Protesters, Police and MAGA Hat Sellers Agree: Trump Rally Was Better Than Expected

The crowds stretched nearly half a mile.
Lucas Manfield
The crowds stretched nearly half a mile.
The least interesting person at Thursday night’s rally at American Airlines Center was the man of the hour himself, who spent his 90 minutes predictably: trumpeting his alleged successes and condemning his perceived rivals.

Outside, J.C. Cook of Cedar Creek Lake was promoting a dark horse candidate with promises of free ponies. He was joined on the sidewalk by clumps of other protesters, some of whom objected to the withdrawal of American forces from Syria and others who feared a crackdown on vaping.

Asked if he felt unsafe, Cook demurred.

“No, I was pleasantly surprised that the police did not come in full riot gear and were not prepared to beat us,” he said.

Lt. Mark Harris, who was directing traffic in a neon vest, agreed that the night had gone better than expected. The Kurdish protesters had gotten heated, he said, but in the end they were “pretty compliant.”

One man wearing body armor was arrested and taken to a hospital, but there were no reported injuries.

"I was pleasantly surprised that the police did not come in full riot gear and were not prepared to beat us." — J.C. Cook

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Bianca, a bartender at the sports bar Hero, was not as impressed by the behavior of the crowds. Thousands of attendees who didn’t make it inside the arena had watched the speech on a big screen outside. Once the rally wrapped up, they streamed past the bar to find their cars.

“I thought it would be better,” she said, gesturing to her empty bar.

Many local businesses closed for the event. Some that remained open did well, particularly those with bathrooms along the nearly half-mile line that had formed along Houston Street by early afternoon.

By 4 p.m., the Jimmy John's on Victory Park Lane had run out of bread. An entrepreneur selling MAGA gear on the arena’s steps said triumphantly that he’d nearly sold out of socks. Hats embroidered with "Keep America Great," the current and less catchy version of the slogan, were in less demand.

Inside the arena, Blake Marnell of San Diego was celebrating the performance.

“The president was just on fire tonight,” he said.

It’s his sixth rally. For once, he noted, not a single protester had managed to make it inside.

Marnell, whose brick border-wall suit has gone viral online, posed his own questions during a brief interview.

“People sometimes ask me: What do you think he’s gonna say new?” he said.

He brimmed with satisfaction at the answer: “He doesn’t have to say anything new, he can run on his track record at this point.”

But, he wasn't done. “He keeps coming up with new stuff! $50 billion from China for agricultural products! That’s a huge win. Just incredible,” he went on.

Last week, Trump announced that China had promised to buy $50 billion of agricultural goods from the United States per year as part of a preliminary trade deal. But The Washington Post reported that China has refused to confirm that number.

Walking away from the arena were three young men in long, white tunics. Mohammed Alnatour, a 17-year-old UT Arlington student, was one of them. He was beaming.

"Did you see that guy in the mustache?" he asked. “I thought he was racist, but he comes up and is the opposite: shakes our hands and makes us feel good.”

Not everyone had been as kind. Someone yelled “Fuck Muslims,” he said, and a woman told him to go back to his own country.

“I’m from New York,” he explained, exasperated.

But, there he was, still smiling.

“There’s truly a lot of peaceful people out here,” he said.