There’s something going on, folks, something Donald Trump isn’t telling you.
His town hall, for instance, held 40 minutes late Thursday evening in Sandown, New Hampshire, was rigged—rigged in the kind of way Trump accuses the media of rigging debates in Hillary Clinton’s favor, rigged in the way he’s likely to accuse nefarious forces of rigging the general election if he happens to lose, as most polls suggest he will, on Nov. 8.
The first sign that something was amiss came Wednesday evening at 9:18, when Trump’s campaign sent reporters an advisory that he would be holding the event at 320 Main St.
“*Please note that this event is not open to the public,” the notice read.
Not open to the public—thus removing the “town” aspect of the town hall, leaving just… the hall?
The town-hall format has historically been an open meeting of the citizens of a community to discuss important issues. The first recorded town hall took place in 1633 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, according to Time, and, after sporadically occurring throughout the ensuing few hundred years, became a feature of the modern campaign thanks to Bill Clinton, who perfected the format.
Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey who ran for the Republican nomination himself before dropping out, shelving his dignity and endorsing Trump, has held more than 130 town halls in his tenure.
The personal aspect of this method of campaigning and communicating with voters allowed Christie’s gift as a retail politician to shine, which in large part is why pundits and party leaders thought he’d make a good candidate in the first place.
But that was then.
Sunday’s debate will be a town hall-style affair, and so the Trump campaign has enlisted Christie, who is in charge of Trump’s transition team, to advise the candidate on how to not fail miserably like he did at the first debate.
Christie was in attendance Thursday night, and Trump repeatedly called him “Chris” and “our friend” in a way that seemed to underscore his decline, from serious moderate Republican to sycophantic deplorable.
Sandown is a town of about 6,000 in Rockingham County, according to the 2000 Census, it’s more than 98 percent white. But Thursday night it might as well have been a sound stage on The Apprentice: Trump Presidential Edition.
Trump’s event was emceed by Howie Carr, a conservative talk show host in Boston who Trump suggested, out loud, probably supports his candidacy. Unlike at a typical town hall, where random people are passed the mic to ask questions, Carr held a stack of white note cards that featured questions allegedly thought up by the people in attendance—people, remember, who the Trump campaign selected to be there.
In true Trump fashion, Trump began by reading some cherry-picked polls that show him beating Clinton. “When we do badly, I don’t know about the polls,” he joked. “Now, here’s one that’s a biggie—UPI just came out with this, like, a little while ago,” he said. “Virginia: Trump 50, Clinton 45!” The crowd said, “oooooohhh,” like he was hosting a cooking show and had just set the flan on fire.
“Look at the media,” he told the audience. “They’re going crazy! They don’t know what’s up… they’re not happy, let me tell ya.”
“They were saying this is practice for Sunday,” Trump said. “This isn’t practice. This has nothing to do with Sunday.”
Of course, he was lying. Compared to Clinton or almost any other professional politician, Trump has virtually no experience with the town-hall format. His answers were timed—two minutes—and he joked with Carr that if he was doing badly, he should cut him off.
He joked about Clinton’s debate prep, which she proudly admits has been extensive.
“That’s not debate prep,” he said. “She’s resting.”
The first question, which Carr himself read off the card, was whether Trump had really held back during the first debate. A real toughie.
“I did hold back,” Trump said, before going on a riff about the microphone he claims was defective (the problem was not that nobody could hear him) and blaming that for his bad reviews.
Then he said, earnestly, “I really felt that i wanted to keep it on as high a level as possible, because it is about issues, it is about policy.” No one seemed to recall that he spent much of the debate defending himself for calling Rosie O’Donnell fat and then spent the ensuing week calling a former Miss Universe fat and encouraging the country to view her sex tape that doesn’t exist.
Carr didn’t even say who the second question was from, but this person who definitely exists was just dying to know what the biggest problems in the country are. Trump gave his standard stump-speech riff.
The next question was from Charlene, who said she was Hispanic. She wanted to know how Trump planned to change the minds of other, less-enlightened Hispanics who “Barack Obama and the biased media” had deceived.
It went on and on this way until it was over—and it was over quickly.
How do I get a job? one man asked.
Were you really jealous of Mike Pence like John Harwood reported you were?
What’s your advice for young people chasing the American dream?
What are you going to do to fix the VA?
Won’t it be bad if Hillary Clinton gives Social Security to illegal immigrants?
And then there was Lara. “I thought you needed a fun question!” she said, as if he had even broken a sweat answering the others. Carr then read her question for her: “What’s one of your earliest memories as a child?” She added, Carr said, “go Donald!”
Trump said he sat at his father’s knee while he worked in his office, “I’d be playing with blocks” and “it was always so vivid.” So vivid that his kids often repeat the same anecdote about their own childhoods.
It was then that Trump overheard negotiations, which was instructive for him as a young boy.
The night ended with a note card being passed from Carr to Trump.
Trump read it: “Oh, the World Series!” he said. “Look, oh—of course it’s Boston!” He threw the card in the air and smiled the big, wide smile of a man who has no fucking idea that this is not the sort of prep that will sufficiently prepare him for a presidential debate that he desperately needs to win if he wants to retain any hope of beating Clinton on Nov. 8.