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Diary

Astrologers, brawls and voodoo dolls: my time on the Trump trail

Gary O’Donoghue’s diary, on a long week following the Trump campaign

5 November 2016

9:00 AM

5 November 2016

9:00 AM

Polite, well-heeled New Hampshire is the last place you’d expect to see a voodoo doll. But there it was, pointed out by my producer, clutched by a woman called Mavis. This being a Trump rally, it was of course a Clinton likeness, complete with pins. Residents of the granite state pride themselves on being a sophisticated lot, but the doll sent a certain shiver up the spine.  Come to think of it, I was already shivering. It was the end of a long week traipsing through four states following the Trump campaign. The Secret Service kept us waiting outside for three quarters of an hour in the pelting New England rain, and if it hadn’t been for a friendly Fox News umbrella, I’d have been soaked to the skin. But more of New Hampshire later, and the moment that just might prove a turning point in this extraordinary election.

My week began in steamy Florida; Tampa, to be precise. It was the biggest Trump event I’ve been to, with around 20,000 supporters. A steward told us that the rock band Prophets of Rage had just played there; ‘plus ça change’ was my immediate thought. Our spot in the media pen was next to CNN, and their brilliant correspondent Jim Acosta. Foreign broadcasters in the US are disparagingly referred to as ‘no votes TV’. But our unimportance can be a bit of a blessing. My CNN colleagues were subjected to jeering and shouting from Trump supporters just feet away, some of them wearing ‘CNN SUCKS’ T-shirts.


The media, in Donald Trump’s view, is as much of a problem as the ‘Washington swamp’, which he vows to drain; he says we’re helping to ‘rig’ the election. It’s led to speculation that the billionaire might set up Trump TV if his presidential bid fails. It would be a fascinating prospect. Perhaps you could have a kind of reverse Apprentice in which Mr Trump hires everyone in Mexico to come back and work in the US, or a new version of the Krypton Factor where you have to scale a large wall to get into the country. I could even suggest Donald’s Blind Date, but that might end up being rather costly, litigation-wise.

Next up, Georgia — where I met disillusioned Republicans who’re putting the state in play for the first time in decades. Early voting has begun, and one Republican lady told me she’d voted for Hillary Clinton, through gritted teeth. She was angry at Mr Trump, but more so at the Republican party for choosing him. Earlier I had spent a pleasant time with a Trump supporter in the Chattahoochee coffee house. Fran Rackow, a semi-retired accountant, has retrained as an astrologer. She brought Donald Trump’s chart along, and told me he has the moon in Sagittarius, which, she said, might explain his legal issues with women. She also said he was born under a full moon, though your correspondent has no idea what that might mean.

By the time we head to North Carolina, I’m getting sick of airports — particularly the contortions security staff go through to propel one large blind bloke through the metal detector. First, more often than not they address the person I’m travelling with, not me. Second, I get half-pushed, half-dragged through the scanner like I’m an unruly supermarket trolley. Then they swab my hands for explosive residue. Why on earth they think someone they see as a non-verbal, semi-ambulant foreigner might turn out to be a dab hand at manipulating Semtex is beyond me.  Trump’s rally in Kinston, North Carolina, is rather flat. It’s punctuated by security guards removing a black man whom the crowds jeer at as a protester. It turns out later that he’s actually a Trump supporter and an ex-Marine — a bit of an own goal by a campaign that has been fighting off accusations of racism.

Back in New Hampshire, Donald Trump is late, which turns out to be perfect timing. Just before he appears, it emerges the FBI has found thousands more Clinton-related emails, and wants to take a look. With ten days to go, the Trump campaign was cock-a-hoop. To make it worse for Hillary Clinton, those emails had been found on a laptop belonging to the disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, who texted and tweeted pictures of his nether regions. He’s the estranged husband of Hillary Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin. As I stand in front of the camera waiting to go live on BBC World, I ponder how genitalia never seem to be far from the surface in this presidential campaign, and that years of striving by Hillary Clinton could be thrown off course by a man who can’t keep his hands off his cameraphone.

Gary O’Donoghue is the BBC’s Washington correspondent


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