LONG ISLAND, N.Y. — “It’s great to be home,” Donald Trump said. It was Wednesday night and he was an hour away from Trump Tower, onstage at Grumman Studios, a movie studio in Bethpage, New York, talking to ten thousand Long Islanders dressed for a Billy Joel concert. “This is home,” Trump said, referring to the state of New York or the set he was standing on, it wasn’t clear. But no matter, he was home in both senses, and he was happy. “It’s great to be home!”
One of his fans said to another, “I like a guy who’s gonna kick all the garbage outta the country!”
“We go into Iraq and in the end, who got the contracts for oil?” another said. “China! Nice deal, right?”
It was like Trump had cast them for his own personal reassurance, and who could’ve blamed him.
Not even 24 hours before, Trump had the welcome mat rolled up under his feet in Wisconsin with a decisive loss to Ted Cruz, his central rival for the Republican nomination. Cruz has been trailing Trump considerably in the fight for delegates, and his campaign is attempting to advertise Tuesday’s victory as a “turning point” in Trump’s luck.
But Cruz is in Trump country now, with the New York Primary just 12 days away and 95 delegates at stake. Trump is polling 35 points ahead of Cruz here. Cruz, in fact, is doing so poorly that in the Real Clear Politics average, John Kasich beats him by more than three points.
The point may be—at least for people on Long Island—that Trump isn’t just from this place, he’s of it, so while Cruz rallied on Wednesday with fewer than 100 supporters in a Chinese-Dominican restaurant in the Bronx, according to the New York Post, Trump was able to quite literally stop traffic in Oyster Bay with a crowd nearly large enough to fill the Garden.
“Do you remember during the debate when he started lecturing me on New York values, like we’re no good?” Trump asked. The crowd responded with a unanimous boo.
“We all know people that died,” he said, referring to the September 11 terror attacks, “and I’ve got this guy looking at me with scorn in his face, with hatred of New York! So, folks, I think you can forget about him.”
The folks chanted, “Lyin’ Ted! Lyin’ Ted! Lyin’ Ted!”
It couldn’t have been a better fit for the venue if he had scripted it.
Grumman Studios is the same place where The Dictator, a satire starring the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, was filmed in part in 2011. In that picture, Baron played Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen, the chauvinist moron leader of the fictional Republic of Wadiya, who scares the rest of the world when he suggests he’s close to obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Grumman Studios facilitated a fake United Nations set for The Dictator, and in the scene, Aladeen says, “Democracy is the worst!”
Trump’s set was slightly different: a vast warehouse on Grumman’s lot that once served as an airplane hangar before being repurposed more glamorously as a workplace for movie stars. There was a red, white and blue MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN banner draped across the back wall and on the stage, several American and New York flags stood before a blue curtain.
Wednesday’s rally was highly professionalized, something which, in the past, has eluded Trump’s campaign.
Increasingly over the last few months, Trump’s rallies and press conferences have been marked by violence—with protesters being punched in the face by supporters and journalists being violently grabbed by official members of Trump’s entourage. Ahead of Trump’s Wisconsin defeat, his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery for bruising a reporter at a Jupiter, Florida, event.
Coupled with his slips of the tongue—he said, last week, that women who get abortions should be punished before backtracking and taking two separate opposing positions on the issue—Trump’s operation can appear disorganized.
Before his Bethpage rally on Wednesday night, he met with Paul Manafort, a strategist he hired to help him win delegates, but it was unclear why. Politico reported that Manafort was “likely to threaten to quit” if Trump’s team didn’t get in line, while NBC reported the meeting was about Manafort “taking on an expanded role” in the campaign. Manafort—in contrast with Lewandowski and others in Trump’s orbit—is seen as an adult in the room.
On Wednesday morning, Trump’s supporters were informed that they would not be permitted to bring backpacks, homemade signs, or banners into the rally, nor would they be able to park near the event space. Instead, they had to travel on large shuttle buses from one of five locations: South Oyster Bay Road; the Hicksville train station; the Bethpage train station; the Hempstead Bethpage Turnpike; or the Bethpage Federal Credit Union.
This seemed designed to prevent protesters from infiltrating and to weed out the mere spectators from the diehards. Who but a fan, after all, would abandon their belongings and wait on line to ride a cramped bus to a movie set all to see a former reality TV star send up the Republican establishment?
Once the buses arrived, Trump’s supporters were funneled through a door that read, “Stage 1.”