NEW HAMPSHIRE—The river of red MAGA hats poured in and then out of the SNHU Arena on Elm Street in Manchester last night. Some heads hovered around the street for hours, dipping in and out of bars and restaurants.
Along with a roster of special guests, President Donald Trump held court inside the building. At one point before he arrived, his supporters heard an airplane overhead and, assuming it was POTUS flying in, began cheering with glee. They thought it was him.
But it wasn’t. Not yet at least.
Nevertheless, Trump was omnipresent. On the hats, backs, and minds of thousands—those queuing underneath the Jumbotron with the rest of the spillover crowd, their comrades crowding streets for several blocks, and all those shopping for more gear to troll their lib neighbors and families with.
Almost every product we inspected was made in China, a country that Trump, for the most part, hates, depending on the day.
None of the shoppers seemed to care one bit.
There’s history in these parts; for one, a former live-music dive that was the sight of one of the biggest meth busts in New Hampshire history was right down the street. It’s unclear if there were any underground pharma markets in the shadows, but for several hours Monday afternoon and evening, vendors cashed in, some pacing up and down Elm, others with enormous tents that offered pro-Trump memorabilia in smorgasbord-style.
If you have ever seen Boston during a Red Sox World Series, you still haven’t seen anything like this.
“Don’t be a Democrat, buy a Trump hat!”
“Comes with a four-year guarantee!”
“Fair price for patriotism!”
A lot of people leave the northeast and retreat to states like Florida around this time of year. Not Sean Powell; the Orlando resident says he’s a roaddog salesman on the Trump trail.
“Trump’s done a little bit of everything,” Powell said. “I used to work for NASA, had a sweet job making $29.90 an hour. Then Obama come in and said, ‘We don’t need no space program no more.’”
For seven years, Powell said he was in charge of a cleanup crew.
“When a shuttle takes off, it melts all kinds of stuff,” Powell said. “We were the first crew to work the launch pad after the vehicle takeoff.”
Another merch van overseer, Mike Kriener, lamented the lackluster 2012 attempt by Mitt Romney.
“Liberals didn’t like him ’cause they said he didn’t like gays,” Kriener said. “What do I care? Don’t bother me one bit. I like capitalism. I like my guns. I like keeping illegals in Mexico.”
One block over, a designated protest zone proved unpopular. We stopped by several times, and never saw more than two-dozen people in a space fit for at least a few hundred, perhaps more.
The real grappling match, it turns out, will be at the polls.
This article was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Manchester Divided coverage of political activity around New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Follow our coverage @BINJreports on Twitter and at binjonline.org/manchesterdivided, and if you want to see more citizens agenda-driven reporting you can contribute at givetobinj.org.
Nate is a Boston-based reporter who has written for the Boston Phoenix, the Boston Metro, and DigBoston among other publications.