BEAUFORT, S.C. -- Didn’t get into the main event? Many people would go home.
Not Donald Trump fans.
As the Republican presidential front-runner continues to draw massive crowds to his rallies, his campaign often overbooks his events and sets up overflow rooms where supporters watch the proceedings on a giant screen. And watch they do: after the Performing Arts Center at Beaufort High School here hit capacity just an hour after opening, dejected supporters on Tuesday night were directed to an overflow auditorium. Within 30 minutes there was a line to get into the overflow room, a 747 person capacity theater.
“Really?” an incredulous Christy Bayne said outside the theater, talking to her husband who had nabbed them seats in the overflow room. “It’s just like watching him on television. At home I could have wine.”
Husband C.J., a commercial diver and big Trump fan, promised he’d buy the wine, post-event, and Bayne walked in to join him.
“There’s no question he’s controversial, but we need him,” said C.J. Bayne, who began following Trump after he questioned President Obama’s birthplace and eligibility for office. “I’m not a birther, but I have questions. And I like the way Trump cuts to the chase.”
Sam Domby, 55, a local landscaper was ticked off to not get into the main room, but walked in and grabbed a second row seat: “I want to hear what he has to say, not what the media says he said,” Domby said. He’s been looking at Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, but is leaning Trump.
“I’m just tired of the same old story out of Congress time after time,” he said. “They go into office worth $200,000 and walk out worth $20 million.”
Trump took questions on a stage for just under an hour and the overflow audience stayed mostly rapt, few leaving until he hit the 45 minute mark. Trump noted the overflow from the stage: “There’s probably still people sitting on the bridge wanting to get in,” he said.
Trump’s rallies are frequently interrupted by protesters, including immigration and Black Lives Matter activists. The overflow room was no exception. Sitting in the front row, a shaking Simone Smith stood to confront what she said was an “all Caucasian” audience.
“What is he going to do for us?” Smith shouted, as members of the audience shouted her down with chants of “USA, USA.” Outside the hall she said she believed Trump is “racist. Black people vote too,” she said. “But not for him.”
Up on the big screen, the audience cheered and shouted as Trump railed against the “stupidity” of the U.S. government and his rivals: Jeb Bush he put down as “low energy,” he ridiculed Rubio’s widely-panned New Hampshire debate performance, saying “I watched him he was melting, he was sweating, I thought he just got out of the swimming pool.” But he saved his most pointed criticism for Cruz, who trails him in second place in New Hampshire, saying he was unfit to serve as president.
“These politicians are bad news, folks,” he said. He messed up at one point, substituting Obama’s name for Ben Carson’s when he ripped Cruz for calling voters in Iowa to tell them wrongly that Carson was dropping out of the race.
He had a retort for Obama who told reporters in California that he believes Trump will never be president because Americans recognize that being president is a “serious job.”
Replied Trump: “For him to say that actually is a great compliment.” Obama, Trump said, “has done such a lousy job as president.”
--LESLEY CLARK, McClatchy Washington Bureau