The vomitous Trumpian ejecta that is Neal Tapio dirtied the poorly lit Aberdeen Ramkota lecture hall tonight.
Before he spoke Tapio approached me and said, “I’m Neal Tapio.”
“Yes, you are,” I said, shaking his hand. “Would you like to do a five-minute blog video after your show?”
Tapio hesitated. “I’m not sure I want to do that. I want to know if you are planning any disruptive activities tonight or if you’re just recording.”
I asked Tapio what would make him think I would do a thing like that. He muttered something faintly insulting. I produced my voice recorder and asked him to repeat his question. He stood silently, scared to put his insult on tape.
After waiting a few seconds, savoring a speechless candidate for public office, I said, “I’m just here to record this event.”
“Excellent, that’s what I wanted to know.” Tapio stalked away, desultorily “worked” the “crowd”—i.e., shook hands and sat with a couple of the ladies out of audience of thirty-some non-press, non-campaign attendees.
Around 6:05 p.m., Tapio, who skipped a full day of representing District 5 in the Legislature to fly around the state announcing his campaign for Congress, delivered the following 26 minutes of Trumpist hogwash. All I did was record it; I heard no disruptions.
Tapio said he’s been to Aberdeen 15 times in the past year. Yet in his entire speech, a speech intended to kick off a campaign to represent South Dakota in Congress, Tapio barely mentioned South Dakota or South Dakota issues. Tapio is a man determined to campaign on his own talking points: his utter fealty to Trump and his sheer terror at Muslims, sprinkled with tearful patriotism and griping about drugs and Indians.
Tapio’s anecdotes make clear he spends more time out of state than in South Dakota. He talked about visiting with woman from Faribault, Minnesota, which he says is in a situation similar to Aberdeen—Tapio gives no specifics about that situation, because the true believers to whom he’s pitching already knows what he means—too many brown people. He talks at 3:40 about working in North Dakota for five years, hiring his female assistant in Williston, selling his industrial parts washers all over the world, and only coming back to Watertown to run for office after the oil market crashed and he had “some extra free time.” (Hey, kids! The Word of the Day is, Carpetbagger!)
At 5:50, Tapio admits: “not a lot of people knew me in Watertown”, didn’t have kids in school, didn’t go to HS activities, but says he won the primary in 2016 by knocking on several hundred doors and going in to tell people what he was scared of and asking those folks were scared too. Tapio thus admits that his campaigns are explicitly based on fear.
Tapio spoke in front of a sign offering the lowercase campaign slogan “working together solving problems.” He disproves the first half only 1:15 into his speech, when says he’s campaigning to defend “the deplorables.” he disproves the second half through the rest of the speech, in which he decries a national “malaise” (1:45! That’s the word! Is Tapio simply über-ironic, or does he not know political history well enough not to talk like Jimmy Carter?) but offers no comprehensive policy to resolve the problems underlying that malaise.
I count two specific policies in Tapio’s speech, neither original nor specific to South Dakota:
- At 13:15, he affirms Donald Trump’s call to “stop Muslim immigration… until we figure out what’s going on….”
- At 21: 30, he calls for a “zero-tolerance policy” on marijuana.
Tapio wanted to offer something much grander. He spoke of malaise among military acquaintances who don’t know what they are risking their lives for overseas. At 9:04, Tapio says, “People we’re sending over to fight and die need to have a mission. They need to understand exactly what we’re fighting for.” This concern for our soldiers comes from a man who admits at 10:30 that when he was traveling around Iowa during the 2015 Iowa primary season, he “didn’t know exactly what a Purple Heart meant.”
Tapio burbled on about the need for purpose, seeming to long for the good old days (at 12:15) when “we had Imperial Japan, we had Nazi Germany” to fight in World War II, and when we had Communism to fight in Vietnam—and then he channels not Trump but Goldwater: “If we only would have unleashed our abilities, we would have had a much better outcome.”
So what? Are we to unleash nuclear weapons on ISIS? On all Islamic countries? Who knows? If Tapio knows, he didn’t say tonight.
At 13:00, Tapio seems to suggest our troops can rally around not a mission but a man: Donald Trump… who, as appears to be the case with Tapio, never served in uniform. “He had me” says Tapio of the moment he heard Trump call for the Muslim ban. “He brought me back into the political fold. Finally somebody is willing to talk about the real issues.”
