Earlier this year, as the 2016 presidential primary season went into extra innings and the campaigns shifted focus to my home state of New York, I sought to attend candidate events to gain deeper insight with a firsthand perspective.
I was able to make it to a Donald Trump rally at Grumman Studios in Bethpage and two John Kasich town halls, one hosted by Hofstra University in Hempstead, and the other moderated by Chris Matthews of MSNBC at The Milleridge Inn in Jericho.
You can read my observations of the contrast between these two Republican candidates in “Can John Kasich Take the ‘Boring Lane’ All the Way to Pennsylvania Avenue?” (Hillocrian Blog, May 3, 2016).
Before long, the candidate field winnowed, and presumptive nominees of both parties emerged, despite claims of illegitimacy on both sides. (As it turns out, disgruntled GOP delegates refrained from going full Harry Potter on their candidate in Cleveland. For details, read “Magic and Never Trump: Can the GOP Make an Elephant Disappear?” (Hillocrian Blog, July 18, 2016).)
The August conventions made the nominees’ status official. Hillary Clinton became the first female major-party nominee for president of the United States, while Donald Trump won the GOP nomination after having garnered more primary votes (for him, as well as against him) than any predecessor in the history of the Republican Party.
With the general election season now underway, I thought I was done with events. But the debates provided another possible opportunity.
The first presidential debate was scheduled for Monday, September 26, 2016. Although the locale was switched from Wright State University in Ohio to Hofstra, I knew that without a connection, there would be no way to secure a ticket, just as I was unable to do four years ago for the second Obama/Romney debate and eight years ago for the third Obama/McCain debate.
But I learned that the Hillary Clinton campaign was hosting a debate-watching party in Westbury. Although it wasn’t supposed to be an actual candidate event, I thought the experience of watching a live debate on a big screen with a crowd would be interesting.
And so I went, and so it was—so much so that I attended a similar event for the third debate, at a venue in Huntington. As it turned out, each debate-watching party offered its own surprise, including an unexpected opportunity to see another candidate, this time on the other side of the aisle.
Watching a Campaign Slogan Get Literal
(Warning: If you plan to visit the Kennedy Space Center and want to be surprised, you may wish to skip this section, as it contains spoilers.)
The first debate-watching party reminded me of an attraction at the Kennedy Space Center. After an introductory movie about the Space Shuttle Atlantis, an image of the angled ship disappeared as the scrim rose to reveal the actual Atlantis in the same view.
When the debate ended, we were urged to stick around, and an hour or so later, Hillary Clinton occupied the stage where she had just appeared on screen, addressing the surprised crowd.
In addition to resembling the trick behind the Atlantis attraction, this “sleight-of-candidate” cleverly literalized the Clinton campaign’s slogan; i.e., regardless of our feelings, we could all undeniably say, “I’m with her.”
Even the Technology Has an Opinion
Near the end of the debate, the topic shifted to the national debt. As Trump began to speak, the words “Clean the Air Filter” suddenly appeared beside his face (see photos, below).
Although, in all likelihood, this incident was nothing more than a projection TV crying out for servicing, the content of this text, along with its uncanny timing and placement, came as much-needed comic relief.
Ron Leshnower is the author of President Trump’s Month: An Epistolary Novella, a short work of fiction that imagines a Trump presidency through an examination of executive orders, presidential proclamations, and other “official” documents.
Follow him on Twitter (@hillocrian) and visit hillocriancreative.com.