The ultra-wealthy Republican candidate, an international celebrity generating both admiration and loathing since the 1980s, arrived with great fanfare at the Costa Mesa fairgrounds on a typically gorgeous Southern California day. A rookie at electoral politics, the candidate’s only prior experience in the world of government could be summed up in three words: generous campaign contributor. Nonetheless, he’d come to promise a genuine revolution in the affairs of state.
Steeped in the intricacies of policy and their own stuffy conventional wisdom, critics couldn’t fathom a man so adverse to details would ever have a chance of winning public office. But those concerns didn’t bother the largely 55-plus, Caucasian Orange County crowd. To them, the time had come for change they could believe in. They’d grown increasingly disillusioned by a Democrat’s feckless government and wanted new leadership from a man unbound to the political establishment, willing to call a spade a spade and unafraid to hurl personal insults to wimpy protectors of the status quo they detest.
The candidate fit that bill precisely. He didn’t need to speak eloquently or possess grandfatherly sensibilities adverse to desires fueled by adolescent angst. To bring his fans to their feet, all this man had to do was smile, wave or utter laconic lines channeled from a Steven Seagal flick screenwriter. His name, prominently featured on commercially successful products for decades, triggered household recognition nearly on par with Tide, Coke or Charmin. People of all walks of life craved a connection with him. That he, a man at top of his private profession and needing not another dollar, would pay them attention only further demonstrated his fitness for duty.
This rare phenomena delivered tangible results. In a world with increasingly short attention spans, the candidate possessed awakening powers. No observer could deny his ability to drive once apathetic voters to Republican Party polling booths. This increase in citizen activism alarmed traditional political forces which were comfortable fighting over well-worn turf and abhorred the notion unmanageable demands might cost them control over the colossal government treasury.
Like everyone else, the candidate had foibles. In his case, namely women. Sacred marriage vows meant nothing as he made no secret he considered himself a certifiable sex symbol available for females lucky enough to penetrate his lavish world of private jets, fancy nightclubs, obedient butlers and mega-mansions.
In their dreams, most men wanted to be the candidate. His existence signaled possibilities. After all, he’d mastered what they’d craved: money, power and unconditional sex.
But that reputation didn’t win universal admiration. Consistent, reliable polling showed an overwhelming majority of women voters despised him. He countered by saying he loved—no cherished—women, lines delivered with misogynistic undertones the opposite sex found creepy. The more the candidate talked, the more he dug himself in a hole.
Reporters who described the circumstances encountered wrath. To divert attention from his messes, the candidate used public rallies to incite hatred for the enemy of his fairytale life, journalists. On his word, angry fans jumped from their seats, booed, cursed and flipped off these men and women forced to wear “Media” identification badges with passion usually reserved for a last-second, winning touchdown pass.
Campaign rallies are, of course, theater. Theaters are where we suspend reality. The candidate, a showman at heart, understood that fact. That day in Costa Mesa, he stood smiling surrounded by women holding placards declaring female support of his campaign. He also symbolized what he’d do to the political establishment if elected: He staged a massive wrecking ball slamming into and crushing an old Oldsmobile Cutlass. Attendees went nuts cheering.
Twelve and a half years later—on April 28, Donald Trump followed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California governorship-winning performance at those fairgrounds. After pre-show musical entertainment consisting of recorded Elton John, Pavarotti and Rolling Stones songs, Trump blasted the media, celebrated his wealth and fame, professed economic miracle capabilities and downplayed his female woes. He pointed to ladies in attendance who waved posters declaring “Latinos For Trump!” as well as “Black Christian Women Love Trump!” He also asked a black man—one of his supporters who likes using the term “illegal aliens”—to speak at the podium.
Trump then ridiculed political correctness, calling for its unceremonious end. Perhaps confused by what had transpired, some in the crowd booed. But that attitude quickly subsided. People donning every imaginable use of the American Flag—shirts, shorts, socks, shoes, scarves, etc—or “Hillary For Prison 2016” t-shirts applauded energetically.
You can’t make this up: They also clapped when their candidate talked about chopping up pigs, drenching bullets in pig’s blood and then shooting people, “Islamic terrorists,” in the head with the projectiles. The story warmed hearts. People screamed in appreciation. A man near the front row waved a homemade sign, “Vote Trump: Patriotically Correct!”
During Schwarzenegger’s 2003 performance, opposition remained largely hidden or, at least, quiet. Today’s protesters are determined not to repeat that mistake. Considering Trump vile, they made their voice heard through media accounts by blocking traffic, refusing law enforcement orders to disperse, destroying public property and challenging equally bitter people wearing the Donald’s trademark “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.
Thankfully, Trump didn’t drag out the wrecking ball. He found another way to ignite his supporters into a frenzy. As he’s done many times, he guaranteed a future impenetrable, 1,000-mile wall along our nation’s southwestern border. Mexico, we are assured by a man who commonly refers to himself in the third person, will “gladly” pay us upwards of $10 billion or more for its construction.
As if laughing at the notion people believe what politicians tell them during campaigns, the likely 2016 Republican Party presidential nominee mentioned a statement someone unidentified alleged told him.
“Donald,” recalled Trump. “You are the greatest [performer] without a musical instrument.”
The crowd hooted in appreciation, unable to attach the line to their looming naivety.
“We’re going to win, win, win,” he said. “You’re going to be so sick and tired of winning.”
In this Trump crowd, I saw faces that had been present for Schwarzenegger’s Costa Mesa act, the one that ended with bi-partisan accounts of the Hollywood actor’s post-election incompetence, corruption, embarrassing flip-flops on key issues and betrayal of those who put him in power. But the déjà vu didn’t register. Once again, these people are convinced they’ve found their savior.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.