I envisioned many different situations en route to a recent assignment covering GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s trip to Houston. But my list didn’t include what I saw at the end of the exhausting night: democratic debate.
Trump first stopped by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee’s River Oaks home for a fundraiser, where attendees forked over thousands for a few moments with the mogul. Across the street from Buzbee’s lot, Houston police officers cordoned off protesters on one corner and directed Trump supporters to another.
The two sides had a terse face-off – protesters blasted Tejano music while Trump supporters spoke to reporters – at the fundraiser, but there wasn’t much actual interaction.
I then headed to Trump’s rally in The Woodlands, which attracted thousands of people. The line to get in started to form many hours before the 7 p.m. rally, and many people who’d waited in line in a scorching mall parking lot didn’t get in.
Since Trump has yanked The Washington Post‘s credentials, I covered the scene outside of the Waterway Marriott. While there were reports of a person temporarily detained, I found people to be fairly calm. Law enforcement saturated the area, directing traffic and keeping watchful eyes on people expressing their opinions.
I had been expecting confrontations to get heated after Trump’s audience filtered out, and there were passionate exchanges. But again, I found that law enforcement was vigilant while allowing for discord – at least once even standing between the two sides as they debated over metal barricades.
As the night went on, many people left, but plenty of others stayed. I spent my time floating from one group of debaters to another, staying to get the gist of the arguments: immigration, LGBT issues, gun rights. All around me were clusters of people – again, with police watching closely – debating politics, of course some more crassly than others. I saw college students, hijab-clad women, people who were physically impaired and folks of all races, ages and shapes. Just as moviegoers might discuss a film on the way out of the theater, rally-goers and protesters seemed to want to talk it out, too.
Eventually, officers asked people to leave and the crowds cleared out. The mall was once again just a mall, and Trump was off to stir someone else’s pot.