iraq, he returned to his effusive praise of Suffolk University's polling operation. "I saw that, that we're the top two in New Hampshire. That's a great poll, by the way. They say that's the best of all the New Hampshire polls, so I'm greatly honored by the result."
I asked him about that other part of the poll, that showed his favorability ratings in the toilet. Or at least, I began asking him about it, before he waved me off: "Okay, I know the answer to that before you ask the question." What he said, however, was not so much an answer as a spiel of various thoughts with poor tense alignment. "We did very well in the Suffolk poll," he reiterated, "but the second part of that question was, nobody thinks I was running! In fact I filed yesterday. Everyone was saying, 'He'll never file, he'll never file, well, now he filed.' My numbers are much, much better than people ever thought, the company is a phenomenal company, now they're saying 'Wow, it's a really fantastic company.' But as you know, they all said, 'Oh, he'll never file.' So a lot of the numbers that you see are because people didn't think I was running. So now that I'm running, the numbers are very good."
None of this helped explain how he would win over the many, many Republican voters who are familiar with Donald Trump and have determined that they could never see themselves supporting his bid for political office. Oh well! He had to be whisked away to deliver a brief keynote address to the Maryland Republican Party.
It was around the 45th minute of his brief speech that an attendee walking out of the ballroom saw me holding out my recorder and joked, "Still got battery?"
Trump was introduced by his friend David Cordish, a major Baltimore-area real estate developer. To give you a sense of just how "Maryland Republican" this crowd was, the accomplishment of Cordish's that received the most applause during his own introduction was his membership on the 1959 Johns Hopkins national champion lacrosse team. Trump explained that he met Cordish while he was suing him, "for hundreds of millions of dollars. I didn't know him but I said I'm gonna get this guy, whoever the hell he is." They later became friends during a mandatory mediation process.
The speech, such as it was, was largely Trump listing grievances about various personalities in the political world who had criticized him since his entry into the race.
"There's a woman, Dana Perino," he said, referring to the former Bush White House press secretary and current Fox News talking head who has "a little problem with marbles in the mouth." He explained that Perino recently asked him "for a tweet" when her book came out. "'I'm doing a book, could you give me a tweet.'" So he gave her a tweet. And what does he see on Fox News the other night? This same Dana Perino, attacking him on Bill O'Reilly. "Tough business."
And Neil Young! Trump went to a Neil Young concert some months ago, Young heard about it, and then visited Trump Tower in New York City to ask for some money. "He wanted like five million dollars from me! Because he's got a 'sound synthesizer' that makes sound better. I said, 'what about all these companies that do this, they're pretty good at it.' He said, 'no no no, mine's better.' So he wants five million dollars." Then he called Trump about "a week and a half ago from Norway or some place" and asked him to go to Trump's concert in Jones Beach in October. But then Trump uses Neil Young's song during his presidential announcement, and all of a sudden Neil Young is denouncing him? "Tough business."
Other targets included Karl Rove, the Club for Growth, "sleepy-eyes Chuck Todd," and of course Jeb Bush, who "couldn't negotiate his way out of a paper bag." He went on an extended rant against the media for twisting his words about how undocumented Mexican immigrants are "bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." Truth is, he loves Mexico. "I say I love Mexico, I love the people, they say I'm a racist." And the Mexican people love him! "Two waiters came up to me tonight, said, 'Mr. Trump, I love you,' I said, 'where are you from,' 'I'm from Mexico.'" He gave the usual plugs to "The Art of the Deal," the number-one most-selling book ever according to every measure everywhere, his beautiful top-of-the-line golf courses, and "The Apprentice," the highest rated television show that's ever been made, probably the highest-rated anything in any medium, ever, maybe behind "The Art of the Deal." It's close.
Trump's message for voters, if this haphazard ranting can be distilled into a "message for voters" at all, is all about deals. He tries to portray himself as not just the most successful person of all time, but perhaps the only successful person of all time. Everyone else is either "stupid" or an "incompetent" negotiator." If he were president, no company would ever build a plant overseas. He'd talk them out of it. Iran, China, Mexico, ISIS -- he'd look their leaders in the eye and fix these things. And the Taliban! Man, would he not have made that swap for "no-good traitor" Bowe Bergdahl. "When our country was strong," he said,"[Bergdahl] would've been executed."
Trump received a lot of applause, a lot of laughs, and a standing ovation at the end from these Maryland Republicans. (Somewhat surprising, since one of his many tangents was an extended riff about how little he wanted to speak at this banquet and only did it as a favor to David Cordish.) And why wouldn't they laugh and cheer? He's an entertainer, a comedian, a celebrity. People wanted to go to the BWI Marriott to expend their drink vouchers and see the funny celebrity do his routine. But that's a far thing from wanting him to be their presidential nominee.