Gone were the lasers and the smoke machines.Gone were the glamorous adult children, dressed up and shined as if awaiting their Rose Garden debut.
Gone, even, were the frenzied, angry, overflow crowds — that unlikeliest of electoral nourishment that has sustained Mr Donald Trump for nearly 17 months.
Instead, when Mr Trump took the stage exactly 30 minutes after midnight for his final rally as a candidate, his 34-minute speech felt like an afterthought, the slapdash add-on that it was.
“We’re hours away from a once-in-a-lifetime change,” Mr Trump said. “Today is our Independence Day, the day the American working class is going to strike back, finally.”
But the closing event of his last campaign swing, originally intended for the eve of the voting, came instead in the dark, chilly early hours of Election Day — a last-minute effort to match a competing Mrs Hillary Clinton rally in Raleigh, North Carolina.
After 10 rallies in two days, Mr Trump had lost some of his luster. He sounded subdued and looked tired, almost as bleary-eyed as his traveling press corps. He had changed ties, from royal blue to navy and white stripes, but he gripped the lectern with both hands, as if for support.
Even his voters seemed to lack their usual vim. They still booed the news media, but the effort seemed halfhearted, and they did not muster the chant against CNN that has become almost de rigueur in recent weeks.
Still, the crowd was largely excited to greet him, the standard-bearer of the Republican Party, and experience the Trump phenomenon one last time before what they hoped would be a historic event — a real estate developer turned reality television star turned politician, seizing the nation’s highest office.
“I’ve been here since 9 o’clock, and I’m exhausted,” said Ms Sarah Soudek, 38, a loan officer from Grand Rapids who had waited with two of her sisters for more than three hours. “I have to get up and go to work in the morning, which is a little crazy, but to me it’s like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see him tonight.”
“He’s going to be our next president,” she added, “and I’m not sure I’ll ever get this close to a president again.”
Michigan — a state that has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988 — signalled the end of what began as a seemingly quixotic political quest and ended as a populist uprising that further divided an already riven nation.
And whatever the results on Tuesday (Wednesday, Nov 9, Singapore time), the rally here was the last time — for the near future, at least — that Mr Trump would stand before an adoring crowd, soaking in its adulation and bearing witness to its frustration as the Republican nominee for the White House.
He urged his supporters to vote, offering a grim warning: “If we don’t win, this will be the single greatest waste of time, energy and money in my life.”
For a 70-year-old who prefers the plush comforts of his gilded tower, Mr Trump may have found the final 48 hours before the polls officially opened a dizzying sprint of a finish.
On Sunday, he raced through seven states and three time zones as he held five rallies, including one added at the last minute in Minneapolis. And on Monday, he journeyed north, from Florida to North Carolina to Pennsylvania to New Hampshire, and finally here to western Michigan.
An evening rally in Manchester, New Hampshire — where blue laser beams and smoke-machine haze pattered across his silhouette as he took the stage — was supposed to be his last event, an appreciative and energetic tribute to the state that handed him his first victory in the early nominating contests.
But after Mrs Clinton added a final evening rally, so, too, did Mr Trump.
His final appeal in Michigan returned him to his base, the Rust Belt white voters and former Blue Dog Democrats who had lifted him to victory in the Republican primaries.
He spoke of the struggling auto industry, the rising costs of President Barack Obama’s health care plan and the blue-collar Americans — “my people” — who work long, hard days with little relief.
Still, the send-off hardly seemed the culminating rally that Mr Trump, a consummate showman, would have chosen for himself.
Shortly after he began speaking, a steady stream of people began to trickle past the metal barricades of the pen where members of the news media are confined at Trump rallies. Some seemed tired and bored; others were Clinton supporters who had come, simply, to see the spectacle up close; and many were die-hard Trump supporters, facing long drives home and trying to get in position to beat the traffic.
Even Mr Trump seemed to realise that despite all the bluster, this rally could be his last, ever, as a politician. After winding down and ordering his supporters to “go to bed” so they could get up and vote, he lingered onstage, pointing and waving and turning about.
Yet by the time he slowly walked off, clapping and raising both fists just above his shoulders in something of a victory shrug, the convention hall was more than half empty. THE NEW YORK TIMES