The Just Desserts duo of senior editors Claire Hanan and Matt Hrodey has seen a lot. They’ve seen chicks hatch at the Wisconsin State Fair, they’ve seen a smoke-soaked casino debut a smoke-free hotel, they’ve seen Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch describe texting Gov. Scott Walker, and last night, they saw Donald Trump at the Milwaukee Theatre. It’s been a wild ride.
Claire Hanan: Yesterday was a weird day in Wisconsin with presidential and local candidates alike hopping around the city making their final pleas to voters. Did you feel anything unusual in the air?
Matt Hrodey: A certain fervency, but nowhere moreso than in the Milwaukee Theatre.
CH: I think last night was the strangest event the Just Desserts team has ever covered. Every ounce of it was odd, including the Bernie rally across the street at the Wisconsin Center. And we’ve covered casino hotel openings!
MH: We were within elbowing room of a very studious writer from The Economist and a smash-mouth correspondent and cameraman from The Young Turks.
CH: He interviewed the Marquette students in front of us, and after a little testy back and forth, asked them, microphone in hand, “Why do you think I’m a douchebag?”
I thought that was going to be the oddest moment of the night, but I was wrong. What did you think of the opening act, pastor Mark Burns?
MH: He was good in a strong, pastorly way. The problem with using other politicos as openers is they sound like politicos.
CH: “Do I got a witness?” was definitely a-politico. “Will somebody shout, ‘NOT ON MY WATCH, NOT ON MY WATCH?'”
And he did say Trump is “pining for us” at one point. Another gem: “Can anybody tell me why in the world is Kasich in the race? Somebody shout, ‘GET OUT OF THE RACE, GET OUT OF THE RACE, KASICH'”
I’d give it a 10 for energy, a 3 for substance and a 10 for perspiration.
MH: National media took note of Trump bringing his wife Melania on stage with his numbers flagging among females. She has a degree in design and architecture from the University in Slovenia.
CH: The crowd was happy to see her. “She’s just really something special and I have to say she will make an unbelievable first lady,” Trump said as he introduced her.
She described all the ways The Donald is “great.” Then: “When you attack him, he will punch back ten times harder,” which elicited cheers of “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!” All this, but she only spoke for less than two minutes.
What do you think of the crowd?
MH: A significant percentage seemed to only be there for the spectacle, or were leaning toward Trump but too bashful to fall for him completely, such as the young gentlemen in front of us who were wearing the standard-issue Trump hats but maintaining their rhetorical distance.
CH: Yes. A few even wore the ever-tasteful “Trump that Bitch” shirts, with Hillary Clinton’s face in black and white. They seemed to know some other young men in the room who were there for the same thing.
MH: The whole thing felt a little unreal, like we were living in a Netflix show.
CH: Right. Trump said so many words, many of them adverbs of adjectives, yet so few concrete ideas or coherent statements.
At one point he held up a couple pieces of eight-by-eleven inch paper with charts on them to illustrate a point about jobs. No one, of course, could really make out anything about them.
MH: But you could see the bars trending downward! We’re going to run out of jobs!
CH: Yes, America is doing very poorly in just about every way, it seemed.
I don’t think I’d ever watched an entire Trump speech before last night, but one of his most interesting speaking tics is the way he just drops these little surprise bombs in asides.
For instance, he was talking about the Chinese building a “massive military fort in the South Sea,” and in an aside he said, “If you can get away with it, you do it,” and then kept going on about American leaders allowing the Chinese to do it!
In another instance, he slips in “the Persians are great negotiators!” Another non sequitur, this one mid-sentence, he says “you need Trump.” And then just keeps talking.
It was hard to process a wannabe politician saying things like this publicly, the day before the election.
MH: I wonder if we’ll see more celebrity candidates after him, people who take advantage of the authority that celebrity provides. It seems to be more durable than the aura of someone like Rubio who just works up the hierarchy from statehouse to Congress to candidate.
CH: True. The media, us included I guess, seemed to be as enthralled by spectacle of it all, too, which might explain why there were so, so many journalists there. Yet Trump seemed to know part of his popularity relies on the media, even though he called them “dishonest.”
Near the end of the speech he said, “I was supposed to be person of the year,” for TIME Magazine. This was another mid-thought aside while talking about Angela Merkel, Germany’s PM and the eventual cover star.
“I’ve been on the cover a lot,” he said after.
MH: Politicians pay millions to rent space in your head; Trump, because of his place within the culture, is already a longtime landowner. How much success do you think he owes simply to his name? It’s like a meme in itself.
CH: Right. Or “The Apprentice.” It was a yuge missed opportunity for him to not tell President Obama, “you’re fired.” Which of his positions do you think worked best for the crowd?
MH: He rang the bell on his promise to take care of veterans a handful of times, and it resonated. Anytime he pledged to get other countries to pay for defense or what have you, it connected. The immigration/wall/illegal immigrant stuff didn’t elicit as much as his campaign seemed to expect. Maybe it doesn’t help that Wisconsin’s dairy industry leans heavily on both documented and undocumented immigrants. His promises to bring back jobs, companies, manufacturing and “winning” still drew cheers.
CH: His jeering at Walker didn’t go over as well as it did with the Bernie crowd. And I’d imagine it’s because many of the people in the room could have voted for Walker at some point. “You know I beat your governor and I beat him badly” probably didn’t get the reaction he wanted.
MH: Some could have voted for him three times in five and a half years. If not most.
CH: Yeah. I was a little surprised by how much he mentioned the other Republican candidates, including “Lyin’ Ted,” Kasich and, for some reason, Jeb.
MH: Jeb is his punching bag.
CH: They all are. He mentioned offhandedly that Ted Cruz doesn’t speak in a relatable way, and that he just “debates.” “I said, ‘Take it easy, Ted, just talk,'” he says he told him. It’s Trump’s way of being personable in that he’s sharing an intimate moment between presidential candidates, and yet being condescending at the same time.
He also mentioned Carrier, a maker of HVAC systems, taking jobs to Mexico. Do you think he meant Johnson Controls?
MH: There was a video of Carrier workers in Indianapolis booing about jobs moving to Mexico, he must of thought that was close enough to Milwaukee. What do you think he really, really thinks about Wisconsin, as in, deep down inside when it’s just him and an enormous comb in front of a mirror?
CH: Not much, other than a chance to wave a potential win in Walker’s face. What about you?
MH: He has to puzzle over why he’s doing so poorly with Republicans here. Counting both sides, he has an unfavorability rating of about 70 percent, and only about a third of voters would pick him over Hillary. So, to many, he seems like an unsafe bet and a losing one. Earlier in the year, he did better in polling, but seriousness has become more important.
CH: If he loses the primary, he said, this will have been a waste of time and money. That was another I-can’t-believe-this-is-actually-happening moment.
MH: That’s also a repudiation of the model the other candidates are running under: Even if they lose, this is still great for their brand. Trump pretends to be too big for that, too huge.
CH: Even though he’s run for president once before.
Let’s put on our pundit sweatsuits for a moment. Who do you think will win Wisconsin’s primary?
MH: I’m going to side with the Marquette poll, Cruz and Sanders. Kasich voters crossing over are going to go Cruz, I think. If there’s an upset, it’ll be Hillary.
CH: “We should keep Gitmo open just for her,” said a Trump supporter as we were leaving the theater. I agree with your predictions. I can’t remember a time when the MU poll was wrong about a major election.
MH: All hail the MU poll.