— -- "I'm okay," were the first two words out of my mouth last night to our assignment desk in New York. I don't get scared on the campaign trail -- you can't -- yet a car spinning out of control with the intention of hitting cops, people pushing, and at times, punching each other...I can't blame my colleagues for emailing me: "Are you safe????"
I've covered Trump from day one, since "the famous escalator" ride, as he often calls it. Ten months later, the man who is within reach of clinching his party's nomination touched down last night in California, the state that could result in "Game Over" for his unlikely rise to the top.
Protesters have become a norm at Trump rallies. The New York businessman wants protesters so the media will "spin the cameras." It didn't happen last night during his speech. As the rally began, I lost email and cell service - a common occurrence at these events with 18,000 people in attendance. Dead zone.
As Trump spoke, his rally was reminiscent of previous ones. Jamiel Shaw, who I've interviewed, spoke about Trump being the "man who would make it right." Shaw was flanked by families, who like him, lost their loved ones at the hands of an undocumented worker. The billionaire focused last night's rally on immigration -- a topic he hasn't hit on too hard in the last few weeks -- but don't get me wrong, in every single speech Trump's vow to "Build the Wall" is chanted by the real estate mogul and his adoring fans.
As Trump continued, I began to smell something burning. Barbecue I thought for a second, debating if it was time to eat my last granola bar. Trump moved into his usual round of attacks on Cruz and Kasich. Carly Fiorina too, now that she has joined forces with Cruz.
As Trump continued, the helicopters humming overhead doubled in number, their spotlights on. Something was up. A few emails came in and clearly the news was not good.
A local ABC News affiliate reported a man was driving in doughnuts -- hence the burnt rubber smell.
The speech ended and I headed for the street. A counterpart from another outlet and I walked, then ran, then jogged. The smell grew heavier, the chanting louder, and the police presence greater. A statue had been spray-painted with the words "F--- Trump." Cans and bottles filled the sidewalk and you would make out faces of anger (the protesters) and amazement (the supporters) between the bursts of blue lights.
The juxtaposition of the night was undeniable. Inside the arena, Trump drilled down hard on illegal immigration. Outside, the Mexican flag waved. Yet, as one man jumped on a police cruiser, and half the crowd cheered him on, it made me wonder -- what did that do? "Time to go home" shouted a cop mounted on a horse and dressed in riot gear as I jumped over a bush, retreating to higher ground.
"This is nuts," a Trump supporter said to me quietly. As he spoke, another group nearby was having a heated, yet civil chat, about the issues. No resolution -- an agreement to disagree.
I've seen that before, months ago. As I walked away, unharmed, a woman was walking in traffic and shouting epithets at Trump.
"What's your problem," a female officer asked her. She was silent. "Is that doing anything, blocking traffic?" the officer asked. "I'm mad," the woman shouted in response. "So how is this helping?" the cop demanded. The woman stepped back and held her sign "F--- Trump" above her head. Then she walked away.
Perhaps last night was a one-off like Chicago. Maybe it's a sign of how our time in the California sunshine will be. Either way, one thing is clear - nothing will change.