Dispatch from Nashua, New Hampshire: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’16
Author’s note: This is the last vestige of what the tyrannical literary editors at the Observer let me publish from a manuscript of nearly 10,000 words. After barricading myself in a room for five hours, I wrote and edited the whole thing in one go, chain-smoking Camel Lites and downing grapefruits and quarts of Wild Turkey Bourbon back-to-back. This is an account of a trip I took to stalk GOP candidates in Nashua, NH for the New Hampshire Democratic Party (NHDP), a wild and foolish errand that I will never forget.
I was somewhere near the border of New Hampshire when The Fear began to take hold. I was soon to arrive at the first big GOP cattle-call of the 2016 primary campaign, also known as the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit. Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump were rumored to be making appearances. The Granite State skies weighed heavy, threatening rain as I careened on Interstate 95 in my rented 2009 Jeep Patriot—a real American machine.
At this conference—a dirty parade of the bastards running for the Republican Party’s nomination —I was asked to be an “Opposition Researcher.” (A politically convenient name for a stalker, tasked with wearing a concealed mic and catching candidates saying wild inaccuracies and gaffes on tape.)
I met my NHDP contact smoking Parliaments in a damp parking structure next to Nashua’s Crowne Plaza Hotel. Handing me the conference badge, he said with a wave of his cigarette, “Just don’t fucking get yourself shot or arrested in there…”
I couldn’t tell if he was being serious until I walked into the lobby, complete with seventies-era decor, beige carpets, and husky, red-faced men toting AR-15s on their shoulders and pearl-handled .357 Magnums on their waists—ready to duel with any hippie sonovabitch that might find themselves in their crosshairs…
That’s when The Fear gripped me right down to the balls, shook my soft, West-Coast-Progressive psyche like a wild earthquake. It occurred to me that these bastards could really win it all and take us all back to the Stone Age, or a nuclear winter for that matter.
As I ventured further inside, I spotted a grotesque, reptilian figure of a man, crowded by doting fans, each with countless buttons adorning their tastelessly wide, olive suit lapels. It occurred to me that the gleam of the pins looked like the shiny scales of a crocodile or some other ancient lizard.
There, standing maybe 10 feet away from me, was Ted Cruz, Texas Senator and constitutional-conservative swine, offering moist handshakes to anyone with a pulse. He was a prime target for surveillance, and I made my way over to the throng surrounding him.
Pushing my way into the crowd, I asked, “What advice could you give a young conservative?” A woman beside me couldn’t quite contain herself and chimed in “…kill that Jihadi fucker Barack HUSSEIN Obama!”
The words oozed out of his mouth like puss from a festering wound. “You, young man, I just want you to go out there, be an arsonist for liberty,” he said. “Take back what’s yours, and don’t ever let the liberals steal your freedom, you hear me?”
I fell back into the outer part of the group around The Senator, shaken as the crowd and candidate moved onward. I wasn’t sure whether he suggested I burn down the houses of abortion doctors, local gun control advocates, or just immolate the actual institutions of government, like he did to the Senate, desecrating the fine words of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham into the wee hours of the morning in a hopeless filibuster.
But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I hadn’t gotten anything truly damming on tape, besides wild ideological pronouncements. Wandering the convention floor, I happened upon a small group of prepubescent boys all wearing Rick Perry 2016 hats, striped red ties, identical blue blazers (with the plastic gold buttons), and munching on soggy Chick-Fil-A sandwiches. They introduced themselves as Governor Perry’s “Intern Squad,” and were just tickled to be enjoying fine chicken from a franchise that espoused good, Christian values. “Those faggots can just shove it,” the scrawniest one said with a glint of unbridled malice in his eyes.
I chatted with them, hardly holding back the waves of bile that came burning up my esophagus with each juvenile obscenity. After a bit, we decided to go upstairs and see Chris Christie’s petulant babble of a speech in the Jackson ballroom. As the doors of the elevator were closing, a small porky hand reached inside. “Hold it!” a gruff voice dripping with a Queens accent barked. To my amazement and dread, Donald Trump sauntered inside with a couple of campaign aides.
Wide-eyed and childlike, the interns gasped in awe. Standing in the corner, I tried not to blow my cover by giggling at the conspiracy-peddling asshole. Not one to let the air grow stale, The Donald asked us, “You boys know what this kind of trashy hotel is for?” They shook their heads, speechless. “Well, I hate to say it, but when you boys get old enough, and have enough money to pick up any old bitch on the street, you can take her to a hotel like this and fuck her all you want without seeing anyone that matters.”
Just as quickly as he arrived, the Donald strode out of the doors, down the hall, and into the ballroom to cheer on Chris Christie. I stumbled, speechless and nauseated, out of the elevator. My Chick-Fil-A friends had scurried away like little vermin, thirsting perhaps for some more disgusting pronouncements from that skeevy orange bastard.
I ducked into the men’s room…maybe the Nashua trip was just a fever dream… an awful hallucination, a bad trip. In my heart, I knew it was none of those. It was the real fucking deal. Sitting in the stall, I checked if my tape had recorded that vile exchange. It’d been off the entire time.