It was time for a pivot, as they say in politics. Donald Trump preferred a pirouette.
Accustomed to playing the scrappy underdog during the Republican primaries, he brought his road show to Winston-Salem on Monday, graduating from the presumptive nominee to the eruptive one.
Before about 5,000 partisans, he celebrated the discord of the Democrats in Philadelphia with a harmonious attack on Hillary Clinton, nitwits in Washington and the news media.
To attend a Trump rally now is to attend an old-timey gospel tent revival with a rapid-fire sermon on bad, terrible, disastrous global trade deals. It’s Book of Revelation meets “Art of the Deal.”
But now, with Trump coming up in the polls after the GOP convention last week in Cleveland, his long-running and personally cherished underdog status, which served him so well in the primaries, is fading.
So he gloated, first a little and then a lot, and even gave a friendly nod to his perennial opponent, CNN, or as he calls it, the “Clinton News Network.”
CNN had released its early polling on the race, and Trump was ahead. “I may even start to like them,” he said.
Heat an issue
Trump and Clinton, who was in Charlotte to address the VFW convention, both visited North Carolina on Monday while it sizzles in the summer’s worst heat wave.
While his rally was held in relative comfort in the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex, an aging barn of a venue, the wait for entry was a brutal ordeal with temperatures in the mid-90s and the sun cranked up to max.
Forsyth County paramedics did a steady business in people fainting in the heat. One 80-year-old woman, who had ridden over with a friend, succumbed moments after confiding to new political acquaintances in the line about how she felt America had never been so unsafe.
Medics carted her to a first-aid center for re-hydration. There she encountered a neighbor in for the same malady. They left together for home after about an hour, never getting into the rally.
Dangerous world, maybe, but still a small one.
T-shirts say it all
Sample of sentiments expressed on textiles at the rally:
“Hillary for Prison 2016.”
“Contrary to popular belief, nobody owes you anything.”
“Second Amendment is America’s original Homeland Security.”
Campaign buttons were being hawked for $5 each. They largely stuck to the campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” except for one enterprising vendor offering one with comic relief:
“I’m Just Here for the Pokemon.”
Learning the chants
Most of the Republican ticket in North Carolina made short appearances before Trump took the stage.
An earnest young man, a volunteer for Gov. Pat McCrory, moved through the stands coaching people on how to cheer when the governor came on.
“Chant, ‘Love the Gov,’ ” he said, then repeated it with more gusto, fists pumping to the beat. “Love … the … Gov!”
When McCrory emerged, he got a big hand, but no one chanted anything about gov love.
McCrory pretended to do the rally housekeeping announcements, pointing out the exits, then added, “And if any of you need to use the restrooms …”
It took a moment for the crowd to get the joke, a reference to the HB2 controversy, but they eventually cheered.
After running through a list of accomplishments, McCrory introduced Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. By way of approval, he mentioned that Pence had named his daughter Charlotte.
Please stand …
Former “American Idol” contestant Haley Davis, as she has at other Trump rallies in North Carolina and elsewhere, was brought out to sing the national anthem.
Everyone stood for the song, except three journalists in the media pen behind the camera stand. Two were occupied with laptops; the third gawked at his phone.
Mark Burns, a black pastor who often addresses Trump rallies and spoke at the RNC last week, jolted the nearly all-white crowd to life with an impassioned sermon-style speech.
“President Obama is a racist,” he declared, launching into an indictment of the first black president as a divider, not uniter, of the nation’s social order.
Trump, he said, delivers the truth on the problems facing the country. “He is saying publicly,” Burns concluded, “what millions of Americans are saying privately.”
Trump rallies were dogged by protesters during the primary, but only a lone soul heckled him during his remarks. Trump was gracious.
Probably a frustrated follower of “Crazy Bernie” Sanders, Trump told participants, telling them to treat the interloper gently.
“Safest place you can be in this country,” he said, “is at a Trump rally.”
His biggest cheers came on his favorite stance, immigration. “We will have a wall, and Mexico will pay for the wall, believe me.”
He called Clinton ally Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts “Pocahontas,” referencing a controversy about whether she had been given special treatment because it was believed she was of Native American ancestry.
“I like the real Pocahontas,” he said. “This is not so good.”
Trump’s message wove through the points of political disaffection that have drawn so many to his anti-Washington, new-Americanism pitch, a litany of complaints about how the once-powerful nation has sagged at the hands of shrewd and opportunistic foes.
“We’re going to be the smart people again,” he declared. “We’re not going to be the stupid people.”