LEESBURG, VA – The highlight of the hours of waiting for Donald Trump to show up for his late-night rally here on Sunday was a woman dressed up as Hillary Clinton in prison garb, handcuffs on her wrists. The roar as the crowd greeted her as she entered was almost as loud as for Trump himself.
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FBI director James Comey’s announcement earlier that day, which cleared Clinton of charges of misuse of her private email server, sent Trump supporters out of their minds.
To them, until that point, Comey had been an independent-minded prosecutor who dared to take on Clinton just nine days before the election. Now, having ostensibly joined forces with a corrupt system that hasn’t managed for 20 years to put the Clintons in their rightful place – i.e., behind bars – these people spit out his name with loathing.
It was Trump’s fifth and last event of the day. From early morning Sunday, he’d been plane-hopping between Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania. His schedule was ambitious, slating just an hour and a half between one event and the next, including flying time. The Leesburg event was scheduled for 9:30 PM. Trump arrived at 20 minutes after midnight, which left his supporters plenty of time to froth at the mouth about Comey.
The rationale behind holding the event in Leesburg was not entirely clear, and it probably didn’t lead anybody to change their minds. It was a rally for people who would rather commit hara kiri than vote for Clinton.
The goal was evidently to whip up campaign drama – a last-ditch attempt to drive people to get out and vote, and also to help fill up the hundreds of remaining live-broadcast hours, albeit with the same-old, same-old.
Virginia had been red for years, voting Republican from 1964 to 2008. That year the state turned around, however, and went blue, a trend that strengthened in 2012. The reason for the change is mainly demographic: The northern part of the state, near Washington, D.C., developed a thriving high-tech industry, which in turn attracted a liberal population. These districts are among the wealthiest in the United States. But meanwhile, southern Virginia is bright red. Lauden, the county that hosted the rally Sunday, also changed color.
Until now, Virginia wasn’t considered to be a critical state, but last week the Trump campaign decided to give it a try anyway. GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence attended an event at George Mason University in Fairfax on Saturday, while Trump scheduled the event in Leesburg, a small town with 47,000 residents. The Clinton campaign dispatched Tim Kaine, also for a couple of events in the state.
The Trump rally was held in an old barn, converted into a venue for small-scale events like rodeos – though one might have assumed it had as much seating as a huge stadium, judging by the thousands making their way there hours ahead of the rally. Not everyone had entry tickets; some apparently just came for the heck of it.
The road leading to the barn was a narrow one, with cars parked on both sides for a couple of kilometers. County buses also brought in the Trump supporters. On one of them, the topic of conversation was Comey, although one person complained about the Democratic Party's plan to jack up the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which would hike the cost of a hamburger to $10. “That’s work for high-schoolers,” somebody groused from the rear of the bus, and another added, “If your career is flipping burgers, get a new profession.”
Then everybody started comparing when they began supporting Trump: Those asserting they were faithful from the get-go and never fell for the siren songs of Ted Cruz or Ben Carson won some approving looks.
At the barn itself, the line outside stretched at least a kilometer. There were no blacks to be seen, or Hispanics. A lot of people showed up with their kids, despite the late hour. Almost everyone appeared to be blue collar. Nobody tried to cut in front. Secret Service agents, looking frazzled, carefully inspected every handbag with the help of dogs.
Mike Parabola, 40, stood two hours on line to see the GOP camdodate. He’s a voting virgin who explained his rationale: Trump is going to be a great president and Mike wanted to be able to say he had been at the rally before the vote. “We will win,” he declared.
“People are afraid to say they support him,” said Steve, a contractor, who added that he’d been getting attacked over social media for supporting Trump. But, he concluded, people will still vote for him.
Election rallies are characterized by a rigid, practically religious ritual. The events start with the national anthem, then all kinds of locals contending for various posts down the ticket get their 15 seconds of fame. The Trump crowd is warmed up with the usual Benghazi-emails-Obamacare accusations, occasionally bursting out into chants like “Build the wall,” “Jail her” – and the latest wrinkle, “Drain the swamp.” Every time CNN is mentioned, the crowd boos.
When Trump came on stage here, he looked quite fresh, considering the intense day he had been through. He glanced at the time and cracked a joke about his tardiness, after which he switched to reading off the teleprompter. It only took six minutes for the candidate to reach his climax: "She" is protected by a corrupt system. Hillary is corrupt. She knows it, the FBI knows it, the people know it.
The crowd loudly joined in, “Jail her!”
Everybody got their satisfaction and Monday the Trump show was due to go on in five more places.