US election 2016: Trump settles scores in ‘thank-you’ event

President-elect Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd after speaking at US Bank Arena on December 1, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio

This was billed as the first stop on President-elect’s Donald Trump’s “thank you” tour of states he flipped from Democrat to Republican in the 2016 election.

It ended up being more like an extended end-zone dance, an “in your face” primal scream at all his critics and naysayers.

He boasted about how he shattered Hillary Clinton’s perceived strangle-hold on the Electoral College.

“That blue wall is busted up,” he said. “I’ll never forget it because it felt so good.”

When he remarked about how much fun he had “fighting” his Democratic opponent, the crowd responded with “lock her up!” chants, just like old times.

He bemoaned the reluctance of some in his own party to support his anti-establishment candidacy – including Ohio’s own governor, John Kasich, the mere mention of whose name elicited a chorus of boos.

“We didn’t have much help at the top levels, you know that,” Mr Trump said. “And it turned out it didn’t matter.”

It certainly didn’t. And Mr Trump isn’t going to let anyone forget it.

He even found time to belittle Evan McMullin, referring to the independent candidate who was advanced as a conservative alternative to the Republican nominee only as “that guy”.

“We trounced him,” he said. “What the hell was he trying to prove?”

Mr Trump’s greatest scorn, however, was once again reserved for the media.

US independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin waits to speak to supporters at an election night party on November 8, 2016 in Salt Lake City, UtahImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMr Trump poked fun at independent candidate Evan McMullin

He said the press was “dishonest” and its coverage “brutal”. He mocked a network news reporter – Martha Raddatz, although not by name – for what he alleged was an emotional response to his victory.

“How about when a major anchor who hosted a debate started crying when she realised that we won?” he asked.

“No, tell me this isn’t true,” he said, in a mocking voice.

Mr Trump won in spite of them all. And while he said he had come to Ohio to talk about an “action plan” for his presidency, it was clear that he enjoyed careening off-script.

“We’re going to reduce the regulations,” he said at one point, when he was still more or less on message.

“But if a company wants to still leave a state like Ohio or Pennsylvania or… how about North Carolina? How well did we do in North Carolina?”

Guests cheer as President-elect Donald Trump speaks at US Bank Arena on December 1, 2016 in Cincinnati, OhioImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionSupporters could return to the slogans of the campaign trail

Then it was off to the races, reliving his election night triumph, where he proved all the haters and losers wrong.

It was Candidate Trump again, in all his glory. A bird’s got to fly, a fish has to swim, and Donald J Trump has to open his mouth and let the words stream out as the cheers grow louder.

Throughout the course of his year-and-a-half campaign, huge arena rallies served as Mr Trump’s lifeblood. The adulation of the masses nourished and sustained him through his stumbles and gaffes.

There were moments, when Mr Trump was closing in on the Republican presidential nomination, when advisers both inside and outside the campaign urged him to abandon the free-wheeling, carnival-style events, hew more closely to teleprompter-driven speeches and focus his effort on key constituencies in battleground states.

He gave a scripted foreign policy speech in April. Another before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in May. An economic speech in Detroit in August.

Mr Trump balked.

“I miss flying around and giving rallies when it was just a couple of us on the plane,” the candidate told campaign manager Kellyanne Conway in August, according to New York magazine.

So the rallies resumed full-throttle, and Mr Trump endured – through debate stumbles, “live mic” recorded boasts of sexual aggression and predictions of his impending political demise.

Now, after nearly a month of post-election sequestration in his eponymous tower, having phone conversations with foreign leaders, meeting with those vying for plum positions in his administration and receiving vanquished foes on bent knee, he was back in his element.

The music was the same – Elton John, Pavarotti arias and the Rolling Stones.

The souvenir vendors still plied their “Hillary for Prison” T-shirts, Trump buttons and “Make America Great Again” hats, with a few new presidential knick-knacks thrown in.

Trump souvenir mugs on sale
Image captionLots of souvenirs were on sale

The enthusiastic, overwhelmingly white crowd was the same, chanting “USA”, “build the wall” and “drain the swamp”.

Talk to them, and you hear the same unadulterated admiration for his unconventional ways.

“He’s spontaneous,” said Christopher Kidney, a high school student from Fort Thomas, Kentucky. “He says what’s on his mind, and that’s what we need in a president.”

And then there’s the same anger that fuelled Mr Trump’s successful campaign.

“You live in small town America, you see all these foreign folks that are buying people’s little family country stores. You get tired of that stuff,” said Brian Busam, a heavy machinery worker from Marathon, Ohio. “Trump is rocking. It’s nice to hear a different voice.”

Trump supporter with T-shirt emblazoned: Guns don't kill people, Clintons do

He sported a T-shirt emblazoned with “Guns don’t kill people, Clintons do.”

It’s as if the campaign had never ended.

Indeed, that may be the goal. After his win in 2008, Barack Obama tried to keep the energy and enthusiasm of his own massive crowds alive, to harness and focus it into a governing force. His team founded Organising for America, a political action committee to support the newly elected president’s legislative agenda.

It turned out, however, that running the country isn’t nearly as glamorous as campaigning and the Obama magic of 2008 was impossible to recreate.

Now, Mr Trump and company could be hoping to turn his mega-rallies into a permanent fixture of his presidency – a way to reach directly to his supporters, like a modern-day testosterone-fuelled version of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside radio chats.

At the very least, the goal for this multi-state “thank you” tour over the next few weeks seems to be to give Mr Trump a platform to outline his presidential goals and, perhaps, smooth over some ruffled feathers from a contentious campaign.

Trump supporters stand for the national anthem before the start of the Image copyrightAP
Image captionMr Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” resounded with many voters

“We’re a very divided country,” Mr Trump said early in his speech. “We are going to bring our country together.”

Only a few minutes later, however, Mr Trump was winging it, with little regard for goodwill-building.

“We had people running our country that truly didn’t know what the hell they were doing.”

At that point any Democrats listening probably weren’t in the mood for a group hug.

Meet the new Donald Trump. Same as the old Donald Trump.


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