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The Atlantic - July 18, 2019

GREENVILLE, N.C.—Before the rally began, I wanted to know why they’d come.

In the heavy, humid hours, I walked up and down the line winding through a parking lot at East Carolina University to interview some two dozen people who wanted to see the president. Many didn’t make it inside. About 90 minutes before Donald Trump took the stage, police announced that the 8,000-person basketball arena was full and those still waiting would have to watch on an oversize TV monitor set up outside. Rather than head home, they stuck around for a tailgate party of sorts.

Some cracked open beers and lit cigars, sitting on folding chairs in front of the TV. People walked by in shirts that read In Trump We Trust and Fuck Off, We’re Full. Earlier, in the 100-degree heat, a four-member family band called the Terry Train entertained the crowd with a song mocking CNN. Lying Wolf Blitzer and Lying John King. Don Lemon lies about everything … Erin Burnett, can you hear us yet? We’ll give you a story you can never forget. It built to this refrain: CNN sucks!

The event itself would soon turn into one of the darkest of Trump’s political career, with the president road testing a new enemy and eliciting from the crowd a fresh, frenzied three-word chant: “Send her back!” But even before he appeared, this week in American politics had been a convulsive one. Trump tweeted racist attacks on four Democratic congresswomen of color—including Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, the target of “Send her back!”—and the House, in turn, rebuked the president in a party-line vote.

Trump’s coarsening of political debate always leads to the same question: Did he go so far as to alienate even some of his own supporters? Did his blowing past the boundaries of acceptable discourse render him unelectable? That his base showed up in force last night, parroting his attacks on the congresswomen, once again showed that, for these voters, the answer is no. (Whether the suburban white women and independent voters who were part of his 2016 coalition feel the same is far from certain.) ...
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