The thing to remember about Donald Trump is … Donald Trump.
No matter how many times he says the campaign is about his legions of followers, or salvaging the Republic, or restoring some supposedly tarnished past glory, the real center of Trump’s campaign has always been, and will always be, Trump himself.
He demonstrated as much during his speech Wednesday at a rally held at the Henderson Pavilion.
Didn’t Mike Pence do great during the vice-presidential debate, Trump asked. When the crowd roared its approval, Trump said Pence’s debate performance was attributable to … Trump’s wisdom in picking him as a running mate.
And part of the reason Pence did so well was that Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine talked only of “small and petty distractions,” which is apparently another way of saying, “Trump’s long record of disastrous and offensive campaign trail statements.”
Trump’s Trump-centered campaign was made clear when he recounted the words of a “liberal pundit” who had allegedly said that Trump’s self-funded primary run had made history, regardless of the general-election outcome. Please pardon the candidate if he modestly disagrees with that praise.
“If I don’t win, this will be the greatest waste of time, money and energy in my lifetime, by a factor of 100, because if we don’t win, we can’t change things,” Trump said. And that would be a tragedy. Because as Trump reminded the sizable crowd, “I’m working the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life, doing this.”
Trump tried to assure those in attendance, however, that it wasn’t really all about him, although it clearly was. “I’m an outsider fighting for you,” Trump said. “That’s what I’m doing this for.”
And again: “It’s not me, it’s you. This is a movement like never before.”
And again: “A vote for Donald Trump is a vote for change. And a vote for me is really a vote for you. You’re voting for you, believe me. It’s the way I look at it.”
But of course it is.
Whatever else may be said about Trump, it may not be argued that he’s unfamiliar with the techniques of persuasion. (Cartoonist and persuasion expert Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert,” said that about Trump on a recent episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO. Adams predicted a Trump victory because of his use of those techniques.)
Trump seeks to engross his legions of followers into the campaign, which is indistinguishable from Trump himself, a Faustian bargain if ever there was one. His repeated assertions to “believe me,” or “trust me” are more than just verbal crutches; they’re designed to reinforce the allegiance of his fans by convincing them that Trump is the only salvation for the country, and that “Crooked Hillary” represents not just the status quo, but the very end of the Republic.
Enter Donald J. Trump to save America, to make it rich again, strong again and great again. (His followers fail to object that, by necessity, Trump must insult the country he seeks to lead.)
“I am going to fight for every single citizen in this land, and I’m going to fight to bring us all together as Americans,” Trump said. “Imagine what our country could accomplish if we started working together as one people, under one God, saluting one American flag.”
With one Strong Leader at the center of it all, basking in his own reflection in the eyes of his adoring throngs, telling them (as he did on Wednesday) that he loves them, but meaning all the while that he loves the fact that they love him.
At the end of this campaign, win or lose, there will be only what there was at the beginning: once, and always, Donald Trump.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.