Thousands lined up in the cold in Bethpage, Long Island, last night (April 6) to welcome Donald Trump home to New York.
The lively crowd filled the enormous hall of Grumman Studios—the soundstage where Sasha Baren Cohen’s “The Dictator” was filmed—and was unusually rowdy, even for a Trump rally, bursting into “USA!” “Build that wall!” and “Trump!” chants at a moment’s notice.
But though all the elements were in place for a barnburner, Trump’s performance never really caught fire. His strangely half-hearted delivery makes you wonder whether his brutal loss to Ted Cruz in Wisconsin and rumors of discord among his campaign staff are wearing The Donald down.
According to local police, nearly 10,000 people showed up, although Trump had a different estimate.
The crowd was restless, mostly ignoring the full-throated endorsements from local Republican politicians that opened the night.
“I have to stand here for 30 minutes listening to this crap?” a woman in the audience asked her neighbor as Carl Paladino, former gubernatorial candidate and fellow real estate tycoon, praised Trump as a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
The candidate’s older daughter, Ivanka, also took the stage, a week after having a baby, and supporters were presented with a cuddlier, more grandfatherly Trump. He repeatedly referenced his family and said he was grateful to have them by his side.
The crowd, however, largely ignored the family profile that was shown on a large screen—except for a clip showing Trump’s wife, Melania, in a bikini hugging an inflatable orca, which elicited heavy cheers.
Trump never really plugged into the crowd’s vigor. If anything, he seemed a little “low energy“—a vibe distinctly different from that of the fiery Trump on display in Ohio in March.
Take his response to protesters, which are often a key sideshow of his rallies (a feature that has sometimes, as in Chicago last month, triggered violence). Normally, the candidate relishes pointing them out in the crowd, leading his fans in chants, and ad-libbing insults. Not last night. When security agents took an unusually long time to remove two separate protesters, Trump seemed impatient, twice walking away from the podium in irritation.
“Forget ‘em. You can’t hear ‘em anyway. Forget ‘em. That’s okay folks. Forget about ‘em. Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Or do you wanna let ‘em go a little further? You want ‘em out? Alright, gotta get ‘em out. Get ‘em out please.”
Police said two people were arrested for fighting at the rally, and six people were taken to the hospital.
Perhaps the only time Trump truly came to life was when he read, as he often does, the lyrics of Al Wilson’s song “The Snake” (though he did misidentify the singer as Obama favorite Al Green.)
The song, according to Trump, illustrates what happens when a country lets in refugees and migrants—how injured animals can turn into vicious killers. It’s a remarkable performance: a bedtime story for a crowd of amped-up adults.
And in a specially tailored nod to the hometown crowd, Trump mentioned his main rival’s dismissal of “New York values” during a debate. Trump repeated his widely-praised response, underlining the resilience of New Yorkers in face of tragedy, referencing 9/11, and how “we all know people that died” in the terrorist attack.
Trump is on pace to handily beat Cruz in the New York primary on April 19. But his defeat in Wisconsin seemed to leave the real estate mogul more than a little deflated.
His speeches almost always include a round of boasting about the states he has won in a ”landslide.” Last night, however, Trump favored abstractions—an offhanded mention of “momentum” and repeated promises to ”win, win, win.” A sign, maybe, that as his path to clinching the Republican nomination grows more narrow, that’s easier to say than to do.