Phoenix, Arizona—Even before the awful Brussels terror attacks, the Arizona presidential primary campaign had shaped up as a harbinger of what November will bring: a titanic clash between an angry, xenophobic GOP shrieking and shrinking into itself, and a growing Democratic Party evolving imperfectly toward inclusion, but perhaps unready for the rage of the opponents it will face. That will be the case no matter which candidates lead the two parties. But assuming the ultimate nominees are the Arizona victors, you saw a preview of the general election clash in Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns in the metro Phoenix area, and it’s going to be divisive and ugly.
Trump woke up to the Brussels carnage and tweeted, tone-deaf: “I have proven to be far more correct about terrorism than anybody—and it’s not even close. Hopefully AZ and UT will be voting for me today!” Senator Ted Cruz appalled even some Republicans by calling on “law enforcement” to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” (This was before the two GOP rivals began talking about each other’s wives.) By contrast, Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders avoided hysteria. Despite their foreign-policy differences, most clearly expressed by their eerily timed AIPAC speeches on Monday—an unfortunately pro-Netanyahu nod Clinton delivered in person; a better, tougher, fairer take that Sanders, sadly, did not—both Democrats treated the Brussels attacks with more realism, and I’d say bravery, than their GOP opponents. Their Arizona campaigns reflected the same capacity to grapple with the future without resorting to cruelty or quailing.
I saw both cruelty and quailing at Trump’s Saturday rally in surreal Fountain Hills, where national-media coverage mostly focused on the protesters who managed to stop traffic and block access on the main route in. There were other ways to get to Trumpapalooza, though, and at least 10,000 people did. Fountain Hills, whose residents are 94 percent white, with a median age of 54, was the perfect setting. Designed by Disneyland’s architect (really), its eponymous water fountain, once the tallest in the world, can be seen for miles away. In this parched desert landscape it’s a phallic, Trumpian F-you to the notion of limits and scarcity. But a culture that builds water-needy golf courses and erects huge fountains in the desert is by definition an insecure, paranoid culture, protective of all it has taken, anxious somebody’s going to come take it back. It makes sense that Fountain Hills is the home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a major Trump supporter, who boasted that he would provide security at the rally and speak at it, too.
Despite the coverage of the blockade outside, the vibe at the rally was at least partly festive. “It’s kind of like an outdoor concert,” I reassured my daughter on the phone as I walked toward the park (she’d been alarmed by the television coverage). As long as most of the concert attendees were elderly white people, that is. The vast majority of people skipped the cordoned off pen that held the official Trump “rally” and watched from the hillside, which is what I did, too, since my request for a media credential was ignored. I watched an older white man push an even older friend in a wheelchair over a pile of rocks, and then down a slightly steep hill, to get to a lovely green lawn, and I gamely followed. Most people were supporters, some were just gawkers, and a healthy contingent were peaceful protesters. We could only see a big American flag with the backdrop of the fountain, but we could hear the voices of former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Arpaio, and Trump loud and clear.