BILOXI, Miss. — Forty-five minutes into his first speech of 2016, Donald Trump finally talked about the video.
No, not that one.
Trump spotted "Diamond and Silk," the boisterous YouTube stars from North Carolina who had become occasional campaign surrogates on TV and at rallies. They'd introduced him by asking the Mississippi audience to vote in the March 8 primary, slightly misstating the need to switch party registration (there is no party registration in the state), but delighting the crowd of 15,000. Midway through his speech, after discussing how he felt surrounded by "love," Trump brought them back.
"This time, we're going to have real change!" said Lynette "Diamond" Hardaway — the kind of jibe that a black woman could tell a largely white crowd with a bit more aplomb than Trump.
"Aren't they great?" Trump asked the crowd.
In return, he got one of the night's many ovations. At no point did Trump mention a video from the Somalian al-Qaeda offshoot al-Shabab, which had spliced his endorsement of a temporary "shutdown" of Muslim immigration into a lengthy recruitment video. Outside the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center — on TV news — the video was a major story. Inside, it played no part at all.
Trump's audience, heavy on military veterans, could not quite understand the latest fuss that had distracted the hated mainstream media. Many were aware that Hillary Clinton had falsely credited Trump with appearing in ISIS recruitment videos. ("My colon clenches when I hear her name," confessed a 52-year-old Gulf War veteran named Richard Coyne.) But few had taken any time on a holiday weekend to view it, and fewer could figure out why to trust a terrorist group on what was or wasn't offensive.
"Of course they'd fear Trump more than they fear Obama," said JoAnn Trest, 37, an Air Force veteran who fought in Iraq. "Who fears Obama? They've hated us from the get-go."
Jacob Canova, 46, a Gulf War veteran, surmised that if the video was legitimate, it was produced out of fear. "ISIS would rather have Obama," he said. "A lot of these terrorists will do anything they can to antagonize us, and they know, if we have a strong American president, that veterans wouldn't hesitate to go back in and fight. It looks like it's getting closer to the point where our military leaders will say, you know what, we've got to push him aside."
Trump's campaign was more cautious about the video than Trump's constituency. It stayed silent on the video for most of the day, until Trump himself was asked about it by "Face the Nation" anchor John Dickerson. The Republican front-runner largely brushed off the question, saying that radical groups had "used other people, too," in their propaganda videos.
"What am I gonna do?" he asked Dickerson. "I have to say what I have to say."
Doing that had paid rewards in Mississippi. Trump's visit effectively shut down a small strip of the Gulf Coast, snarling traffic for hours and opening abandoned parking lots to desperate drivers. For those who managed to park, a line snaked around the convention center hours before the rally's 7 p.m. start time. Some Trump fans, only lightly guarded from the winter cold, bundled up with unofficial "Make America Great Again" knit hats, sweatshirts and baseball caps with fringes of faux hair.
As people who had spent four or five hours on their feet cycled out, fans from the overflow room moseyed in, many wearing the unofficial Trump gear that hawkers had perched outside the venue to sell. Once they navigated the many Secret Service checkpoints, they grabbed signs to wave along with "Hey Jude" and "Tiny Dancer," or stood in line for the snacks usually sold when sports teams played the coliseum. Some walked out to a porch where they could smoke and see the stragglers who would miss most of Trump's speech and had to temporarily settle for an overflow room in the adjoining convention center.
All of them — participants in what Trump announced as the largest political rally in Mississippi's history — heard the candidate recite a long series of poll numbers ("Trump wins again"), blame the Obama administration and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton for the creation of ISIS, and repeatedly boast about his Ivy League degrees.
"I have great genes and all that stuff, which I'm a believer in," Trump said.
When he did discuss the threats confronting the next president, Trump informed the crowd that Iran's latest offensive moves were proof that the deal agreed to in Geneva was already crumbling. "The deal with Iran — there has to be something else going on," he said, not expanding on the point. He briefly condemned the Republican Congress for passing the year-end spending bill that left America "funding all of these people that they want to bring in from Syria," but the only party rivals he mentioned by name were Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio — the latter in the context of being dishonest about what he really thought of Bush.
But no target took as much fire from Trump as the media that had arrived to cover him. Midway through the hour-long speech, Trump informed his supporters that reporters would refuse to report how "beautiful" they looked. Why, he asked, did the network cameras that managed to cover the ejection of protesters never manage to pan over his glorious crowds? The candidate trained his eye on one cameraman who, even as supporters jeered and waved their signs in his shot, was not moving his shot.
"Fire him!" yelled a supporter.
"Yeah, I'd fire his ass," Trump said.
That led to more cheering, which Trump only quieted by telling a kind of joke.
"Do we have a protester available?" asked Trump. "It would be good television."
There were, for once, no protesters in the room. Before Trump arrived, the coliseum had cheered an emcee's announcement that anyone who might interrupt the event had been relegated to a "safe protest zone" across the street, functionally invisible.