What We Learned the Day Trump Came to Town

Faces of the Donald Trump rally and protest. (Photos by Julie Leopo)

We couldn’t resist.

Sure, we always have Form 700s to pore over, datasets to analyze, public record battles to wage, and any number of other watchdog functions that a local investigative news agency performs every day.

But the Donald J. Trump show was coming to town Thursday — specifically to the Pacific Amphitheater at the county fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. And like thousands of others in Orange County (although not nearly the 31,000 Trump claimed) we wanted to witness a political spectacle, the likes of which we may never see again.

Plus, we’d heard from a number of our sources that protests were being planned. And given our previous experience covering clashes with local police and protesters, we knew that things could get ugly.

So we came. We saw. And here’s what we learned:

Trump’s crowds are more diverse than we had anticipated, but their viewpoints aren’t.

One of the first things we noticed when we arrived at the fairgrounds in the early afternoon was the crowd slowly assembling wasn’t just angry-looking white guys in “Make America Great” hats, although there were certainly plenty of those.

There were actually quite a few people of color, and lots of women. And at least two openly gay men.


So maybe there is a kernel of truth to Trump’s claims that “the blacks” and “the Hispanics” support him in larger numbers than the media gives him credit for. Or it could be that California is such a melting pot that just about any crowd will be more diverse than a similar-sized crowd elsewhere.

But while many of the people looked different from each other, they didn’t sound different. When we asked people of color why they supported Trump, their first (and often only) response was illegal immigration. In other words, building the border wall and keeping the Muslims out.


Here’s what Edward Pao (pictured), a Chinese American from Long Beach, had to say: “I came to America from China when I was nine-years-old, but I came legally.”


Here’s what William Pages (pictured), a Latino from Glendora had to say: “Its not race, its where you are from. [Mexican immigrants] are leaching off society.”

Conventional wisdom dictates that Trump won’t win a general election as a one (or two, if you count free trade) issue candidate; and he will have to moderate, at least somewhat, his stance on immigration to have any hope of winning in November.

Given the feelings of his supporters we talked to Thursday, he’ll need a very deft touch if he does moderate on immigration.

The overall vibe of Thursday’s rally was more Jimmy Buffet than George Wallace.

Trump is often compared to Wallace, as his xenophobic populism and volatile rallies resemble the aura that surrounded the 1968 candidacy of the Alabama segregationist.

Wallace’s rallies were characterized by violent clashes between his white, racist supporters and protesters. In a New York rally, for example, his supporters at one point surrounded a group of black protesters and began chanting “kill ’em! Kill ’em!”

Now perhaps if Trump’s March rally in Chicago — which was cancelled due to the threat of violence between Trump supporters and protesters — had been allowed to take place, there might have been a similar outcome.

But if the scene at the fairgrounds on Thursday is indicative of a typical Trump rally, any comparison of the Trump phenomenon to that of Wallace and the late 1960s culture wars is overblown.

The hours leading up to the rally more closely resembled the anticipation surrounding a rock concert than a rumble. DJs were broadcasting live, people were selling t-shirts, and occasional chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump” would fill the air.

Tensions certainly rose when protesters arrived on the scene later in the afternoon. And maybe it was because of the overwhelming police presence (which we will get to in a bit), but even then the confrontations felt more like heated arguments than potentially violent clashes.


Inside the amphitheater, people seemed to be enjoying the spectacle rather than venting their anger. People cheered when a couple protesters were removed, and gleefully jeered the media when prompted by Trump. But all in all the crowd spent way more time laughing and cheering than ranting and raving.


It’s possible to initiate an impromptu line dance in the middle of a chaotic street with cops on horses bearing down on you.  

While they got off to a slow start, the protests definitely gathered steam as the night wore on, and got downright unruly in the end. Most of the media led their coverage of the event with the scene of more than a thousand protesters shutting down the intersection of Fair Drive and Fairview Road.


Cops in riot gear and on horseback lined the street as protesters blocked traffic and chanted “Fuck Trump!” And “Fuck the Police!” Things did get ugly when protesters threw water bottles at the police and trashed a squad car.

And at least one Trump supporter did get clocked when he provoked a group of protesters.


