What is a Trump rally like without Donald Trump present? To find out, I drove to a Harley Davidson lot in Festus, Missouri, where the local branch of the Tea Party was holding their own rally without them. It was very different than the last time I attended a Trump rally in St. Louis. For Quartz:
But Trump rallies, which attract fanatical followers, do not tell the whole story of Trump’s support. This raises an interesting question: What is a Trump rally like without Trump? What happens to the crowd when the demagogue is absent?
In an attempt to answer this question, I drove to the parking lot of a Harley Davidson outlet in Festus, Missouri, a small city outside of St. Louis. This was where the local branch of the Tea Party was holding its own Trump rally—without Trump in attendance. Speakers included local Tea Party leaders like Jim Hoft, a popular right-wing blogger better known as the Gateway Pundit, and Ed Martin, Jr., an associate of ultraconservative pundit Phyllis Schlafly, a St. Louis native herself. This was a St. Louis gathering. Both in tone and topic, it was far more in the spirit of St. Louis—white, bigoted St. Louis, that is—than in the spirit of Trump.
I knew this because, back in March, I attended a Trump rally in St. Louis—the first to be significantly disrupted by protesters, and one of the bloodiest rallies to date. As Trump spewed hateful epithets from the podium that were broadcast through speakers placed outside the building where the rally was held, Trump fans and opponents clashed both inside and on the streets, sometimes getting into physical altercations. Novel at the time, this has since become standard for Trump rallies.
In Festus, the atmosphere was quite different. A comparatively small audience of roughly 200 people were in attendance—still overwhelmingly white, and mostly middle-aged or older. There were Trump hats and Trump signs on display. But there were just as many for local politicians like Eric Greitens (the Missouri GOP candidate for governor best known for ads in which he is shown shooting an Gatling-style machine gun). The differences between a Trump rally and a Trump fan-only rally were so stark, both in topic and tenor, that it raised the question of how closely Trump and Tea Party interests are aligned, particularly in a region home to many evangelical conservatives.