NEW YORK – On the evening of April 19, the hottest news story in America took place at Trump Tower, the opulent Midtown Manhattan skyscraper owned by real estate tycoon, reality show celebrity, and Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump. And I was there. In a third-row ringside seat. Though Trump’s comments were brief and he didn’t take any questions from the press, my takeaways from a close-up view gave me some valuable perspective to share with our readers.
I worked hard to be guaranteed access, considering I live three hours away in Central PA. Once my access was confirmed, I got into my car and drove into New York.
The scene outside Trump Tower was subdued – hardly the atmosphere one would expect nowadays at a Donald Trump event – not to mention on the most politically significant Primary Day in New York state’s recent history.
Once inside, I tried to secure a seat as close to Trump’s podium as I could, so I could have the best chance of asking him a question or two (I had about a half dozen questions in mind). The first two rows were taken by a lot of the media giants – CNN alone had about eight seats reserved. With the advantage of traveling light (no bulky cameras or tripods), I was able to maneuver through the plodding media mass and score a seat that was every bit as prime real estate for the press conference as Trump Tower is for Manhattan.
The atmosphere inside was calm as well – at least from a political sense. It wasn’t just media – there were Trump supporters on hand too. But there were no theatrics. I spotted only one “Make America Great Again” hat, no signs, and absolutely no “in-your-face” fanaticism. Absent, too, were any Trump disruptors. No signs depicting Trump as a racist or a fascist, no caricatures of Trump with a Hitler mustache.
A little while before Trump took the stage, I briefly met with George Gigicos, a Greek-American who heads Trump’s public events, and is therefore omnipresent, but who unlike his boss does not gravitate to the limelight and manages to keep a low, workmanlike profile. No sooner than were he and I talking that he looked at his phone and had to rush off. “Sorry,” he said, “this is my life.” I nodded, understandingly, and he was hopeful he would grant The National Herald an interview at a later date.
After the event, I greeted Trump’s Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski who, following the candidate’s big win, expressed his joy and optimism to me and to those in the press around me.
I didn’t get a chance to speak with Paul Manafort, the delegates guru who has the rare distinction of having out-campaigned Ronald Reagan (in the 1976 presidential campaign, when Manafort worked for Gerald Ford) and who is now the driving force of the Trump campaign, but some in Trump’s inner circle whispered around me that “he’ll get back those delegates that Ted Cruz stole from us.”
THE “OTHER” TRUMP
Finally, the main event. No sooner than did the polls close at 9PM than did The Fox News Channel, featured on a giant TV screen where the press was sitting, declare Trump the winner, by a landslide – he was expected to capture over 50 percent of the vote, but won by an even greater margin than that (over 60). A few moments earlier, a journalist seated next to me from a nationally prominent newspaper asked me: “do they expect Trump to win tonight?” I tried not to hide my astonishment (anyone following the election knew that) as I answered: “yes, and by a lot – the only question is by how much.”
Trump emerged with his wife, Melania – his children Don Jr., Ivanka, Eric and Tiffany had long arrived, greeting the crowd – to thunderous cheers and a “Trump, Trump Trump” chant, as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” fittingly boomed throughout the lobby.
The long-awaited “other” Trump – the one many of his supporters promised, and Trump himself even intimated – would emerge. The presidential Trump. The “grown-up” Trump. The non-reality show Trump.
He began in a humble favorite son tone, thanking the people of his hometown New York for a resounding victory. Chants of “USA, USA” then broke out, not only among this supporters but, surprisingly, also within some pockets of the center-to-left Manhattan media.
Regarding policy, he focused on the least divisive issues in his platform: bringing jobs back to America, making the military better, and taking care of our veterans, though he did mention more partisan aspects of his plans, such as repealing and replacing Obamacare, and ending Common Core by reverting decisions on education back to local communities.
His digs were mild: toward the press, for not wanting to talk about his growing team that increasingly projects unity. Given his landslide win, he said “we don’t have much of a race anymore” in the Republican primary.
He then touched upon one of his numerous populist themes – “You vote, you win. Nobody should take delegates and claim victory unless they get those delegates from votes – meaning that the people’s vote, not the party leaders’ behind-the-scenes maneuvering, needs to prevail – and the people are not going to stand for it (otherwise).”
“I’m no fan of Bernie (Sanders)” was the worst he said of anyone, and then proceeded to defend the Vermont senator: “I see him win, win, win, and they say he has no chance of winning.”
Trump called the system of selecting delegates “crooked” but he did not use the word crooked to feature his latest scathing remark about a political opponent – the likely Democratic nominee: “Crooked Hillary” (Clinton, who also won her party’s primary convincingly, over Sanders).
Most notably, Trump did not make mention of his principal Republican rival as “Lyin’ Ted,” but instead called him “Senator Cruz.”
For those who have followed Trump’s campaign for the past few months, they must have thought they were dreaming. For those new to politics, they never would have known that Trump’s candidacy has generated a firestorm of controversy.
JUST A GLIMPSE?
By showing the public a smattering of statesmanship, Trump has thwarted his doubters’ momentum that he is incapable of proper conduct. The question is, was this just a fleeting aberration, or has the “other” or rather “new-and-improved” Trump permanently replaced the old one? The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
As Trump gets closer and closer to securing the GOP nomination, more of this “other” Trump will surface. But I’d really be surprised if he’s put “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary” references on the shelf for good.