Is There Anything A Trump Crowd Won’t Clap For?

Do they like John McCain or not? Or maybe they’re just clapping at whatever Donald says?

Donald Trump has a way of speaking that’s actually quite soothing. Sure, his voice is brash and it cracks like a screamo singer when he gets worked up, but it meanders fluffily and demands very little of your critical thinking. It's an almost abstract form of speaking that hits the ear like a kind of jazz, free-flowing and alive. He promises never to be boring, and when his swirling syntax wraps your brain in warm, swaddling illogic, he never is.

That’s why it’s shocking to see him struggle, with such great effort and with such futility, to sound like a human being while saying something he’s not pulling out of his ass. He doesn’t try often, but when it happens, it’s painful.

Call Obama the “teleprompter president” if you want, but at least he doesn’t read prepared remarks like the teacher made him write it on the blackboard. If this is Trump acting ‘presidential,’ he should look into getting Stephen Hawking’s device for the State of the Union.

But Trump's unnatural recitation aside, here’s what’s really confusing about this video: does the crowd like or not like John McCain? Trump half-assedly kowtowing to Kelly Ayotte and Paul Ryan is one thing. But John McCain represents so much more of a foil to the Trump movement, it’s much more confusing.

John McCain will probably go down as the victim of the first moment we really knew Trump was onto something. It came in July 2015, back when people weren’t sure if he was seriously going to run. (Christ, how long has this election been already?) Trump and McCain had exchanged a squabbling feud for a day or two, when Trump delivered one of the funniest lines of his candidacy:

Suddenly, a thought that had previously been confined to dorm room commentary and stand-up routines was on the record of a major party candidate. No one, including the audience at the time, knew what to make of it. Could a serious contender make fun of one of Washington's most respected figures for having done a stint in the Hanoi Hilton? Unthinkable.

But Trump doubled down. Again, he criticized McCain — one of the more hawkish yet milquetoast Republicans in Congress — and stunned everyone by getting away with it. Suddenly, a roar went up from a particular segment of the right wing that finally found an ambassador. They were angry people who saw McCain as a useless RINO, not a vaunted statesman. Actually, it turned out that the only people who had a lot of respect for McCain were DC insiders. Outside the Beltway, a ton of people reviled him as a sellout. Since that moment last summer, the GOP has never been the same.

That’s why it’s incongruous to see presumably the same people applauding Trump’s acquiescent endorsement this weekend. Again: do they or do they not like John McCain? Are they just newly interested in party unity now that their candidate won, or — horrors — do they just clap for whatever Trump says?

I’m inclined to think it’s the latter. Whenever I see a new Trump quote come across the wire, I usually first wonder if it’s The Onion. Then I click the link and watch the video of him saying it. Then I listen in astonishment as the crowd cheers him on. Who are these people?, I wonder.

The answer depends on how much credence you give to the lamentations of the white lower class. In practice, at least, they are members of a cult of personality who are in the thrall of the least skillful party leader in history. Maybe they just want to see him fulfill his longstanding promise to act more presidential? I don’t know. But if this is what it looks like, he won’t have to worry about practicing it for long.