ATLANTA — The conservative RedState Gathering began Thursday night with activists cheering wildly at a debate party as Donald Trump dismissed a question from Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly about misogynist rhetoric as "political correctness."
Less than 36 hours later, the same audience erupted into applause and a few scatted boos Saturday as host Erick Erickson announced he had banned Trump from the event for suggesting Kelly was menstruating when she asked the question.
"I think he has disqualified himself," Erickson told reporters, adding that the episode "probably is the beginning of the end" for Trump.
If there’s one thing Trump has proved so far, it’s that nobody can predict what’s going to happen in the polls. But the political winds seemed to have changed here in Atlanta, where Trump wore out his welcome in an extremely short period with the hardline voters who should be his base.
To hear Erickson describe it, the Trump cancellation is the start of a broader exorcism for the conservative movement in which they must confront their snarling demons to find salvation the other side.
"I have emails from people referring to Megyn Kelly as a whore, I have emails from people referring to me as gay, I have emails referring to the president by the n-word and [saying] Donald Trump is standing up to all of us," he said onstage. "We will not gain the White House if we are not going to be happy warriors."
Language like this prompted whoops of approval Saturday, but it may have fallen flat even a day earlier. In over a dozen interviews before Trump’s feud with Kelly, RedState participants offered strikingly similar assessments of the billionaire populist.
Nearly every attendee who talked to msnbc praised Trump for channeling their anger at the status quo, for drawing attention to issues like illegal immigration, and — perhaps most of all — for giving establishment Republicans fits with his outrageous rhetoric.
"We need drastic change," Jack Staver, 61, told msnbc on Thursday. "He may not be the right guy, but others need to adopt his attitude and stop being politically correct."