Chris, who asked me to withhold her last name, a white, 71-year-old retiree from Edgewater, Florida—originally from “Taxachusetts,” as she calls it, with the accent to boot—has come here on a bus with the Volusia County Republican Party. Her tank top reads GOD, GUNS, & TRUMP. Chris and I are mid-conversation when a U-S-A chant begins in the pit of the Amway Center. More specifically, Chris is mid-sentence when a U-S-A chant begins, but her thought can wait. She turns from me as though programmed from afar. As she pumps her fist and chants, her red, white, and blue drop earrings quiver.
“So,” she says, turning back to me. “I’m here today because I think he’s the greatest president there ever was in this country.” I ask her if there’s anything Trump could do that would make her rethink her support. “No,” she says.
Trump’s speech itself—which began around 8:15 p.m. and lasted for more than an hour—was almost beside the point. He said hardly anything new, nor was he expected to. He lambasted the “fake news” for perpetuating the “Russia hoax.” He relitigated the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private server. He pledged to “drain the swamp.” He seemed to be reading from a list not of his greatest hits so much as his only hits.
But then again, his supporters didn’t say much of anything new, either. Resolute Trumpers then are resolute Trumpers now, enthusiasm for “promises made” now swapped for a belief in “promises kept.”
When visiting Orlando, even if for no other purpose than a Trump rally, you feel the looming presence of Disney World. Disney iconography is everywhere, namely images of the Magic Kingdom, which stands 21 miles from the Amway Center.
The Magic Kingdom is the centerpiece of the local Disney empire, Cinderella’s castle flanked by a panoply of roller coasters and routinized parades and theme shows and wax-paper-wrapped turkey legs. It’s a phantasmagoric whirl through Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain and Alice’s Mad Tea Party that for 47 years has delighted infants and newlyweds alike. It is a cocooned splendor. One is never under the illusion that its attractions—the costumed Mickeys and Minnies waving atop floats, the fireworks bursting before sundown—even remotely resemble reality. Indeed, the promise of escape is precisely what entices tens of millions of visitors a year. But the inverse is true as well: The Magic Kingdom is a place you eventually leave. Nobody lives at Disney World.
It was with this fantastical curiosity that much of America became intrigued by the sideshow taking place in the lobby of a gold-plated castle in Midtown Manhattan four years ago this week. The problem, of course, was that many would continue to view Trump’s campaign in this way. Reporters covered his rallies just as they might have a trip to Disney World, detailing for readers all the curious characters and sites and souvenirs. (The red hats! The build-the-wall chants!) The appetite for those dispatches and rally broadcasts was ceaseless in large part because they seemed to depict the stuff of fantasy—a fantasy, crucially, that would surely be vacated come Election Day.
Last night, Trump’s campaign-kickoff event was far closer geographically to the Magic Kingdom than it had been four years ago on that morning in Manhattan. But the sense of unreality that once linked them was gone. The ride—which thrills some and terrifies others—has become real, and it has been on loop for four years now. As the unshakable loyalty of voters like Chris suggests, it could well continue for several more.