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Spotted at President Trump campaign event in Winston-Salem, N.C., last week. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

If President Trump defies today's swing-state polls and pulls off another upset, what will we have missed that could have been a clue?

Here's a big one: Trump flotillas ... Trump flags bigger than American flags ... Trump truck rallies ... Trump shirts ... Trump underwear ... lawns that don't have a Trump-Pence sign or two but 50 or even 100 — a forest.

Why it matters: To his diehard supporters, Trump isn't just a candidate. He's a lifestyle choice and a vehicle for self-expression — a way to continually flip the middle finger at big media, big business, big government ... anything big.

  • It's all part of one of the big Trump triumphs — convincing his voters that an attack on him is actually an attack on them.

A hat, popular in rural convenience stores this summer, says it all: "If You Don't Like Trump Then You Probably Won't Like Me."

  • At rallies, you see people wearing Trump flags like a billowing robe. And a lot of this isn't official campaign merch — people print these up themselves.

At a Trumper classic-car rally in Michigan this weekend, one red, white and blue Trump flag — in place of "Keep America Great" — said, "NO MORE B.S.," with the last word spelled out. Nearby, a man wore a flag-bedecked t-shirt proclaiming: "JESUS IS MY SAVIOR / TRUMP IS MY PRESIDENT."

  • Trump regattas are everywhere, from the solid South to the fancy waters of Mystic, Conn. (Bad metaphorical optics when five Trump boats, swamped by the wake from a massive lake rally, sank near Austin over Labor Day.)
A Trump boat parade passes Mar-a-Lago on Labor Day. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

"Axios on HBO" went to Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., to explore this phenomenon for a segment we call, "Trump on the lake."

  • Axios CEO Jim VandeHei: "In your lifetime, do you ever remember a Ronald Reagan flag as big as the American flag in somebody's front yard? Do you ever remember someone spray painting 'Obama' on their boat?"
  • White House editor Margaret Talev: "No, but there's never been a president whose brand was branding. ... They like the fact that he says things that you're not allowed to say — that he says things that they feel that they can't say at work or in mixed company."

Randy Kelly, a retired boat dealer who has lived at Lake of the Ozarks since moving down from Kansas City 43 years ago, told "Axios on HBO":

  • "If you see someone that has on a Trump hat, there's a camaraderie: Hey, we got something in common."

The bottom line: Trump touts a "silent majority," and pundits pundit about "shy Trump voters" who may be missed by pollsters.

  • But one of the stories of this election is that the Trump vote is screaming, not silent.
Subscribe to Axios AM/PM for a daily rundown of what's new and why it matters, directly from Mike Allen.
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Go deeper

Scoop: Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman says Trump lost

Trump with Schwarzman in 2017. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It's over. That's what Blackstone chairman, CEO and co-founder Steve Schwarzman — one of President Trump's most loyal allies — and other top Republicans are signaling to the defeated president, 16 days after Joe Biden clinched the win.

Why it matters: It’s all theatrics now. Even if Trump doesn't move on fast, you can. It is safe to ignore the fearful Republicans who insist the process is legit and plausible, because they tell us privately it is not. 

Longtime diplomat says Trump conspiracies hurt U.S. more than Russia, China

Burns during Senate testimony in 2015. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

A longtime diplomat and Joe Biden adviser tells Axios that the United States has lost international credibility as President Trump spreads conspiracies while challenging his losing election results.

Why it matters: Nicholas Burns, a Harvard professor who previously served presidents from both political parties as a former ambassador and undersecretary of state, says the president's baseless challenges have undercut the U.S. as a beacon of democracy and critical voice against governmental overreach in other nations.

Updated 4 mins ago - Politics & Policy

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