Governor Pat McCrory, himself in a very tight race, spoke briefly, and said supporters had been approaching him on the street to whisper that they were voting for him. McCrory has endorsed Trump, but he hasn’t appeared many times with him on the stump, for reasons that became clear Monday. McCrory has argued that the state is going through a “Carolina Comeback,” an economic boom instigated by his policies, which sits uneasily with Trump’s doomsaying about the state of manufacturing here and in other states.
By 3 p.m., the Dorton Arena hadn’t filled up to its 7,000-person capacity. The floor had plenty of space, and chunks of the grandstands remained open. But Trump had a lot of travel to get in, so he came on up and said he’d better get started, even though thousands were waiting outside. (They weren’t.)
Trump was perhaps slightly lower energy than normal, though given his grueling schedule over the final few days, who could begrudge him that? (OK, maybe Jeb Bush.) He kicked off with confidence.
“I hear we’re winning North Carolina big,” he said. “We’re winning Florida, doing really big. I think we’re going to win the great state of Pennsylvania. We’re winning plenty of other places. You know we’re in a rigged system. You gotta go, you gotta vote, you gotta make sure your vote gets registered.”
The speech was, as usual, a little bit of everything. He is funny; he is blustery; he is defensive; he is puzzling. There were a few largely unnecessary lies, in addition to the thousands waiting outside. He said that murder rate was the highest it had been in 45 years, and that the dishonest media wouldn’t tell you. (While the percentage increase in the murder rate last year was one of the largest in recent memory, the rate remains well below where it was four decades ago.) He also said, confusingly, that “Hillary is going to cut your Social Security and really injure Medicare.”
He reminisced about the Republican primary, and how he’d cut through a crop of supposedly formidable, seasoned candidates like a fresh scythe. He’s often returned to that triumph at moments when the outlook for his campaign seemed bleak, though there were few other visible signs of pessimism. Just as he was back then, Trump remains obsessed with ratings. “You know the NFL ratings are way down,” he noted. “You know why? Everyone’s watching this. It’s actually tougher.”
Not coincidentally, the group of celebrities campaigning for Hillary Clinton seems to have gotten under Trump’s skin. At two separate points during his remarks, he grumbled about the power couple who performed on Clinton’s behalf in Cleveland on Friday. “If I ever said the words that Jay Z said or that Beyonce said the other night? You know what would happen to me? The reinstitution of the electric chair,” he said.
Trump led the requisite boos of the media, but it seemed like, he, and the crowd, were going through the motions. He dismissed Comey’s announcement, saying, “The FBI, the director, was obviously under tremendous pressure. They went through 650,000 emails in eight days. Yeah right. So sad what’s going on.” But when the familiar “lock her up” chants started up, Trump turned almost statesmanlike, offering an alternative to incarceration. “Now it’s up to the American people to deliver the justice that we deserve at the ballot box tomorrow,” he said, stopping to repeat: “At the ballot box.”