- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — By his own admission, Donald Trump wasn’t supposed to be in Michigan, yet here he was, taking the stage in a sterile, echoing convention hall 30 minutes past midnight on Tuesday morning, smiling and greeting thousands of bleary-eyed supporters who had been standing here for hours waiting to catch a glimpse of the Republican presidential nominee.
Trump aides had planned a better send-off than this to mark the end of an unquestionably historic campaign by an unlikely politician who had taken the political world by surprise. And in fact, his staff had carried out their vision a few hours earlier, sending Trump down a catwalk inside a packed arena in Manchester, N.H., silhouetted in a machine-created fog pierced by a blue laser light show. It was a rock star finale for a rock star candidate — a symbolic end in the place where the candidate had held his first big rally and where he claimed his first victory in the seemingly endless Republican primary. But Trump, for whom the presidential race has sometimes seemed like an excuse to hold rallies, didn’t want to stop campaigning — raising the question in the minds of some observers if he ever will, even after the race is over.
Trump, who has long bragged of being his own best strategist and relying on gut instincts, is desperately eager to win Michigan’s 16 electoral votes. He insisted there was time for one more rally, so his staff hastily arranged a stop here in a blue state that hasn’t voted Republican since 1988.
But when he took the stage here in a city where he had campaigned only a few days earlier, the GOP nominee broke from the script to admit another reason for his last-minute visit, to compete with Hillary Clinton, who had campaigned in Grand Rapids earlier in the day. (Clinton was holding her own midnight rally in North Carolina around the same time.) “I heard Crooked Hillary was coming here, so I said let’s follow it up,” Trump told his supporters, suggesting he didn’t want her to have the last word.
But it was easy to get the sense from Trump that he was motivated by a little more than just competitiveness with Clinton. Walking to the podium, Trump lingered a little more than usual — taking in the bright lights, booming music and adoring fans.
As a candidate, Trump’s massive rallies have been the backbone of what he calls “his movement,” but they unquestionably have been sources of energy and life for him, feeding something deep within him that has kept him going despite gaffes and missteps that would have felled any other normal political candidate.
Trump has been so reliant on the energy of his crowds that aides, concerned about him being, as the candidate might put it, too “low energy” in the final debate last month in Las Vegas, considered scheduling a rally right before his last showdown with Clinton to pump him up.
It’s that addiction to the adulation of crowds that has led many around him to wonder what happens next to a candidate who has been feeding off that emotional high for more than a year. If he wins, Trump will be expected to get down to the serious business of governing, which is far different than campaigning. And if he loses, can Trump walk away from his need to be on the political stage? This is a question that even those closest to him cannot answer.
Trump has always cast himself as merely a figure in a “movement” that has come to fruition because of frustration among Americans who have felt left behind by Washington and its political class. But the candidate more than once in recent weeks has lifted that façade to bluntly suggest that if he doesn’t win, his movement cannot survive.
“If we don’t win, this will be the single greatest waste of time, energy and money in my life,” Trump declared early Tuesday, repeating a line he has used many times in recent weeks.
At the same time, the GOP nominee has directly tied his rallies to what a Trump presidency might look like — warning supporters that if he loses, the show is over.
“You better make sure we win, or there will be no more Trump rallies,” he told supporters last month in Panama City, Fla. “To hell with that, to hell with the rallies.”
One of the biggest unknowns heading into Tuesday is how Trump will react should his quest for the presidency come up short. In recent weeks, the candidate — who has, by his own admission, never been a good loser — has raised the specter of a “rigged” election and has suggested he might not easily accept the result if he loses.
That has prompted some close to the candidate to question whether Trump might simply go on campaigning. There have been rumors that Trump is eying the creation of a political action committee or other organization to keep his political brand going and to settle scores with those who he believes slighted him during the campaign. But so far, Trump has declined to say specifically what he will do if he doesn’t win.
Trump had considered doing another round of last-minute rallies on Tuesday, having him campaign right up until the polls closed on this tumultuous election. But the plan was ultimately nixed.
Early Tuesday, as Trump took the stage in Grand Rapids, Mich., supporters who had been waiting for the candidate for hours almost immediately started to file out by the dozens — some saying they were tired, others saying they were trying to avoid traffic.
If Trump could see the slowly emptying room, he didn’t acknowledge it. He powered through his usual stump speech — among other things, encouraging supporters to boo the media for failing to fully capture the size of his crowds.
As he wrapped up his speech, ending with his usual pledge to “Make America great again,” Trump seemed to linger ever so slightly, almost reluctant to give the podium away. With one last fist pump, he finally left the stage.