OKLAHOMA CITY — As Donald Trump stood before a crowd of thousands at the Great State Fair of Oklahoma on Friday night, he complained that reporters always underreport the magnitude of his rallies and underestimate his chances of becoming president.
"You know, it's hard, this running stuff," Trump said. "You're dealing with the press, and the distortion that they write is so unbelievable… I mean, they really do distort, and they are terrible people. Not all of them but many of them."
Trump pointed to the small island of national and local reporters packed onto a riser in the sea of Oklahomans.
"Hey, cameras: Can you do us a favor?" Trump said. "Take the cameras off me and pan the crowd. Pan it. Be honest. Go ahead, pan it... They don't want to pan it! Pan those cameras!"
As the crowd turned to look at the bank of cameras, it alternated between cheering and booing. One woman in a Trump T-shirt hissed at reporters: "Be nice! Be nice!"
In the past few days, Trump has been become increasingly exasperated with coverage of his presidential bid, especially at any suggestion that his success was just an odd summer phenomenon that's now fading. He has fired off tweets accusing reporters at a variety of media outlets -- from the conservative magazine National Review to the New York Times -- of being unfair and inaccurate. He is boycotting Fox News, having threatened to file a complaint with federal regulators against one of the channel's commentators.
Trump has said he doesn't understand why reporters have focused on dips in his poll numbers rather than highlighting that he continues to dominate "every poll nationwide … and every state." He doesn't understand why photographers snapped images of rows of empty chairs at his speech at a business convention in South Carolina on Wednesday afternoon, especially when a town hall that evening was packed. He doesn't understand why some of his opponents are criticizing him for not providing specific answers to foreign policy questions, since he doesn't think a potential president should share such information.
Trump's frustration seems to boil down to this: He doesn't understand why everyone isn't cheering him on like this massive crowd at the state fair.
"No matter where I go, we have these incredible crowds," Trump said Friday night. "Something is happening that is amazing. It's amazing."
Trump looked out Friday night at thousands of Oklahomans, many in Trump T-shirts and caps, waving Trump signs and screaming his name. Some camped out for a couple hours at the band shell, sitting through a performance by a cover band with a faulty sound system, just so they could see him up close.
"At first, when he said he was going to run, I thought it was a joke," said Charlie Bevers, 62, a supporter and retired social studies teacher who lives in the Oklahoma City suburbs. "When he got out there and did his 'Trumpisms,' I listened because I thought it was funny. Then I realized he was saying what I want to hear."
Darlene McBride, 65, said she was determined to see the Donald and dragged along her husband, son, ex-daughter-in-law and three grandkids from Guthrie.
"I've loved him ever since I heard him," said McBride, who is fiercely defensive of her candidate. "On Facebook, when they write ugly stuff, I tell them to go back to where they came from... The news media on TV has been real bad and hasn't been fair and has made stuff up -- and it's not fair and it's not okay."
Many other Oklahomans were there out of pure curiosity. After all, the event was a spectacle: Earlier in the day, a local country radio station renamed itself "The Donald: Making radio great again." Immigration activists protested outside the fair. Before Trump appeared, a live bald eagle named Uncle Sam sat regally on the stage and entertained the crowd with its long wistful looks and occasional resettling of feathers. There was a young woman who belted out pop covers from Adele and Rachel Platten. And a fiddler. And a local politician who declared: "Pick up your pitchfork! Follow our next commander-in-chief! Join the Trump brigade and take back America once and for all!"
"We can't say we didn't have fun," said Audra Edwards, 21, a University of Oklahoma senior from Tulsa who is a member of the Young Democrats club and attended the rally with a bunch of friends.
A live bald eagle named Uncle Sam showed up to Donald Trump's rally. Cuz, why not? pic.twitter.com/w9ZEwC8fqo
— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) September 25, 2015
News helicopters circled above, while people in the audience held up their smartphones to record the moment. At one point during the speech, Trump suddenly stopped criticizing his opponents and said: "Where's Willie? Where the hell is Willie?"
No formal introduction was needed for Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. He strolled onto the stage in sunglasses, even though it was getting dark, and an American flag bandanna holding back hair as long as his beard.
"Willie, do you love Trump?" Trump asked.
"I do like me some Trump," Robertson responded. "I gotta admit."
"Great man," Trump said as the reality star left the stage. "You know, anybody that likes me, I like. Okay? Call it insecurity, right?"
Some in the audience wanted more than spectacle. Tracy Pratcher, 55, drove more than two and a half hours from western Oklahoma with her son because she wanted to hear Trump's pitch. She's not happy with the way Trump talks about women -- but she also knows he "wouldn't take much guff" as president. Maybe America needs that right now, she said.
"I want to hear what he has to say," said Pratcher, who was holding a stuffed plush bald eagle. "I want to hear more than 'Let's make America great again' and we'll be good. I want to hear some issues."
She didn't get to hear anything new, as Trump mostly kept to his usual talking points: He bemoaned the loss of jobs and business to China. He criticized the Republican establishment and its chosen candidates. He slammed Republican rival Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) for missing votes in Washington, lacking personal wealth and just generally being a "lightweight." He mocked Secretary of State John Kerry for getting hurt in a bicycle accident and said: "I promise you, as president, I will never be in a bicycle race." He yet again promised to construct a massive wall along the southern border, "the kind that if they ever do get to the top, you don't get down." And he defended his use of the phrase "anchor baby."
Again and again, Trump slammed the media and its "moron pundits." He said CNN should be grateful he attracted millions of viewers and higher-paying advertisers to the latest Republican debate: "All because of me. Me! I mean, it sure as hell isn't because of a guy like Marco Rubio and these characters."
Donald Trump: "You're going to be sick and tired of winning!" pic.twitter.com/rWfhuzO3cg
— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) September 26, 2015
Trump told the crowd he is purposely not releasing detailed policy positions on many issues, especially on foreign policy -- unlike many of his Republican rivals, whom he calls "crazy" and "real dopes."
"I don't want them to know what I'm thinking, does that make sense?" Trump said. "I want people to be guessing… I don't want people to figure it out. I don't want people to know what my plan is, I have plans. I have plans."
Those plans will be great, Trump promised. He opened and closed the 50-minute-long speech by promising Oklahomans "so many victories." Even if some of Trump's promises lacked feasibility or sounded a bit too good to be true, the crowd cheered him on. "We love you, Trump!" one man near the stage shouted again and again. Another man picked the mantra of: "You're going to win!" A woman just screamed over and over: "Truuuuuump! Truuuuump!"
"We are going to do so many things," Trump said in closing. "We are going to have so many victories. You are going to be so proud of your country and, hopefully, you are going to be so proud of your president. We are going to win, win, win. And we are going to make our country great again."