HE HAS been written off by pollsters and pundits but bounced back every time. Now Donald Trump’s bombastic election campaign may have met its match – for now.
Trump has been forced to suspend electioneering in order to report for jury service.
The property mogul revealed the news as he arrived in New Hampshire for the latest instalment of the Trump show – a barnstorming series of rallies that have propelled him to the head of the race to win the Republican presidential nomination.
“I will be doing jury duty on Monday morning in New York city,” he said ahead of an event in Hampton, a small town near the Atlantic coast.
The New York Daily News reported that he ignored five previous summons and been fined the grand total of $250 (£159).
Not that anything could dampen the enthusiasm of the thousands of people waiting to see him in Hampton. Some arrived four hours before he was due to speak at a high school.
And what a show they got, jury duty or not. There were boos for his presidential rivals, jokes about how much money he makes and – just in case they were starting to think there was no policy – Trump threw out not one but two promises of federal investigations, apparently devised on the hoof in response to questions, before ending with his rallying cry.
“The American dream is dead,” he roared, riding a crescendo of cheers. “I’m going to make it bigger and better than ever.”
Trump, who made his name as a property tycoon and sent his brand into the stratosphere as the face of The Apprentice TV series in the US, has been front and centre of the race for the Republican nomination ever since he announced his run in June by accusing Mexico of sending rapists and murderers to the US.
His unflinching rhetoric and grandstanding has turned off waverers but attracted what Trump calls the “silent majority” – and the polls agree.
While the political pundits have written him off repeatedly, his supporters in small towns like Hampton scream for more.
So although his stance on illegal Mexican immigrants and his disparaging description of John McCain, who spent five and a half years as prisoner of war in Vietnam, as “not a war hero” set off furious rows, he still commands an impressive lead.
Even his response to Megyn Kelly, the Fox News journalist who asked him tough questions about his attitude towards women, has not derailed the Trump show.
“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her – wherever,” he said minutes after their exchange, setting off another wave of revulsion.
Yet the latest RealClear Politics poll of polls puts him on 24.5 per cent among Republicans in the key early state of New Hampshire, more than 13 points ahead of Jeb Bush, who can instead count on the heavyweight party endorsements secured by family connections and his political record as Florida governor.
But for the 1,000 or so people who filled the Winnacunnet High School’s auditorium on Friday night (1,000 more had to listen from the gym or from outside) those connections mark Bush as a member of the political elite that has them hankering for an anti-establishment candidate.
Trump is the man who tells it like it is, they say.
So the biggest cheers of the night came when someone in crowd shouted: “We don’t want a scripted president.”
“And you don’t want a politically-correct president,” came the response from Trump, pointing out for umpteenth time that his billions in personal wealth made him immune from polling experts, lobbyists and donors who might stop him speaking his mind and doing as he pleased. Minutes later he responded to a question from the audience about treatment of military veterans, who are committing suicide at the rate of 8,000 a year.
“It can’t just be incompetence,” he said as he promised to ask the FBI to investigate the government department responsible. “It’s got to be theft and it’s got to be a lot more that we don’t know about.”
It was political theatre of the highest order. Or pantomime. Depending on your view of the man and his promises.
Like many in the crowd Jimmy Riordan shrugged off the accusations of misogyny and racism.
He blamed the media for focusing on spats and slanging matches, rather than the issues affecting America, such as immigration and the economy. Trump would get things done, he said.
“The world is a big business now,” said the retired diesel engine parts salesman. “You can start wars or find peace with business. Trump is the best businessman, that’s what it’s all about.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s rival for the White House Hillary Clinton mocked the scandal surrounding her e-mail system at a speech in front of Democratic activists in Iowa, by joking “You may have seen that I recently launched a Snapchat account. I love it. I love it. Those messages disappear all by themselves.” The jest was a veiled reference to the fact Clinton aides deleted more than 30,000 e-mails from her server.
In March, when the existence of these e-mails was first revealed, Clinton told reporters the messages “were about planning Chelsea’s wedding … as well as yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically find in inboxes.”