Down in the lower-middle depths of Manhattan, the Bernie crowd was spreading, street by street, outwards from the centre. Washington Square Park is hosting a Bernie rally tonight — you’ve seen the thing a thousand times in movies, it has a fake Arc de Triomphe, people play chess and sell drugs there, and the Beats, the hippies and the Factory crowd all hang out there, etc etc — and people started queuing yesterday to get a slot.

Bernie Sanders has supporters from every age and class all over the country, but these are the types that most people associate with him: hipster, post-hipster, hipster-lite, NYU students, the less-anarchist side of Occupy, etc. Three-day beard growth and moustaches, chunky retro-headphones, and hand-made woollen hoods, knitted ironically. This is Bernie central, ground zero, the redoubt.

The rally had to close its gates some hours ago, with a crowd that must be close to 25,000 — “it’s yuuuuuuuuuuge” people yelled together — spread out in the night, holding their smartphones up to create a sea of light. The warm-up was like New York dreaming to itself: Tim Robbins, Spike Lee, Rosario Dawson and, of course, Vampire Weekend.

A highlight of any Bernie appearance is him, in his voice, “thanking Vampire Weekend for their continood support”. Tonight he’s framed by the Arc de Triomphe as he does it. Earlier in the day it had been heavy NY retail politics: a morning press conference with the Transit Workers Union to get their endorsement, and then a turn on a Brooklyn picket line with Verizon workers (a telecoms conglomerate) who are protesting mass layoffs, occurring at the same time as the managements rake off huge bonuses.

Hillary Clinton appeared with some striking Verizon workers — although she was careful to avoid actually standing on a picket — to share her thoughts. But, of course, she’s done that for Verizon before. She gave a speech to their management, for which she received a $200,000 fee. Sadly, as Bernie notes, the content of such speeches — great though they must be for $200,000; Shakespearean — are unavailable for public view. As always in this race, Clinton’s 12-15 point lead in NY has shrunk to around six-eight points. Bernie won’t win — it’s a closed primary — but anything less than a double-digit Hillary win is a draw. Anything less than five points is a loss.

New York, jaysus. You go away from it, and you forget how utterly unlike anywhere else it is. Apart from a few miller-shirted hipster corners like Portland, most of the United States is a giant Midwest, in which paunchy people in beige slacks and sports shirts of teams not their own, and say things like, “uh, I guess I’ll have the soup” and “parking sure is tough today”. New York still looks like the inside of a Velvet Underground song. You come out of the subway and an old hippie with a cat and an old AM radio in his lap zips by, singing “call out the instigator … cos there’s something in the air”, while a bald black guy in African prince regalia works the other way, and a baseball-capped gang of Latina teenagers swarm a tourist and run off with their open wallet, and on and on and on …

There’s an unreal aspect to it, like it was being put on for you — the effect really of New York being the centre of TV culture for half a century. These streets are our streets, in the back of Law and Order, etc, etc, so the sense of unreality is, well, yuuuuuuge. Donald Trump added to that over the past 48 hours by having a TV “meet the family”, with Eric, Ivanka, Melania (every time one sees Melania, one understands why people thought that eastern European women could turn into cats at will; her feline eyes darted ’round the audience, looking for … traitors? Mice?), and a coupla the others, speaking to Anderson Cooper on CNN, while his Trumpness listened on, looking upwards and paring his nails, like a Roman emperor witnessing the warm economia from a family he could have killed with the wave of a hand.

Ivanka, clearly the brains of the outfit — the sons look like the Trump equivalent of wooden duck decoys — talked about the women he employed in his organisation, what a role model they were (not the mum, Ivana? “Ivana yacht, Ivana penthouse, Ivana …”), how Donald has never had a drink or a cigarette and passed that on, etc. It was all the more funny because, of course, Trump is a raging orange American Id, just sitting at rest now and then. He is alcohol; he is a cigarette. He consumes himself in real time.

Most recently it’s been about the nefarious doings of the Republican Party, having rules of election and conduct. Having lost delegates in Louisiana, and not got a single one of Colorado’s 34 convention-elected delegates, the Donald faces further humiliation, with an upcoming convention in Wyoming, where he will also be dudded. And after New York, Tuesday week, is Pennsylvania, where Trump could sweep the popular vote — and not command a single delegate in the state’s weird “loophole” laws. Controlling candidates in Pennsylvania, the last big state before California, means having a room full of card-files on every assistant secretary of every block-length ward across the state. Such lack of command of the process is starting to look like rank incompetence. Ted Cruz — currently running at 15% in NY and heading south — is starting to look not like some pale vampire man who wears his mother’s skin when reception at the motel closes, but a smooth and efficient operator.

To tackle that, Trump is doubling down on his interesting winner/loser strategy. In speeches, he now portrays the voting rules as designed by “the establishment” to exclude him. When confronted with the notion that he simply didn’t understand the rules, he says: “I understand the rules. I understand the rules probably better than anyone. And I understand they’re out to get me.” Ostensibly that cuts against his image as a winner, a man in command, but for many of his supporters, it works. It’s the “coulda been a contender” pitch, the idea that I’m such a winner that anything that causes me not to be is cheating. That’s especially so when what defeats you is … maths, abstract rules, systems. After all, Trump’s appeal is overwhelmingly to people defeated by systems: manual workers in an IT world, high school grads, if that, in college-land, good ol’ boys surrounded by speech codes, workplace regulations, changing mores, etc.

The bamboozling of Trump by actual organisational rules fits that perfectly. Trump’s blindsiding becomes an image of blindsided lives, of Trump’s fidelity to them. “Every man a king” was the slogan of Huey Long, the old populist, with whom Trump has some (only some) resemblances, and Trump’s appeal is to say that, hey, you, beaten down and outrun, the Donald’s still a king, and so are you.

That, as it becomes more intense, is getting full-on. As state Republican chairs and officials with upcoming conventions assert the simple fact that the party has rules, they are starting to get credible death threats from a group of people with a lotta guns. Some are now under guard. With threats to visit delegates in their rooms coming from Trump surrogates, many are starting to wonder if the convention will be in a state of collapse, as soon as it starts. That’s especially so if Cruz organises so well as to have a shadow majority: a 1237-plus vote committed on a second ballot, after delegates have been released from a state’s binding first ballot commitment. Such types were willing to disrupt hundreds of town hall meetings in 2009-10 when the Obamacare bill was being debated.

It’s a pretty Noo Yawk way of doing things, combined with a Midwest spirit of pure imbecility. Mention of imbecility rounding out our coverage nicely, with a cringe-inducing event in which John Kasich — about as Midwest as getting an STI off a cow — went to a Brooklyn hasidic yeshivah, and gave a bunch of guff, which indicated that he didn’t understand that most Brooklyn hasidics are fiercely anti-Zionist, and march in pro-Palestinian rallies. Later, in the group’s bookshop, he held an impromptu lecture: “Have you heard of Joshua?” he asked a group of bearded, behatted students who have been learning the Torah off by heart since the age of eight. They smiled politely, wanted him to go. He’s part of New York weird now, Johnny came from Cleveland Ohio …

And tomorrow a huge, yuuuuuge, $15 minimum wage march is going to stride right up to the New York Republican gala dinner, where all three candidates are guests. At which point, the imaginary might get very real indeed …