Throngs of Latecomers Denied Entry, Unlike Empty Seats Last Year
The line of vehicles leading into Trump’s first 2022 rally extended more than four miles across the desert Saturday as people went to a music festival between Phoenix and Tucson.
Poor turnout bedeviled Trump rallies in late 2021. It’s not known if this was because of staff incompetence or waning enthusiasm for the twice impeached Trump, who lost the popular vote twice by wide margins.
Those long lines in Arizona may be a sign that Trump is indeed rebuilding support after poor attendance at his last 2021 rallies and as he talks of regaining the White House in 2024 despite the likelihood he will be indicted in Manhattan and perhaps other jurisdictions.
RVs the size of houses and pickup trucks dotted the expansive, dirt parking lot. One RV displayed a poorly photo-shopped Trump with washboard abs above the slogan, ‘All Aboard the Trump Train.’
The turnout Saturday night—15,000 according to the Arizona Republic—was a rebound from a December rally with disgraced television host Bill O’Reilly in Sunrise, Fla. There, so many seats were empty that people assigned to the upper tier were moved down near the stage and told they had been upgraded.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Trump’s final rally of 2021 had a listed capacity of 8,700. Only 5,406 tickets were purchased, though 6,200 supporters showed.
Prominent in the overwhelmingly white crowd in Arizona was a man dressed like Jason Chansley, the now-imprisoned “QAnon Shaman” at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The new shaman came adorned with horns, a fur headdress and red, white and blue face paint.
Loud music blasted from several vehicles, the lyrics attacking Democrats.
RVs the size of houses and pickup trucks dotted the expansive, dirt parking lot. One RV displayed a poorly photo-shopped Trump with washboard abs above the slogan, “All Aboard the Trump Train.”
Many who attend Trump rallies say they go to every event. That raises questions about the breadth of his support. It’s a bit like Atlantic City when Trump owned casinos there. The city claimed to be America’s No. 1 tourist destination with 32 million visitors annually, but the reality was that it was more like three million people who came almost every month.
Some six dozen tents stood behind cars and RVs, testaments to the devotion of some supporters willing to wait multiple days to make sure they got in.
Of course, that would also be an indication that the Trump fans were not at work. That matters because Trump continually complains that far too many Americans are not working.
The latest unemployment rate is 3.9%, close to Trump’s low of 3.6% in April 2019. One year later under Trump the rate soared to 14.7%.
Once the rally got going, massive speakers projected the voices of those on what looked to be a temporary stage over the cheering crowd and across the clear desert sky. As soon as Trump began speaking, shortly after 7 p.m., the lively parking lot became a ghost town as the faithful rushed closer to the stage.
Many chanted “Let’s Go Brandon,” a euphemism for a tasteless and childish slur against President Joe Biden. Flags and banners repeating that phrase flapped in the chill desert wind, as did others displaying equally crude comments, while a few others were anodyne.
Nestled just outside the rally’s metal detectors and in front of the older lawn chair crowd, several hundred mostly younger supporters had been in line waiting to go through the metal detectors when Trump took the stage. That’s when the Secret Service stopped letting people in.
In their wake lay a long, winding skeleton of metal barriers, used hours earlier to funnel the initial thousands of supporters into the areas Trump wanted occupied so the television cameras would show a big crowd.
The discontent of those still stuck in line was clear. Several young people angrily pointed to empty space just beyond the metal detectors where they wanted to stand.
Some of those loyal supporters had shown up at six hours before the facility opened, yet still had to wait several hours to gain entry. According to a Secret Service agent, the crowd’s density had been consistent for five hours prior to the rally as more people kept arriving.
Trump’s chaotic stream of consciousness made his seemingly improvised speech difficult to follow.
Basking in Glory
He repeatedly lost his train of thought. Trump took attention breaks in which he would turn away from the microphone gaze out over the crowd, basking in his own glory. But instead of finishing his point, he would resume speaking with a different thought, leaving the previous one incomplete.
Such difficulty staying focused is, of course, exactly what Trump and his followers claim occurs with Biden. They insist Biden is addled.
Biden stuttered as a child. In overcoming that, he was left with a variety of verbal tics and oddities. At times, he stammers.
A thirty-ish couple I spoke to, unhappy they were denied entrance, expressed bewilderment at the metal detectors. “What does he think we’re going to do, bring guns? Why would we do that if we’re here for him,” the woman said.
Of course, the metal detectors were there not for supporters, but to thwart any crazed critic who might plan to do harm, a perspective the Trump supporter had not considered in her simplistic reaction. Whether that’s typical of the narrow thinking of die-hard Trump fans would require far more extensive interviewing than could be done at one event.
The Saturday night Arizona crowd would have overflowed the fenced-off venue space had they all been allowed to get past the metal detectors.
Considering the immense traffic and the sheer number of supporters barred from entering the rally, it was clear that Trump’s return to Arizona in 2022 was met with heavy enthusiasm, a contrast to some of his previous rally’s with an embarrassing number of empty seats. Whether the Arizona crowd proves a good omen for Trump’s future remains to be seen.