Maybe Tapio thinks our troops can rally around toothless legislative resolutions, like his 2017 Senate Concurrent Resolution 15, which he touts as a proof his his Trumpism and of the South Dakota Republican Party’s pansy-hood. At 13:50, Tapio says all his resolution in 2017 said was that “we thank President Trump for his fight against radical Islamic terrorism. It was defeated in a State Senate that has 69% Republican majority.”
False. The South Dakota Senate has 29 Republicans and 6 Democrats. Republicans hold an 83% majority. I think Tapio just wanted to say “69”.
Even more false is his characterization of his resolution. 2017 SCR 15 as Tapio originally submitted it did not mention “radical Islamic terrorism.” It did not “thank” Donald Trump. It endorsed the Trump Administration’s call for “extreme vetting” and called for a “vote of no confidence” in Lutheran Social Services and its administration of refugee resettlement in South Dakota. Senator Al Novstrup hoghoused SCR 15 to praise Trump for offering “unifying words” in his first speech to Congress (that aged well). The Senate indulged Tapio with a few minutes of over-emoting (he does this tearing/choking-up thing a lot), then said enough already, voted down the Trump resolution (which was really no longer Tapio’s anti-refugee resolution), and moved on to actual bills that got things done.
So Tapio not only can’t tell South Dakota stories in his campaign speech; he can’t even tell stories about his own resolutions correctly. But that’s classic Trump: facts don’t matter, only the narrative and the ratings.
At 17:25, Tapio says he’s trying to start a conversation in South Dakota “about the most delicate issue that’s facing the entire world.” He points at the thin audience and declares, “You guys are in the mainstream. That’s what the Trump election was all about, is that the people of this country are taking this country back.” He says the anti-Muslim rallies he has attended in Aberdeen are about “saving” our community. Sure… and saving the community means telling us that our mayor, economic development chief, and business community are all conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood. Tapio still hasn’t told us what we are supposed to do to those collaborators.
At 18:25, Tapio says Daugaard, Michels, Thune, Noem, Jackley are “so sick of me having this conversation with them.” Dennis, Matt, John, Kristi, Marty, please come out and confirm that statement.
At 19:10, Tapio says he didn’t volunteer to talk about this issue (which he keeps not naming) but responded to a call from a person in Aberdeen who alleged some sort of harassment downtown (by whom, he doesn’t say). “I didn’t even know there was a community in Aberdeen,” says Tapio, careful not to name the community he’s talking about and targeting with the “conversation” and “movement” he wants to start.
After twenty minutes, Tapio says, “This is not the only issue I’m running on,” and wanders off to other conservative karaoke. He claims to be concerned with juvenile justice but mostly just rails against drug use, saying we don’t really have a workforce shortage but that too many people are smoking pot and doing meth. “Every person that’s on meth, the state’s attorney will tell you that it started with marijuana.” Aside from his quick call for a “zero-tolerance policy,” Tapio offers no guidance on how else to deal with illegal drugs; nor does he remember that he started this point talking about juvenile justice.
At 22:55, Tapio turns abruptly to Native Americans. At first he raises my hopes, talking about GEAR UP, a specific South Dakota scandal where he might muster some credibility. But then Tapio seems to turn to blaming “the Native culture” for “accepting” incest, molestation, suicide, and “Mexican drug cartels… living on the reservation.” Again, Tapio offers no policy, no suggestion of what he’ll do when we elect him to Congress, just the assertion that “it’s racist to ignore” whatever problems government is “allowing to fester” on the reservations. Native neighbors, make of that passage whatever you will.
By 25:00, it becomes clear that Trumpism will solve everything:
Every day I wake up thankful because he’s slashing regulations, he’s unleashing the power of the human spirit to create again. You look at the stock market, it’s going up. There’s a belief in America again. He’s taking on issues head on, he’s taking on ISIS. He’s showing strength to the world again, and because of that he’s going to unleash an economy that I believe is going to be a revitalization of this country [Neal Tapio, campaign speech, Aberdeen, SD, 2018.01.30].
“working together”? “solving problems”? Fiddle faddle! Tapio doesn’t need to offer practical solutions. Just do what Trump says. Follow the Dear Leader, all will be well.
Dusty, Shantel, that’s all Neal Tapio offers. Tapio is a tribute band at the casino, playing Trump’s greatest hits for voters about to go broke. Study it, be ready for it, and don’t give in to it; beat it. Tapio’s Trumpism deserves nothing more than a good beating. I leave that disruptive activity to you.
Stay tuned: Later I’ll post full video of the Q&A Tapio offered after his speech. That Q&A includes his allegation that Muslim doctors hold sway over Sioux Falls legislators.