Trump learns to ‘stay on point’ in campaign’s final days

Republican nominee shows discipline and calls on Florida voters not to believe the polls

Supporters listen to Donald Trump speak at a campaign rally at the Bayfront Park Amphitheater in Miami on Wednesday. Photograph: Damon Winter/The New York Times

Supporters listen to Donald Trump speak at a campaign rally at the Bayfront Park Amphitheater in Miami on Wednesday. Photograph: Damon Winter/The New York Times

 

Donald Trump is hardly prone to public displays of self-doubt, but with opinion polls showing him closing in on Hillary Clinton with just days to go before the election, he finds himself on unfamiliar terrain, having to balance his natural instinct to project supreme confidence with the need to ward off complacency in his supporters’ ranks. Trump’s gambit, when he takes to the stage in blistering heat at Bayfront Park, an outdoor amphitheatre in downtown Miami, is to tell his voters to pretend he is losing.

“The polls are all saying we’re going to win Florida,” he says to the 2,600-strong capacity crowd. “Don’t believe it! Don’t believe it. Get out there and vote. Pretend we’re slightly behind. We don’t want to blow this!”

Trump has in recent days grown noticeably more disciplined on the stump, sticking to his talking points and reeling in his tendency to assail his many targets with the off-the-cuff attacks that make the headlines and obscure his broader messages. He even refers to the change himself.

“We’ve got to be nice and cool, nice and calm. All right, stay on point Donald, stay on point,” Trump says at a second rally later in the day, as if mimicking the advice of his aides.

If Trump senses that he is on the brink of a remarkable victory, he is not alone. Supporters queued from dawn to get into the rally at Bayfront Park and stood for hours in the shade-less amphitheatre before the Republican nominee entered to the strains of Nessun Dorma just after midday.

Lloyd Tenny, a long-time Miami resident and born-again Christian, said: “There’s something amazing happening in this last week of this election. I learned a lot from Brexit. The media can define the world to people one way, but ultimately the people are going to make the decision. I think we’re seeing our own version of that.

“I don’t think the sentiment of the people is truly being captured by the media. I think he’s going to win significantly.”

Theme

It’s a recurrent theme in the crowd. “We have a silent America that’s going to vote for Trump, and it does not appear on the polls,” says Fabian Basabe, a retired hotel owner.

The Miami crowd is anything but silent. Supporters greet every one of Trump’s slogans – on re-negotiating trade deals, fighting illegal immigration or keeping jobs in the US – with whoops of delight. Every time he mentions “Crooked Hillary”, a chant of “lock her up” ripples like a wave across the amphitheatre. When he points at the media pen and accuses reporters of bias against him, supporters boo the journalists. Some yell “CNN sucks” or take photos of individual reporters.

For Trump and his core supporters, the media are but one target on a list that includes liberals, the Republican Party establishment, bankers, lobbyists, special interests, undocumented immigrants, local senator Marco Rubio and, of course, Hillary Clinton herself. In a speech in which he calls his rival criminal and corrupt, Trump predicts a Clinton victory would cause “an unprecedented and protracted constitutional crisis”. Many of his supporters go further.

“She is just awful,” says Nora Tenny, who was born in Bolivia and raised in Argentina but has lived in Miami for decades. “Not just what evils she has done, but trying to cover it up. More than that, I think she’s a puppet. There’s more powerful forces behind her.” Asked to elaborate, Tenny says: “You want me to tell you the truth? Demonic forces. It’s a spiritual battle in this country. That’s the bottom line.”

The Trump camp has grown more bullish about his chances in Florida – a swing state that will likely be essential if he is to reach the 270 electoral votes required for victory – following a number of polls that showed the race here tightening. Surveys by CNN/ORC and Quinnipiac University gave Clinton a lead of two and one percentage points, respectively, both inside the margin-of-error leads that in effect suggest a dead heat.

“The future lies with the dreamers, not the cynics or the critics,” Trump told the crowd. Listening from the pit of the amphitheatre, Joe Pergola, a small business owner wearing a “The Deplorable” T-shirt, is allowing himself to dream.

“I’m hoping for a landslide. If he wins by 6 or 7 per cent, it means the country is kind of united behind him. If he wins in a 51-49 type scenario, it’s going to be another divided nation for another eight years. That’s going to be tough. I’d like us to get behind this guy for once and for all.”

Send a message

If Trump won, Pergola adds, it would send the world a message that “we’re not going to take shit any more”.

For KC Holmes, a middle-aged local film-maker, a Trump victory would mark a historic reassertion of freedom from political and financial elites after a period of 30-40 years in which the US “lost its way”. Holmes is scathing of every president since George HW Bush and among former presidents speaks fondly only of John F Kennedy, whose assassination she believes was “orchestrated by the banking cartel”.

“It’s up to every generation to choose freedom . . . It has to be fought for and passed on to the next generation. Unfortunately, the greatest generation of America raised kids like myself, we sat down and went to sleep. Now we’re awakening to the corruption that is in our banking system, Wall Street, our politicians,” she says.

Trump has so far refused to say if he will accept the result of the election, insisting he will first assess whether the process was fair. It’s a reasonable position, says Joe Pergola, but in the end he expects the Republican and his supporters to accept defeat if that’s what the voters decide. Nonetheless, Pergola fears for his party and his country if that happens. “It will split the party, and the republic of the United States might fail,” he says.

Holmes agrees. “I think our country will mourn. The people that vote for Mr Trump, they are not violent people. They are not revolutionists. We will mourn and we’ll pray and we’ll fight harder next time.”

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