But all in all, similar to the rally inside the amphitheater, the protest felt more like a party than a night of rage. We witnessed several instances in which protesters would recognize friends on the street and bro-hug like they were at a class reunion rather than in the middle of a potentially violent confrontation.

One of the highlights of the evening was this impromptu line dance by protesters as the cops pushed the crowd away from the intersection:


What does this mean? Perhaps that the anger so often associated with Trump — both among his supporters and haters — is not as deep-seated as we’ve been led to believe.

There was an overwhelming police presence, but the cops seem to be learning from previous experiences.

Anyone who says we don’t have enough cops on the streets, should have come to the Trump rally. To say there was a large police presence at the fairgrounds Thursday, would actually be putting it mildly. It was massive.

There were local police, sheriff’s deputies, and highway patrol officers. Not to mention U.S. Secret Service agents. There were cops in cars, cops riding bikes, cops on horses.

A mounted police officer monitors the crowd assembled at the Orange County Fairgrounds Thursday for the Donald Trump Rally.

But throughout the day and during the nighttime protest, officers were generally calm and disbursed the crowd without major incident. Not a single “non-lethal” round of ammunition was fired – despite threats otherwise.

The mounted police gradually pushed the crowd of protesters down the street until the protesters’ ranks thinned and, eventually, they just sort of melted away. At one point, the protesters made plans to storm the 55 freeway. But they missed the offramp and the chaos soon fizzled out.

In the end, there were 20 arrests reported.


It was a stark contrast from the scene outside Anaheim City Hall in the summer of 2012, when back-to-back police shootings of young Latino men led to rioting, during which police fired pepper spray pellets and bean-bag rounds to quash the unrest. Some at the time blamed the police for escalating the situation.

In this case, the police refrained from any aggression against protesters, even when things were thrown at them. That being said, there was a level of violence toward the police at the Anaheim protest that didn’t exist following the Trump rally.

Despite rhetoric from his campaign that he’ll be softening his tone, Trump stuck to familiar notes at Thursday’s rally.

Last week, one of Trump’s top advisors told a group of Republican National Committee members that Trump has been playing a role, essentially putting on a show to secure his base. And that from now on, he’ll act more “presidential.”

But at the fairgrounds rally, Trump stuck to his crowd-pleasing collection of greatest hits.

There was “low energy” Jeb Bush, “lyin’ Ted” Cruz, and “crooked Hillary.” He also recounted once again a dubious tale about a U.S. general in the Philippines who crushed an Islamic terrorist movement by having a group of militants executed with bullets dipped in pig’s blood.

Then there was the ritualistic bashing of the “dishonest” reporters in the media pen. And, of course, there was the promise to build the wall and have Mexico pay for it. He took things a step further Thursday by bringing onto the stage family members of people killed by illegal Mexican immigrants.


So calling Trump’s speech at the rally “presidential” would be a stretch. To his supporters in attendance, The Donald was still “telling it like it is.”

That being said, he didn’t utter anything new and controversial that would dominate headlines for days and draw condemnations from his usual gallery of critics.

Perhaps that’s as toned down as we should expect him to be.

Please contact David Washburn directly at dwashburn@voiceofoc.org.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Just goes to show you how stupid people really are. What do I always hear about this thrice divorced, serial adulterer? “He doesn’t care, he speaks his mind!” So do three year olds, drunk people and schizophrenics! Are we going to elect them to the highest office in the land?

    • Tall Talk

      ad hominem attack logical fallacy. instead, why don’t you debate the points he is bringing up?

      • Jacki Livingston

        Whose points? The writer? Or Trumpy Dumpy? You cannot argue with Trump and his points, because the only point he has is on the top of his head, under that horrible rug. He has no policy, except to stir up the
        ‘poor, afflicted, unloved, underlaid, uneducated’ white people who thought that Ozzie and Harriet meant they would have a high paying job for thirty years and a gold watch retirement after that. They assumed their superiority, and didn’t go to college or grow with technology, and they got left in the dust by minorities, and not the “angry white male” is cheering for a serial adulterer, sleazy carnival barker who tells them that if it were not for this group or that group, their lives would be fabdabbydosie. Of course he is getting cheering crowds! This country is full to the brim of white supremacy, undereducated people who need someone to blame for their failure. It is absolutely ridiculous. Next, these morons will vote for Kim Kardashian to be senator. You can’t fix stupid.

