Greensboro Coliseum Director Matt Brown proudly surveyed the scene from the fairway about 30 minutes before Donald Trump took the stage at White Oak Amphitheater on Friday afternoon.
“Name another venue and another city that’s had the president of the United States and a presidential nominee of a major party in the same week,” he exulted, comparing Trump’s appearance with that of President Obama three days earlier. “We were told Obama wanted to create a replica of his Chicago event in Grant Park [after winning the election in 2008]. They wanted that outdoor ambience. Think about it: They were going, rain or shine.”
When an acquaintance asked him to characterize the crowd for Obama at the 7,800-capacity venue, Brown responded, “Packed.” He added, “You could see a big difference.”
In contrast, the 2,000 reserved seats were full for Trump, but the two tiers of lawn seating were only thinly covered. Over the next 30 minutes, the lower tier would gradually fill but the upper tier remained largely unoccupied.
As the crowd waited for the Republican presidential nominee the scene had the relaxed feel of an outdoor music festival with supporters swaying in the autumn breeze while waving “Make America Great Again” signs to the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and other songs (the campaign playlist, which never varies, heavily favors the Stones).
That dynamic quickly changed when Trump took the stage around 2:35 p.m., electrifying core supporters with a speech charged with anger and resentment, amid news that his campaign has pulled out of Virginia, leaving North Carolina as one of four states in his must-win column.
After working through standard stump speech fare about immigration, trade, military strength, salted with pledge to appoint a special prosecutor if he wins the presidency to re-investigate opponent Hillary Clinton’s handling of her State Department emails, Trump quickly moved onto recent allegations that he has touched various women without their consent published in the New York Times and other outlets. While denying the allegations, the candidate focused withering contempt on the news media.
“The corrupt media is trying to do everything in their power to stop our movement, believe me,” Trump said. “They don’t want this happening. We have one of the great movements…. And no paper is more corrupt than the failing New York Times.”
“The whole thing we’ve been going through — and I hate to say it, Bernie Sanders was a rigged deal — the whole thing is one big fix, one big fix,” he continued. “It’s one big ugly lie. It’s one big fix. The press can’t write the kind of things they write, which are lies, lies, lies. The stories are fabrications and false. And the only thing I say is: Hopefully, hopefully, our patriotic movement will overcome this terrible deception.”
Even as one supporter shouted, “Stay on the issues,” Trump said he was compelled to answer the allegations against him.”
“We are destroying our country with these sick people back there,” Trump said, gesturing to the press section, “and they know it better than anyone in this arena. I ran because I knew what trouble our country was in. The country’s in tremendous trouble. You know this in North Carolina because you see what’s happening to your jobs; they’re disappearing. I know it’s not about me, it’s about you, and that’s why I’m doing this. It’s about you. It’s about bringing our jobs back and making our country great again. I’m taking these slings and arrows for you, so we can have our borders, so we can get back our jobs, so we can be a safe nation again.”
The candidate mocked allegations that he had touched women without their consent, pantomiming a hand grope as if it were implausible, while also reverting to an old habit of sizing women up on their physical attractiveness.
Attempting to discredit a statement by Jessica Leeds, who told the Times and NPR that Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt on an airplane three weeks ago, the candidate said, “Believe me, she would not be my first choice.”
Asserting that the story was completely fabricated, the candidate said, “It’s a phony deal. I have no idea who these women are. No idea. And I think you all know I have no idea. Whoever they are, wherever they come from. When you looked at that horrible, horrible woman last night, you said, ‘I don’t think so.’ The stories are total fiction. They’re 100 percent made-up. They never happened. They never would happen.”
He similarly disparaged his Democratic opponent in language verging on objectification. Recalling a moment during the second presidential debate on Sunday, Trump said, “When she walked in front of me, believe me, I wasn’t impressed.”
The rally was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, who were escorted out of the amphitheater by Greensboro police officers. Video posted on Twitter shows one, Derek Dunham, being tackled and placed in a headlock by a Trump supporter after he unfurled an American flag and carried it through the audience in the upside-down “distress” position.
Trump was interrupted by a protester in Greensboro and this happened: pic.twitter.com/Hzc2Z82gNu
— Holly Bailey (@hollybdc) October 14, 2016
Trump attempted to deflect attention from allegations about his personal conduct to recent revelations from Wikileaks, including an email from Donna Brazile, who — acting in the capacity of both CNN contributor and chair of the Democratic National Committee — leaked a question for a town hall-style debate to the Clinton campaign during the primary.
“The Wikileaks documents show how the media conspires and collaborates with the Clinton campaign, including giving the questions and answers to Hillary Clinton before the debate,” Trump said. “What a rigged system, folks.”
Adding to his litany of corruption charges against the Clintons, Trump said, “Saudi Arabia paid Bill Clinton a lot of money to make a speech and then got an arms deal from Hillary at her State Department that they were unable to get.”
Donations from various foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation, including Saudi Arabia, have been amply documented by various news outlets. A 2015 report in International Business Times noted that arms deals to countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation nearly doubled under Hillary Clinton’s leadership at the State Department, compared to a similar period under the Bush administration.
“On Nov. 8 the arrogance of Washington, DC will come face to face with the righteous verdict of the American voter,” Trump promised.
“You’re gonna look back at this rally for the rest of your life,” the candidate added. “And we’re having a good time — are you having a good time?”