Round the CNN pavilion at Nevada U., the Hillarybots, all in blue and white T-shirts, were jostling with the Trumpistas, no T-shirt, and tending to dress like the zombies in an Evil Dead movie. “We’re with her!” “We’re with her!” “HILL!ARE!EE!'” They’re on message. They’ve been on message for more than a year. They started up each time the Trumpistas started shouting, going off individually at various moments. “One world order! Gonna be a one world order!” “All the Hispanics, they are for Trump!” “Hill-are-ee!”. The CNN pre-debate panel were seated with their backs to us, six people talking over each other, and then going dead as soon as the ads went up. Some TV comedy dude in a propeller hat and a “Yes We Can” Trump T-shirt was punking Trumpistas. “We need to fix the VA” (Veterans Affairs) said a vet to camera. “Trump’s all about the VA! The VA and China! Gina! VA and Gina!” The vet nodded along.
Behind us all was the inevitable marching band, in a black livery, and half-a-dozen cheerleaders in black diamante mini-dresses, with red pom-poms. A heavyset, bespectacled, very harried CNN producer was directing them. “OK Situation Room Theme 2” he yelled, and the brass started, and the girls thrust their pom-poms and did the splits.
What persuades a university student to take up a hobby demanding a uniform and blowing into a metal tube while fake-walking in place? “We’re on band scholarships,” one told me during a break. Cheerleader scholarship, too? I made a mental picture of the Melbourne University Socialist Action Group 1987 as sousaphonists and cheerleaders. Then I tore up my mental picture. Round the marching band, the Christians with enormous banners, five metres by five, supported on harnesses. They staggered back and forth in the light wind, trying to edge their way in in front of the cameras. But the marching band refused to yield.
“Bill Clinton’s a rapist! Bill Clinton’s a rapist!” “It’s rigged, all rigged, there is no election”. Though the Trumpistas had 15 different chants, they were all on message, the new message that the election is “rigged”. They were all chanting it in the hours leading up to the debate; every other issue was no subordinated to it. So the issue with Bill Clinton being an alleged rapist was proof that the election was being rigged and because it was being rigged all those 11 women had come forward to frame Donald Trump by scurrilously saying he did all those things he said he did, which took the heat off rapist Bill Clinton, who was fixing the election. There were placards with pictures of Julian Assange with the word “hero” across them.
Later that night, it was the same at the Clark County Republican debate watch party. Seated in a bar of marble tabletops and clear plastic chairs, a place of such staggering kitsch that I imagined that it was only ever used for Republican Party get-togethers, the good ole boys with $10 cigars and neck rolls of fat and the gals in bling and white Stetson hats were all of the opinion that the fix was in. “Liar!” “Rigged!” they shouted at the big screen TVs whenever Hillary spoke. They did not believe the polls. “Oh they’re getting ready to steal this,” said a dude in a handlebar moustache and red, white and blue suspenders over a Lock Her Up T-shirt. “That’s why the polls are how they are.”
“You’re saying the polls are rigged?”
“Well of course, they’re owned by the big media interests.”
They were raucous for the first half of the debate, and then got quieter and quieter as it became clear that Trump was blowing it. Clinton managed to bait him effortlessly, getting Trump to defend Putin — Putin! — and pinging him on his taxes.
“Under my plan social security payments by the wealthy will go up, mine will and so will Donald’s, unless he can find a way to get out of it.”
“What a nasty woman,” Trump said. They loved that at the party. Trump followed that up with a full couple of minutes of gobbledygook about Aleppo, which made it clear that he had no clue about the Middle East, after more than a year of being a candidate. The room got very quiet as that sunk in. When Trump said he wouldn’t necessarily accede to the result if he lost, there was a rush of cheer, and then a sort of vacuum as the statement sank in.
By the end of the evening the mood was funereal. It was clear that Trump hadn’t sealed the deal, and it had gone exactly as everyone had predicted: after prosecuting Clinton on a “failed” economy and NAFTA for a while, he was drawn into a series of abstruse defences and boasts, including the minutiae of funding of the shonky Trump Foundation. No one hung around for very long after. I felt as I usually do at these things: the glee of watching the right collapse yields to a sympathy for people who are watching their hopes and aspirations fall apart. They all think that a Hillary victory will “end America as we know it”, and now they have to face the possibility that Trump’s atrocious performance will lose the Congress as well, and that’s the ball game.
Later that night, I watched the segment with the hapless vet — VA, Gina — from the afternoon. I thought he’d got that he was being punked. It was clear from the tape that he didn’t have a clue. What are these people going to do when they find out that the campaign was a punking? The marching band played. They were awful.