        • cynthia curran

          I’m not a trump fan but in OC he has a lot of high income with college. I personality think he is another Richard Nixon but some folks on the left think all his followers are high school drop outs. Many in Orange County lived in Yorba Linda and Newport Beach with higher incomes than you Jack.

          • Jacki Livingston

            He isn’t Nixon. Nixon had some knowledge of foreign policy. Trump is Hitler. Pure and simple.

  • Joanne Marquez

    Do we know who the arrested protesters are? Locals, outsiders or actors paid by Trump?

    • Tall Talk

      false premise, false dilemma, and complex question logical fallacies in just a few words. you must certainly be a great manipulator!! lol

      • Jacki Livingston

        And you are some mental giant. BT dubs? It’s called a shift key. Try using it.

  • Mike Tardif

    Congrats on a fair and accurate report. One protestor dude was offering “free hugs” – I accepted,

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Does anyone know – who pays for the police presence at the Rally? All the horsies, banged up cop cars – the cost must have been pretty high? Is this on the backs of the taxpayers? Does the Trump campaign have to pay for any of the cost of law enforcement?

    • LFOldTimer

      Why would you blame Trump for the actions of a bunch of criminals who showed up to terrorize the community?

      If a bank was robbed is it your opinion that the bank should have to pay for the police response and investigation?

      Where’s the logic?

      • Kathleen Tahilramani

        Ah my friend, you are jumping to a wild conculsion. I am not blaming Trump at all – I am just asking a question. That’s all – just a question. Nothing more, nothing less. Do you know the answer?

        • LFOldTimer

          Why would Trump get billed for criminal acts that he had no control over?

          Trump came to OC to give a speech since he’s the leading candidate for the GOP nomination. He didn’t invite rioters to come to the party and raise havoc.

          Why would he get billed for the acts of criminals or for the damage done to the police car?

          In a fair and just world the criminals should have to pay for the police costs.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Again, do you know the answer or are you just into assumptions -just want to know if Trump or the venue made any advance arrangements for law enforcement presence. Nothing more or less.

          • LFOldTimer

            I read that about 300 cops were deployed from OC cities and neighboring counties to handle the riots. Since Trump is not responsible for the acts of criminals I certainly doubt that he would pay a thin dime for that enforcement cost. Certainly not for damages caused by the criminals. The Feds fund the Secret Service. Naturally Trump would pay for his private security team. He might pay an event fee for traffic control. But the large bulk of the security costs are paid for by the taxpayers, Local, State and Federal. Unless the criminals cough up the funds to repair all the damage that they caused. Fat chance.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Interesting – thanks. It’s unfortunate that out of control idiots trying to mute free speech cost taxpayers so much money. Even, if we arrest them…..they wack us again in jail/court costs…. Agree with Trump or not – makes no difference, he has the right to free speech and people wishing to hear him have the right to listen in peace. People who can’t control their temper/emotions should stay home and stew. Pepper spray, blocking intersections, trashing police cars, shoving, yelling/cursing and all the vulgarity accomplishes a big nothing.

          • LFOldTimer

            Thank you. Ordinary citizens may be reluctant to attend a political event of their choice – one freedom that we retain in this society – for fear of being attacked or having their vehicles vandalized. People who use violence to thwart the political process are pure scum. And I would say the same thing if it happened at a Clinton rally. Americans should not fear participating in the political process. It is the one freedom that should have the utmost value. And those who participated in the riots must really be ignorant because they defeated their own purpose. Now even more people will vote for Trump.

          • Tall Talk

            People who can’t control their temper/emotions should stay home and stew.

            (or write in violent tones, like you are right now)

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            So sad, so ignorant. Please take a moment to read my comments again since clearly you failed to grasp my point. Relax.

          • Tall Talk

            shut up, nothing more nothing less. you are a troll

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            You poor lost soul trying to shut people up who are engaged in a discussion. Resorting to ignorant name calling is so immature. Have a great day and try to find something nice to say.

        • Tall Talk

          some questions need not be asked, they are a diversionary tactic, a logical fallacy, a red herring, thrown out by people who have nothing valuable to contribute to the discussion

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Really? You seem to have a problem with a simple question. So sad for you.