It was about 10:45 p.m., and at the entrance to Trump’s Leesburg rally, there was something of a scene. Garish yellow plastic gates emblazoned with the Middleburg Bank logo barred the door, and hundreds (thousands? maybe?) of Virginians who had spent hours in line were crammed up against it, hoping to get in. Their only hope was that some of the fortunate few who were granted entrance to the Loudoun County fairgrounds’ barn before the fire marshal decided it was at capacity would get tired of waiting around for the tardy mogul and leave.
One issue: Anyone who left had to go to the very end of that two-hour-long line before getting back in. That included people who had to go to the bathroom (porta-potties).
One middle-aged woman sporting an orange “Guns SAVE Lives” sticker was particularly irate. She had waited in line for hours to get in, then she had waited inside for hours, and now she was about to lose her one shot at seeing Trump, all because of a draconian porta-potty rule.
“This is a disaster!” she yelled. “This is insane!”
A sympathetic friend placed a hand on her shoulder.
“You OK?” the friend queried.
She was not OK.
“I gotta pee!” she cried.
The pair disappeared shortly after that. Nature’s call turned inexorable.
Trump’s Leesburg rally was his campaign in miniature—it was the perfect Rorschach test: Was this event a complete catastrophe, proof positive of the wisdom of all the Trump naysayers? Or was it the truest measure of the devotion Trump inspires, incontrovertible evidence that he can generate crowds that are bigger and more devoted than any Clinton could dream to muster?
You could make a compelling case for either view. Parking was a disaster. Cars lined up along Route 7, the four-lane highway that licks across Northern Virginia. Attendees hiked upward of a mile and a half to get to the Loudoun County fairgrounds where the event was held. One local legislator told the crowd he managed to avoid the lines by riding his bike.
The barn for the event was much too small to hold the people who wanted to get in. The building was as drafty as they come. The floor was concrete and cold.
And Trump was late—way late. At about 8:30 p.m., police were telling reporters that Trump would arrive at the event by 11 p.m., a mere 90 minutes later than planned. But nope; it was soon clear that he would arrive at Dulles Airport, 20 minutes away from the venue, at 11. And that estimate was optimistic.
So lots of people left, all immediately replaced by the people pressed up against those yellow fences hoping to get in. And plenty waited it out. Two women and a young girl rolled out a pile of blankets in one corner. One of the women flipped through a copy of Real Simple as they waited for Trump. They’d tried to bring in chairs, one told me, but security wouldn’t let them. Other people sat in groups on the floors or huddled against the red metal fencing that lined the inside of the room.
To pass the time, rally organizers brought out local and state officials. They also had Rick Santorum, who berated the crowd. People think America will always be the greatest country in the history of the world, Santorum said. They think this country will be around forever. They’re wrong.
“Read your history! Read your history!” Santorum yelled. “Where has that ever happened?”
So they need to post on social media, make phone calls, get to the polls, do whatever it takes so Trump can beat Clinton and stave off America’s decline.
“Sleeping is overrated!” Santorum continued. “Donald Trump isn’t going to get much of it between now and Tuesday and if you love America, neither will you.”
And waiting for Trump provided attendees with the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Then State Sen. Dick Black, a legislator known in part for his eager willingness to defend Bashar al-Assad (he traveled to Syria this past April to visit the despot and shake his hand), came out on stage to speak.
“Where’s Hillary Clinton? What’s she doing?” Black said. “She’s probably sobering up right now.”
The crowd cheered.
Then Black launched into a baffling soliloquy blaming the Clinton Global Initiative for America’s military intervention in Libya.
“Why did we go into Libya? Because of Hillary Clinton,” he said. “We went into Syria. Why did we go into Syria? Because of the Clinton Foundation.”
The Clinton Foundation also bore at least partial responsibility for the violence in Yemen, he continued, and explains Clinton’s hawkish tendencies.
“I do not want one of my children sent off to fight wars because the Global Initiative of the Clinton Foundation has sold out and gotten paid millions of dollars to use Americans as mercenaries,” he said.
Instead, Black continued, we need to elect Trump, who will be “the greatest president in American history.”
And on that note the night rolled on. George Allen, infamous for getting caught using a racial slur in the 2006 Senate race that he subsequently lost to Jim “I killed a man” Webb, berated Hillary Clinton for wanting the Washington Redskins to change their name. The crowd loved it.
Oliver North, who helped sell weapons to Iran to illegally funnel money to rebels fighting to overturn Nicaragua’s government, said Hillary Clinton was a criminal.
“Who is it that’s going to hold Hillary Clinton accountable for all the crimes she committed?” North cried. “We the people!”
Laura Ingraham promised Trump would finally give the military some respect.
At about 11:40, reporters traveling with Trump tweeted that he had finally landed at Dulles—only two hours after his rally was scheduled to start. It was 41 degrees outside. People were still packed against the gates.
Finally, at 12:20 a.m., Trump sauntered on stage.
“Hillary right now is fast asleep,” he said. “She’s sleeping beautifully.”
Over the following 30 minutes, he touched on familiar themes.
The inner cities came up:
“Our inner cities are so sad,” he said. “African-American community, Hispanic community. Not fair. The inner cities, you can’t walk to the store for a loaf of bread. You get shot. You get shot.”
His prospects on Tuesday came up as well:
“This is going to be Brexit times 50,” he said. “Are we looking forward to, like, Tuesday evening?”
“Look at what she’s done,” he noted. “Everything she touches turns bad.”
And, of course, the wall:
“It may be almost 1 o’clock in the morning, but I guarantee we’re going to build that wall,” he said.
And the crowd, naturally, started chanting: “Build that wall. Build that wall. Build that wall.”
“Only in Virginia, only in Virginia can you say that, only in Virginia,” he said. “See, I can say that because I live here a lot, I stay here.”
That’s a ludicrous comment, of course. Trump has listened to crowds in every corner of this country chant “Build that wall.” But it doesn’t matter. It was 12:40 a.m. and people had been waiting for him in the cold for four hours, and they love him.
So what to make of this? Disastrous? Extraordinary? Your call.