Star Tribune Editorial Page Editor
Three hours before President DonaldTrump began his 102-minute Thursday night monologue on topics ranging from Ukraine to Jay-Z, a couple of hundred protesters had gathered outside Target Center in downtown Minneapolis.
The loudest was a tie-dye-clad guy with a bullhorn who made what sounded like bird calls.
"Must be his mating call," one Trump supporter said to his friend as they walked by.
Inside the arena, still 90 minutes before Trump would arrive, a soundtrack heavy on the Rolling Stones ("Angie" and "Play with Fire") kept early attendees entertained, or at least awake.
Every few minutes, the music would stop and a speaker would come to the podium about 30 yards from my spot on the floor.
Lt. Bob Kroll, the Minneapolis police union leader, kicked things off.
"Good evening, patriots," he said, before launching into criticism of Mayor Jacob Frey, former President Barack Obama and liberals in general. Parodying the progressive language of inclusion, he declared: "Everybody's welcome here — if you think like us." He urged the crowd to "debate the facts with the left."
Mike Lindell, the My Pillow CEO, recounted how the news media "blackballed" him when he announced his support for Trump in 2016. "Everybody loves our president; some just don't know it yet," he added.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale took a turn at the podium. He also criticized Frey, urging the crowd to "vote him out." I'm not sure how many potential Minneapolis voters were in attendance, but the line got a big cheer. Parscale ripped the media, too, prompting someone in the crowd to yell, "Hear that, Acosta?" The CNN reporter had yet to arrive.
I noticed that a Trump supporter near me had used a marker to write "JFK Jr. is Alive!" on his "Keep America Great" sign.
Then it was back to the music. Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" and, after I'd made my way to the upper reaches of the arena behind the podium to the only empty seats left, "Purple Rain." (Not sure how many Prince fans were in attendance, either, and his estate isn't happy about making the rally's playlist.)
It was almost 7 p.m., the scheduled start time for Trump's appearance, and a steady stream of supporters hurried down the concourse to claim the last of the empty seats as I made my way back down to the press area on the floor.
Vice President Mike Pence introduced Trump, saying "radical Democrats in Congress" want to overturn the "election movement" through impeachment. The military is being supported, the wall is being built, the swamp is being drained, and Democrats just want open borders and late-term abortions.
And then it was time for Trump. He opened with a riff on the size of the crowd, saying a record of some sort had been set and 100,000 had wanted to get in. (I was able to register for a ticket late Wednesday; I checked because I was concerned that I might not get a media credential.)
We now have the world's No. 1 economy, Trump continued, and it's "not even close." And China has lost "trillions of dollars of value."
He turned to Kroll and his group seated behind the podium, praising their "Cops for Trump" T-shirts. "Cops love Trump and Trump loves cops," the president said, and the crowd roared.
He criticized the news media, "crooked polls," Rep. Adam "Shifty" Schiff, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the "rotten mayor" of Minneapolis. He moved on to "Sleepy" Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who he called "a loser." I believe he said he hoped someone would design "Where's Hunter?" T-shirts. (Someone has.)
As vice president, Trump said, Joe Biden knew "how to kiss Barack Obama's ass."
The president said the crowd should call him Donald, prompting a brief "Don-ald" chant, and reminded everyone that he gives away his presidential salary even though it's good to be rich.
Trump lamented the existence of the Somali community in Minneapolis, and a guy wearing a "Veterans before Refugees" T-shirt jumped and cheered. The president brought up Rep. Ilhan Omar, too, as images of the congresswoman flashed on the big screens above. "How the hell did that happen?" he said, referring to her election.
A protester yelled something from the stands as she touched her heart and looked up at Omar on the screen, and she was quickly escorted out to a chorus of boos.
There was a long take on Trump's Electoral College victory and why the popular vote isn't important, and a trip down memory lane to his election in 2016. "That was one of the greatest nights in the history of television," he recalled.
He introduced a long list of politicians in attendance — Reps. Tom Emmer, Jim Hagedorn and Pete Stauber of Minnesota received attention — and U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis got an especially long shout out. For some reason U.S. Sen Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was in the house.
We learned a lot about the wall — seven types were considered and the best was selected — and there was a long review of the respective performances of Fox News personalities. Oh, and the Superior National Forest is open for business and the Iron Range is back.
The crowd ate up almost all of it, with some standing throughout. But in true Minnesota style some left before Trump was finished, apparently to beat the traffic.
Outside the arena things were a bit tense, reminding me of the streets surrounding the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, as protesters encountered a strong police presence. Star Tribune reporter Libor Jany walked by with his game face on, and I told him to take care.
I made my way to my car and headed home, not sure what to make of it all. And I'm not sure if I ever will.