Attending a Donald Trump for president rally used to be fun. Really. I’ve been to four so far. The first three were rollicking, unscripted affairs, so apart from the yawn-inducing, poll-tested mush that passes for politics these days that it seemed impossible for everyone in the room, even reporters, not to get a kick out of it.
With each event, Trump put himself in the same leaky boat as the crowds, and they believed him. “America is getting screwed,” he told them. “I am going to make America great again. You’re going to be so proud.” Heads nodded, soon-to-be voters hooked on every word.
But the Trump rally in Macon, Georgia, on Monday night was something else. Trump spoke to a crowd of roughly 6,000 in a coliseum that could have handled 10,000. But more glaring than the empty seats—a rarity at most Trump events—was the overwhelming whiteness of the faces in the crowd. Out of thousands in attendance, I saw maybe two dozen or so who were black or Latino during my three hours there.
Amid a sea of golf shirts and sweater vests, an African-American man in his 60s sat a few rows up and over. Three teen-aged Latina girls were in front of me. I could see an older black couple directly across the coliseum toward the front row. Everyone, everywhere else, was white at an event in a city that is 67 percent black.
This is not to say that Trump or his supporters are racist (the Confederate flag waving occasionally in the crowd notwithstanding). But the make-up of the attendees was a reflection of the fact that Trump’s campaign is resonating with a narrow (and narrowing) slice of the electorate at a time when the country is becoming more diverse every day.
And that phenomenon should worry not only Trump, but the entire Republican Party he may be overtaking.
Even Trump seems to understand this to a certain extent. Earlier in the day, he met for 2½ hours with a coalition of African-American pastors to discuss issues in the black community. That meeting was meant to be a much-needed boost for Trump, whose last two weeks have included a dogged insistence that “thousands and thousands” of New Jersey Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks (they didn’t), his comment that a Black Lives Matter protester “probably deserved” to be kicked and punched by his supporters at a rally in Alabama, and his pantomiming of a disabled reporter.
As he took the stage in Macon, Trump called on Bruce LeVell to join him. LeVell, an African-American jeweler from Atlanta, had joined the meeting with the pastors and now went to the podium to endorse Trump. “Donald Trump is not a racist, guys!” LaVell said.
With that out of the way, Trump returned to describe how he felt after meeting with the pastors in Trump Tower. “It was one of the most inspiring meetings, the love they have for the people they represent….”
This is where you’d expect Trump or any other aspiring leader to talk about what he learned from the pastors about poverty in the black community, or ways to address joblessness in the inner city, or underemployment for people in the middle class of any race. This would have been the place for ideas, inspiration, answers.
Instead, Trump began rambling for more than an hour of about the incredibly, horribly unfair treatment of white men—in particular one white man, Donald Trump.
Trump rattled off his list of people who have treated him poorly. The press: “These are really dishonest people.” His Republican opponents: “These are horrible people.” Karl Rove: “Some people are losers.” Bobby Jindal: “Some people are vicious.”
Speaking of vicious: “Bernie Sanders, may he rest in peace.”
The next theme was Trump’s personal grievances and complaints. “I can’t joke anymore,” he said about the backlash from his mocking of Ben Carson’s troubled past. “The belt! I’m not going to joke anymore.”
And why won’t anyone be honest about his huge crowds? “They never want to show the crowds—can you do it once?” he yelled at the news cameras placed in front of his stage.
But Trump also wanted the crowd to know about all the good things about Trump.
“I’m the tough guy, I’m the smart guy.”
“When you're really, really smart like I am...”
“I won all the debates…”
“Nobody knows the game like I do.”
“I gave up a lot to run, a lot, a tremendous amount—TV shows, everything.”
Did he mention he predicted the rise of Osama bin Laden, “the terrorist with the big, fat mouth” in his book? “Does anyone have my book?” He saw all of this coming.
Then, about 40 minutes into the speech, something strange happened. The guys in golf shirts started heading out. “Beating the traffic,” one group told me. The three young Latina women left, too. “I have class in the morning,” said one. Like the crowd at a baseball game that may as well be over, the back of the coliseum began to thin as people streamed out.
Trump spent very little time talking about the ideas that had gotten people in those seats in the first place—the struggles of the middle class, his promise to negotiate better deals on trade. He didn’t even mention the “beautiful wall.” And he spent no time reaching out to the voters he hasn’t won over, especially minorities.
The middle-class anger that Trump originally channeled seemed to have turned into his own personal rage at how he thinks he’s been treated these last few months. His speech was less about making America great again and more about making Donald Trump great again. It used to be about them. Now it’s about him.
The Georgia GOP primary is on March 1, and Trump still looks poised to win the state in the crucial “SEC primary.” But that’s four months away, and many of the people who got to see him in Macon voted early Monday night. With their feet.