I had the good fortune to be in New Hampshire last week during a heated presidential campaign season. I can attest that the tales are true: The candidates are as thick as flies in the months prior to the state's presidential primary, and one must go out of one's way to avoid running into a candidate. I took the opportunity to attend two rather different rallies while I was in town, one for Hillary Clinton, the other for Donald Trump. The differences were most telling, both about the candidates' personalities and their situations.
There were a few modest similarities. Both were held at high schools (Clinton's was at Exeter High; Trump's at Winnacunnet High in Hampton). Both were organized by enthusiastic and polite volunteers and attended by devoted fans. Both crowds were overwhelmingly white. (It is New Hampshire, after all.)
Beyond that, though, the differences were pretty striking. Clinton's fans filled an auditorium. Trump's filled an auditorium, and an overflow cafeteria, and some additional space outside the building. Clinton opened her event with a 30-minute talk outlining the details of her college affordability initiative. She cited statistics about college costs and talked about specific reform proposals to remedy a growing problem. The speech was clearly prepared and rehearsed, and delivered capably, if a bit dryly.
It's entirely possible that whoever chooses songs for Clinton is a perky, empowered woman in her 20s and whoever chooses songs for Trump is a middle-aged guy with hair issues who longs for the '80s.
Trump, by contrast, gave a 45-minute free-wheeling address that covered a great many topics ... well, he didn't really cover topics so much as name-check them. There was no substance to speak of, other than that he knows what he's doing because he's smart and rich and successful, and he'd simply apply those traits to politics. Citing crumbling bridges and buildings across the country, for example, he asked, "Who does infrastructure like Trump, OK?" Really, Trump's speaking style was more comedy schtick than policy address, and the audience seemed more than happy with that.
After her policy speech, Clinton invited questions from the audience and ended up taking roughy a dozen of them on a wide range of policies. She was considerably more animated than she was during her speech, answering with a range of information and emotion. Trump took questions as well, but only a few. One questioner was taking too long so Trump hurried him along and then cut him off.
Another notable difference was their mentioning of rivals. Hillary Clinton barely mentioned any other politicians, certainly not discussing any of her Democratic challengers for 2016. Clinton seems well aware that, despite what recent polls may suggest, she faces no real threat in her effort to claim the Democratic nomination. There's no value in her mentioning Bernie Sanders or anyone else, and it's too soon to start attacking the Republicans, especially while they're in the middle of attacking themselves.
Trump, meanwhile, spent a great deal of his speech criticizing his fellow Republicans (far more than Clinton). He attacked Jeb Bush—largely from the left on his evolving Iraq War stance. He mocked Rand Paul for being short. He got in a little dig about Chris Christie's bridge scandal. He said he couldn't attack Carly Fiorina because she's a woman, but then proceeded to attack her—legitimately!—for her stewardship of Hewlett Packard.
And then, of course, there was the music. Clinton's team played Katy Perry's "Roar" and Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" to warm up the crowd before the candidate's appearance. Trump's team played ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" and Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It." I don't know what this means, but it's entirely possible that whoever chooses songs for Clinton is a perky, empowered woman in her 20s and whoever chooses songs for Trump is a middle-aged guy with hair issues who longs for the '80s. Or maybe they're just trying to reach out to those demographics.
A few brief conversations I had with fellow rally-goers suggested to me that many attendees use these events as an opportunity to shop around for the right candidate. It's a rare treat to be able to come into contact with so many candidates while deciding between them, and especially this early, when the events aren't quite so formal and the candidates are still honing their skills and stump speeches. It's great to see those who will be voting in 2016's early contests taking advantage of these events and getting a sense of the candidates.
What Makes Us Politic? is Seth Masket’s weekly column on politics and policy.