KING OF PRUSSIA, Penn.—I can't see anything. Not because I have a fever that I will later learn is around 102 degrees as well as a headache and not because I can hardly tell if I am awake or having another of the terribly vivid shivering dreams that kept me awake last night. I am sitting in a hallway outside the ballroom where Donald Trump and Mike Pence and about 50 different GOP hangers-on will be speaking in a strip-mall city 30 minutes north of Philadelphia. There is not even a video monitor, and we are not allowed to walk into the ballroom and mingle. Instead I am here to listen to this very important invitation-only campaign event.
Was it worth letting two different vicious-looking German shepherds sniff my laptop—I swear one of them even licked it—to observe the Trump campaign from this privileged vantage point a week before Americans go to the polls? No one else here seems to care. The other members of my profession are having a great time. I have never seen so many people hugging.
"Hey, I missed you!"
"I loooove you!"
"It's so good to see you!"
The traveling press is the worst. The six or so people from CNN clearly think I am some sort of lackey whose job it is to hand them chairs, save them seats, scoot over and make room for their friends. As soon as you move down a spot the guy who demanded it from you moves to the other side of the room anyway and shows no sign of coming back. When a woman from another outlet comes by and asks whether someone is sitting there, what are you supposed to say? What about after you agree that she can have the spot but she never takes it and yet another woman comes by and wants her chair? No wonder I'm sick.
The sound is very loud and distorted. Sen. John Barrasso, who screams, probably doesn't need a microphone. Rep. Tom Price is quieter, thank goodness. He explains that Republicans have a plan for replacing Obamacare. "We've been working on that solution for years, literally."
From him and Mike Burgess and Andy Harris and Renee Ellmers and at least two other people from the House whom I did not recognize I learn, in between bouts of handing more chairs to NPR reporters, that the substance of this years-in-the-making plans amounts to "health savings accounts." Ellmers has a kind of spastic fit at the beginning of her remarks. "I'm looking across this room and I see plenty of women. What's up? Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow!"
Around 11:30, by which time I had thought the event would be finished, there is still no sign—audible or otherwise—of Pence or Trump. Ben Carson starts reminiscing about his time on the trail. He is very charming in his way. "One statuesque beautiful young woman walked up to my wife and she said, ‘Are you Mrs. Carson? Your husband operated on me while I was still in my mother's womb' and now she's a beautiful young lady. And I'll tell you, that's why no one will ever convince me that what is in a woman's womb is a meaningless bunch of cells."
Mike Pence speaks in a bizarre personal argot that is half wonk, half sports broadcaster, one hundred percent mixed metaphor. Poor Americans have been "pummeled with unprecedented sticker shock" when buying health insurance. He wants to "roll back the avalanche of red tape coming out of Washington, D.C." and "pull this albatross off the back of the American economy." He sounds excited only once, when he nearly shouts, "We're GONNA BLOCK GRANT MEDICAID TO THE STATES!"
Trump makes me happy when he says that Dr. Carson will "be very much involved in my administration in the coming years." I think he will make an excellent surgeon general. Maybe he will mandate that images from the Center for Medical Progress videos appear in the waiting rooms of every abortion clinic in the country.
Our next president is such an odd and oddly compelling speaker. When he talks about how we're going to have "modern mines" for "our great miners," for half a second there you really think, Yes, these mines are going to be state of the art and beautiful and clean and full of steel and deluxe screens and whatever is the best stuff you can get for mining and our miners, gosh, they really are great at what they do, so they deserve the best mines.
But it's all gibberish really. What would it mean to "totally eliminate Common Core"? Why bother? "People do not like Common Core in this country, that I can tell you." Does he know what it is? Do they? When he says, "The spirit of the people in the inner cities is beyond the spirit of anybody," is he using "inner cities" as a euphemism, or does he the mean tedious craft-beer-drinking yuppies that actually live in them nowadays? My favorite Trump locution of the day was "the Obama-Clinton defense sequest." Students of proteomics will know SEQUEST is a very useful piece of data analysis software.