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OPINION: Shark in the Desert: It’s not the heat, but some folks need their heads examined

John L. Smith
John L. Smith
Opinion
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MAGA dogs and English speakers went out in the midday sun, but please don’t blame the 100-plus degree heat for the special brand of crazy that flowed at last weekend’s Donald Trump rally at Sunset Park.

Sure, paramedics treated a couple dozen Trump supporters and transported six to the hospital out of a crowd of a few thousand, but the numbers could have gone a lot higher. It was an outdoor event held at noon in June in the Mojave Desert. 

The faithful waited in line for hours for a chance to hear the Gospel of Grievance according to Don the 45th.  It was the former president’s first rally since his 34-count conviction for falsifying business records in an effort to conceal his hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign.

Talking politics in a place known for ballgames and family outings is usually a good way to spoil a picnic. But from most reports, Trump’s red-capped acolytes got what they came for: a gander at their golden one and a chance to hear him riff the gibberish.

From pandering about tossing out taxes on workers’ tips to vilifying migrants, he battled a balky teleprompter and unleashed a dizzying, apparently off-the-cuff spiel that somehow appealed to his congregation.

Trump Republicans — and that appears to be most of them these days — can’t possibly adore their favorite candidate because he delivers stirring oratory or offers innovative policy. This man is no Kennedy, unless you’re talking about Robert Jr.

Of course, the June 9 event will go down in history as the day Trump truly jumped the shark and none of his supporters raised an eyebrow in bewilderment. He managed to wander into deep water as he described something that involved a shark, a boat battery, a reference to his intelligence via the genes of a late uncle, who was a professor at MIT. In a shark-obsessed stream of consciousness known only to himself, Trump related a fish tale about a guy he supposedly met at a South Carolina boat company. “I say, 'What would happen if the boat sank from its weight and you're in the boat and you have this tremendously powerful battery and the battery's underwater, and there's a shark that's approximately 10 yards over there?'”

In over his head, he continued to swim.

“By the way, a lot of shark attacks lately, do you notice that, a lot of sharks?" he asked the crowd, which was standing a long way from the beach. "I watched some guys justifying it today. ‘Well, they weren’t really that angry. They bit off the young lady’s leg because of the fact that they were, they were not hungry, but they misunderstood what, who she was.’ These people are crazy. He said there’s no problem with sharks. ‘They just didn’t really understand a young woman swimming now.’ It really got decimated and other people do a lot of shark attacks.”

Got that?

Sharks. Boats. Electric batteries. Lady with leg bitten off.

Not surprisingly, the crowd wasn’t bothered in the least by the swirling whirlpool of nonsense. Away from Sunset Park, the reaction was quite different.

Moving on, the crowd also heard something that I think should have alarmed them, or at least given them pause. It was flame-throwing Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene comparing Trump’s criminal trouble and porn star stumble to the Biblical travails of Jesus Christ.

They also heard Trump’s undisputed Silver State super-suckup and Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald proclaim, “Thank God we’re here in Sunset Park to worship and bring back the greatest president we’ve ever known in our generation.”

Trump is like Jesus? Trump deserves worship?

Really?

Greene and McDonald might believe their man can walk on shark-infested water, but so far he’s been unable to walk out of a criminal courtroom unscathed. Somehow, his support with large numbers of Christians hasn’t wavered much. It appears that many of his supporters actually believe he has the Almighty on speed dial. His continued popularity with conservative Christians has even generated a country song and video tribute that declares Trump “the chosen one.”

With all that said, not every Nevada Republican stands with Trump. One outspoken and articulate member of the GOP, former state party chair Amy Tarkanian used her sizable public platform to call out Trump and his enablers following the rally. She reminded McDonald and the rest that their man had fumbled one of his most important tasks — announcing an endorsement in the Republican U.S. Senate primary. By waiting until the close of early voting and after the rally had ended, his endorsement of eventual winner Sam Brown was an empty gesture.

Tarkanian also points out the state party’s “infrastructure problem.” It has abandoned its minority outreach efforts and has largely failed to groom the get-out-the-vote efforts essential to ensuring victory.

Tarkanian told The Boston Globe the lack of coordination, “hurts their capabilities of fund-raising. … The trust is lacking.”

Will Trump’s truly odd appearance in Las Vegas be remembered as a telling meltdown, or be written off like so many other strange occurrences that have become normalized by his followers?

All I know is, it’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR.

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