Atlanta — Let me make it clear: If a presidential candidate's team invites me to meet the candidate, I will go. And over the years, I've been lucky enough to meet and speak with the likes of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and yes, even Richard Nixon. I've had the chance to watch presidents and presidential candidates "behind the curtain."
So when the Donald Trump campaign invited me to have a brief moment with Trump, I happily accepted. Those who read my columns know that I was basically the first syndicated columnist to write that Trump would be a powerful force in the GOP race for president. And although I had received some comments from him regarding the columns I've written about his candidacy, I had never met the man.
So in all honesty, I entered an arena of 7,000 wildly cheering and darn-near fanatical followers not knowing if the Donald would be just as, shall I say, animated in private as he is with his fans. I was looking for a glimpse at what a president Trump would be like behind the scenes.
Let me get right to it: The Trump behind the stage is a totally different person. I watched as a small group lined up to chat and have photos taken with him. I expected to watch Trump talk at them or briskly move them along. Instead, he intently listened to each person. He took sheets of information that some fans brought. He asked them questions. He did what all of the former presidents I have ever met did : He made each person feel like they were the most important person in the room.
Off to the side, Trump's family members stood quietly, talking to a few staffers. The entire interesting, albeit short, visit seemed as businesslike and professional as any presidential visit, absent the uppity staff that I usually have to put up with.
To Trump's credit, those who met him backstage were not powerful business leaders or lobbyists; most were hardworking supporters, plus a few elected officials who had broken ranks with the Georgia GOP establishment crowd to endorse him.
And for the record, while I have not seen him in a while, I have been in similar situations with Sen. Marco Rubio, and he, too, is impressive. I feel quite certain that Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich are as well.
But Trump's ability - or some would say, inability — to make calm and carefully reasoned decisions has become a popular topic of conversation as he continues to lead the field of Republican contenders. And while my brief glimpse did not answer every question about his leadership style, it did convince me that Trump could easily adapt his high-octane speech rhetoric to be quieter and more deliberate, as presidents are known to speak. After all, it's not like he could've created an enormous business fortune without the necessary tools of sophistication.
After our private visit came the rally. To say that I have never seen such a diverse crowd at a GOP rally would be an understatement. Less prevalent were the suits and khaki pants seen at most Republican gatherings. Instead, there were blue jeans, veterans' caps and typical everyday clothes of working people who might have just left their jobs to attend. There were young women with piercings and young men with long hair. There were African-Americans, Hispanics — you name it.
They attended, it seemed, as much out of a desire to display their patriotism, as to express their anger with a system and political party that has become too fancy and too dominated by wealth and power to suit their needs.
Well they got what they came for. Having just won the South Carolina caucus, Trump was true to his form and more.
I still have no idea where this race will end up. For example, Texas is a huge prize; no candidate has discussed how they'll handle the growing glut of oil. Florida's allegiance remains to be seen, but Marco Rubio is rising. But whatever the final result, my brief visit reinforced why I've been right about Trump for 15 months and counting.
Matt Towery is a nationally syndicated columnist, pollster, author and attorney. He is the author of the new book "Newsvesting: Use News and Opinion to Grow Your Personal Wealth." To find out more about Matt Towery and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Marc Nozell