The Donald Trump Revival Comes to Alabama
Likening himself to Billy Graham, Donald Trump preached to a stadium of true believers, and millions more at home.
As “Sweet Home Alabama” blared into the humid Alabama air on Friday night, Donald Trump waltzed up to the lectern like he was accepting an award at the unlikely campaign venue of Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, a city of 200,000, wearing a crisp, white button-down beneath a navy blazer and a red, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” hat over his naturally luxurious hair.
He grasped the lectern with both hands, looking like he was trying to steer a ship in the sea of what were, according to his campaign, 30,000 Alabama residents but with all the empty seats appeared to be significantly fewer than that.
“Woooooow. Wow wow wow!” Trump bellowed like a baritone Sally Field. “Unbelievable! Unbelievaaaaable! Ugh, thank you. That’s so beautiful.”
Then, he said, “Now I know how the great Billy Graham felt, because it’s the same feeling.” Billy Graham, the conservative Christian evangelist and presidential spiritual adviser, got his start preaching outdoors on street corners, in front of bars, and in the parking lot of a dog racetrack. “We love Billy Graham,” Trump said. “We LOVE Billy Graham.” In 2013, Trump attended Graham’s 95th birthday in North Carolina, along with Rupert Murdoch, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released hours before Trump’s stop in Mobile, almost 32 percent of Republicans surveyed support Trump—Jeb Bush, his establishment rival, boasts the support of just 16 percent of the GOP.
Trump explained to the crowd that he needed to host his event in the partially-empty stadium because initially, when it was scheduled to take place in a hotel, they were only expecting between 250 and 300 people. But in case you haven’t been listening, Trump is a yooooge deal. When word got out about Trump’s event, according to Trump, the hotel called to say they couldn’t accommodate everyone. Next, Trump said, the campaign tried the Convention Center, but the size of Trump’s expected crowd grew so much that it surpassed the venue’s 10,000-person capacity. “So, we came here!” Trump exclaimed, throwing his arms out. “We came here.”
The Washington Post’s Philip Bump surmised that Trump chose Mobile because it “lies on the Gulf Coast” in close proximity to “other big population centers” like New Orleans and Tallahassee, and, less close but still not far, Birmingham and Atlanta.
Whatever his reason for being there, Trump sure seemed at home. He laughed and joked with the crowd. At one point, he walked around to the front of the podium, reached down into the audience, and plucked a copy of his book, The Art of the Deal from the hands of a female fan. Trump, ladykiller, called her “beautiful.” He said his book is his “second favorite book of all time,” and then asked the crowd what his first favorite book is. He seemed to smirk before he shouted, “THE BIBLE!!!”
This is Trump’s way of assuring Southern voters that he is, if not a man of God, at least someone who respects God’s branding—because for Trump to concede that anybody, divine or otherwise, produced a better product than he did, he has to think at least as highly of them as he thinks himself. And that’s as good as evangelicals are going to get from him.
At another point, Trump took his “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” hat off his head and ran his fingers through his hair, joking that he would prove to the skeptics that it’s real.
Later, a plane flew overhead, and he glanced up to the sky. Earlier in the day, a pro-Jeb Bush plane had flown by, with the message, “TRUMP 4 HIGHER TAXES. JEB 4 PREZ.”
“Huh, somebody stole my plane!” Trump smiled, “Dammit.”
Most candidates give more or less the same exact speech everywhere they go.
They tell the same heartfelt anecdotes and the same jokes with the same inflections to poor saps in state after state, county after county, day after day. But Trump, as he noted in Mobile (in a speech which lasted over an hour), is yoooge and popular and therefore every single time he speaks, it’s carried live on multiple television networks. So while he basically maintains his bullet points—immigrants are bad, America is getting beat by China, I’m really rich, Mexico is making America look bad, my military will be fabulous, did I mention I’m really rich—he rarely says the same thing twice.
Maybe it’s for that reason that Trump speeches never feel predictable, even though his biases are unwavering. He is a sputtering sprinkler of bigotry, flowery adjectives, and non sequiturs.
“Israel? I loooooooove Israel,” he said at one point while discussing foreign policy.
“We have dummies we have dummies we have dummies!” He complained of U.S. leaders.
His military, he said, will be “so big and so great” that “nobody’s gonna mess with us, folks—nobody.”
While he warned that “Mexico is the new China,” Trump informed his public that Nabisco, the creator of such beloved childhood snacks as Oreos, plans to move its factory there. “I LOVE OREOS,” Trump shouted. Then, sadly, “I’ll never eat them again.”
At his announcement speech June 16 at Trump Tower in New York, he said, plainly, “So, just to sum up, I would do various things very quickly.”
Friday in Mobile, he summed it up again, “I’m going to make this country bigger and smarter and better and you’re gonna love it! And you’re gonna love your president!“