Donald Trump spoke for nearly 45 minutes but not a word about one of the most anticipated events this election, the first presidential debate. That was very unusual for a man who tweets alerts about his upcoming interviews, mostly on Fox these days.
Is he worried he will be a spectacular failure, as suggested by some critics such as Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard and leader of the NeverTrump movement?
Or, because he is confident he will crush his opponent, Hillary Clinton?
The debate was playing on the minds of many in the audience at an election rally here in an electorally critical state.
And they were not sure how their nominee will fare.
“Umm, let’s see,” said David Fuller, who self-described as “we rural folks”. He lowered his head in concentration, looked up, pursed his lips, and went back to staring at the floor. “Umm … He will be thoughtful,” Fuller, said, adding he was struggling to find the right word to describe how Trump will be at the debate.
Thoughtful? Not many of his supporters will buy that, not the ones who showed up at the rally in T-Shirts reprising the muscular, take-no-prisoners message the Republican nominee has come to be known for.
Not this man, whose T-Shirt proclaimed, blithely: “Donald Trump, finally someone with b***s”. Or this one: “You stomp on my Flag, and I will stomp on your ass.” Here is yet another, “I am the infidel allah warned you about.”
Would they want to see Trump thoughtful?
“I am curious to see what he will do,” said Russell Drum, an independent who voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 in the hope of “change”.
But “disappointed” in the president, Drum is voting for Trump in the same search for “change”.
His wife, a lifelong Republican who didn’t want to give her name so she could be as insulting as she could be of Clinton — and she was, mocking her recent illness to wondering what she does to look young — would spare Trump any misstep.
Behind the brave, angry words, many supporters said they worried Trump might somehow come up short, or throw away the debate, or the one after, because of some slight thrown at him by Clinton, who is likely to come armed with a few.
“I would too if I was Clinton,” said Michael G Barrett, a retired US navy commander, who didn’t like some of the stuff Trump had said on the campaign trail and had “cringed at some of his insults”.
He has fretted about the debate, lately.
But also because, echoing Trump, the former navy commander said he feared debate moderators might be unfair to the nominee much like the rest of the media, which, he added, may also spin the outcome in a way so as to declare Clinton the winner.