PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Brennan Solo just wanted to see the spectacle.
He already knew he was voting for Donald J. Trump. That wasn’t the question. He wasn’t coming out to be convinced.
No, Solo was walking toward a car dealershipin this coastal city Saturday morning because he didn’t want to miss his chance to see the tour that has been unlike any other in American political history. He wanted to witness a Trump rally.
“All the criticism is the same,” he said as he passed a truck wrapped on all sides with huge digital displays denouncing Trump. He glanced at it for barely a second.
“It’s just people telling you that you should be offended by Trump,” said Solo. “Well I’m not offended by Trump. I believe you speak the truth, speak reality. I’m excited to hear him do that. This is going to be an experience.”
It’s been going on so long that it’s hard to believe there are only so many dates left on the road show. In New Hampshire especially, where Trump made so many appearances before the primary victory that catapulted his campaign, many waiting in the long security line to enter the Toyota dealership worried this might be his last trip as the campaign enters its final three weeks.
The experience began on the street outside with protesters, about two dozen of them, shouting to passing cars from behind large banners quoting some of Trump’s remarks about women.
A mother in a passing minivan beeped at them in support.
Across the street from the protesters, the rows of merchandise began. Red hats are still hot, of course, as well as any image of Hillary Clinton behind actual bars, but the T-shirt theme of the moment is anything that claims proud membership in the basket of deplorables. Based on retail sales, many like the nickname.
“They can call it whatever but it’s really just good, solid Americans wanting to see the country and the Constitution the way it was designed to be,” Melody Steenbergen of Concord said as she and two friends got a spot in the back of the crowd and waited for Trump’s motorcade to arrive.
“I saw him in a bad snowstorm the night before the primary, and I get emotional thinking about it. It makes you really proud to be an American,” she said, turning to her friend. “Wait till you hear him talk.”
On this day, anyway, perfect autumn weather and a jovial Trump combined for a rather tame rally, low on fiery rhetoric, his tone more one of a gentle affirmation that everyone was on the same page and everything is going to be great.
He scored with some of his greatest hits — crooked Hillary, Make America Great Again, pointing toward the media with blame — and busted out one new one by suggesting that Clinton might have been on drugs at their debate and should be drug-tested before the election.
But by the standards of a Trump rally, it was all decidedly subdued. No protesters disrupted his speech. Those who protested quietly, with signs or shirts, provoked nothing more aggressive than a sign waved at them.
“I got a lot of dirty looks,” said Jack DeBowter, who will turn 18 days before the election and wore a homemade “Love Trumps Hate” shirt. “But that’s kind of what I expected.”
But DeBowter and his friends, who had driven down from Middlebury College, admitted to being a bit surprised that the rally had not been more eventful. Still, he said, they were glad they had come. Before it was over, he had to see it for himself.Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.