HARRISBURG, PA. -- By the time Donald Trump was scheduled to take the stage on Thursday night, the wait to get through the metal detectors and into the indoor arena was still several thousand people deep.
But there was plenty to draw the eye’s attention among the people who were still stranded in the long line that snaked around the Pennsylvania Farm Show Expo Center & Expo Center, where an alpaca show was splitting the bill with the Republican frontrunner.
The sartorial choices of Trump’s younger-leaning, mostly male fans who turned out for the event ranged from cutoff T-shirts and shorts to full suits and ties.
There was also the broad-shouldered gentleman in a tank top who displayed his stars-and-bars-themed iron cross tattoo on his arm, as well as the unsubtle duo standing next to him, whose own outfits showed off the slogans, “Don’t Ever Think That The Reason I Am Peaceful Is Because I Forgot How To Be Violent" and "If You Don't Bleed Red, White & Blue, Take Your Bitch Ass Home."
Vendors, meanwhile, hawked T-shirts to men, women and pre-adolescent children alike that said, “Hillary Sucks But Not Like Monica."
There was something for everyone -- as long as you weren’t advocating for multiculturalism, inclusiveness and any of that other namby-pamby stuff.
A small group of protesters just outside the arena chanting, “Black Lives Matter” was drowned out by the louder retorts that came from the pro-Trump faithful, which included one man who demanded to know why the agitators didn’t all just move to Syria, if they loved Muslims so much. For these efforts, he was rewarded with a boisterous round of cheers and high-fives from the people standing in line next to him.
But it wasn’t just Trump’s fans who were intent on serving up a big bowl of abuse to anyone who disagreed with them.
When a Trump-supporting woman stepped out of line for a brief moment to continue the verbal sparring she’d been conducting with a female protester, a young man from the anti-Trump forces presented himself inches from her face, and called her a “skank.” A couple of people “oohed” and then got back to the business of spewing their own animosities.
"Did you see the black lady in Chicago?” a goateed man in a black T-shirt asked his companion, just before entering the arena. “Trump’s, like, ‘Get her out!’ So they picked her up and dragged her out kicking and screaming!"
"Oh, man,” his buddy replied. “I hope something like that happens tonight."
For all of the talk about how a kinder, gentler Trump found his presidential footing in the New York primary by way a staff shakeup that “professionalized” his seat-of-the-pants campaign operation and public bearing, the vibe among the people who attended his latest rally was as volatile and abrasive as ever. And so was the candidate.
Trump’s central Pennsylvania fans didn’t want to see a “more presidential” version of the man who’s broken all of the rules of political decorum and decency. And if Trump knows how to do anything, it’s giving his fans what they want.
“Now my wife is constantly saying, ‘Darling, be more presidential,’” Trump said at the rally here, a few moments after the latest in a series of protesters was escorted off the premises by local police. “I just don’t know that I want to do it quite yet.”
Trump’s wife isn’t the only one who’s been giving him that advice.
At a closed-door briefing with RNC members in Florida on Thursday, the Associated Press reported, Trump’s new Senior Adviser Paul Manafort promised those who were present that his boss understands the need to tamp down the vitriol and had been merely “projecting an image” thus far that he would now adjust accordingly.
“The part that he’s been playing is now evolving,” Manafort said, according to the AP. “The negatives will come down. The image is going to change."
But in spite of those assurances from his staff -- or perhaps because of them -- Trump went the extra mile at his rally to make clear to some of his most zealous supporters here in central Pennsylvania that he was still the same guy, thrilling his fans and exasperating his detractors in the same manner as always.
Even before he took the stage, Trump made it clear that he wasn’t about to throw out his non-playbook by making an announcement to the fraction of people who'd showed up early enough to get into the building on time.
"I'm supposed to wait a half hour because there are thousands of people outside, but I can't do that to you,” Trump said from behind the curtain, with a touch of “Wizard of Oz” mystique. “I’m going to come on right now!”
Yes, the candidate was still the boss of his campaign.
During his speech, Trump did allow a few moments to touch on some of the messages that his new overseers -- the so-called adults in the room -- want desperately for him to emphasize, decrying the loss of manufacturing jobs and promising to repeal Obamacare.
But Trump spent far more time being, well, the guy we’ve seen since day one of his campaign. He belittled the protesters who interrupted him at regular intervals, boasted about his crowd sizes (“far bigger than Bernie’s, by the way”), and, of course, made particular pains to try to emasculate “Lyin’ Ted Cruz."
"This guy, I mean, he went to New York, and they threw him around like a rag doll,” Trump, who we’ve all been assured is set to tone it down a notch and move toward uniting the party, said of his top Republican opponent.
Though he took particular delight in trashing Cruz, Trump appeared equally intent on sticking a thumb in the eye of anyone who had the gall to tell him -- the guy who defied all the pundits by getting this far -- that he was somehow doing it all wrong.
"At some point, I’m going to be so presidential that you people will be so bored, and I’ll come back as a presidential person, and instead of 10,000 people, I’ll have about 150 people,” Trump said, his voice oozing with the sarcasm of someone who thought that would be a terrible idea. “And they’ll say, ‘Boy. He really looks presidential.’”
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist