At Trump's N.H. Rally, True Believers and Big Fans

At Trump's N.H. Rally, True Believers and Big Fans
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MANCHESTER, N.H.—He’s unapologetically offensive and flamboyantly wealthy, a glutton for attention, and serial flirter with presidential bids who trademarked telling people, “You’re fired!”

But the man perceived by many as a veritable clown show in the Republican presidential primary—he did, after all, arrive at his presidential campaign launch via escalator—is seen by supporters as a smart and savvy businessman, a political outsider who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is and someone who could really stick it to ISIS and Putin.

As much as The Donald irks the Republican Party—according to current national polls, he would qualify for the debate stage at the expense of sitting governors and other candidates—there are primary voters who actually like him. What’s more, they are glad he’s running for president.

Trump’s campaign rally here at Manchester Community College Wednesday night—his first visit to the Granite State since announcing his candidacy in Manhattan on Tuesday (though he has yet to file his FEC paperwork)—drew a few hundred people. Some are just sizing up the field and wanted to see the new candidate, while others had read his books or seen his reality TV show and wanted a first-person glimpse of the real estate mogul. Still others simply came for the show. (And no, these weren’t the actors reportedly hired to cheer for Trump at his launch.) But many in the crowd said they genuinely identified with him and his message—never mind that he is, by one measure, the least popular Republican in the field.

“It’s nice to just hear somebody say exactly what they think,” said Cheryl Caza-Tobey, a Hooksett resident who came to the Trump event but hasn’t made a decision about which candidate she will support. “I watched him on TV yesterday and I thought, ‘Well, he’s just saying it like it is.’ A lot of us are thinking the same exact thing. I hate to say it, but every four years somebody comes up and they say the same things over and over again, and nothing changes. … I think he wants to stir things up.”

Steve Merrill, a University of New Hampshire student from Manchester, said Trump “knows how it feels to be at the bottom and to work back up.” His friend, Austin Kolden, a student from Hudson, agreed, and pointed to Trump’s claimed financial assets: “I look at him from a business aspect and, I mean, $9 billion? If you can build yourself from nothing, [imagine] what can you do for the country.”

Supporters, or at least those genuinely interested in his candidacy, dismissed notions of Trump’s presidential bid as a vanity project or publicity stunt. “I think he’s in it for the long haul,” said Chris Mara, also from Hooksett. “Why would he need the publicity? Everybody already knows who he is.”

In other words, few believed they were missing out on the joke. Alternatively, one person in the crowd suggested the joke could be on all of us.

“I think his TV show and all that stuff was publicity for this [the presidential run]. I think he duped everybody,” said P.G. Adams, a small-business owner who came with his family. “What Obama proved is you have to get to that contingent of people who aren’t that into politics. And for people who are television watchers but aren’t paying attention, they’re going to say, ‘Hey, that that guy who says, “You’re fired” is running? I’m voting for that guy because he’s a winner!’”

Trump and his supporters see the “You’re fired!” tagline as an asset, something to be used in cutting bureaucracy or standing up to foreign leaders. “If you don’t get the job done, Donald Trump knows how to say, “You’re fired!” said Stephen Stepanek, a New Hampshire legislator who helped introduce the new candidate. The candidate even did an impression of himself, pointing his finger and gritting his teeth, to the cheers from the crowd.

He also repeated much of what he said during his campaign launch, including the offensive and controversial comments about Mexican immigrants being mostly criminals and “rapists.” The crowd didn’t seem to mind. Two young protesters held up signs that read “Mexicans aren’t criminals” and “Mexicans built this country, Trump would destroy it” and tried to block Trump’s face from video cameras capturing the event. Other attendees rushed in to block them, placing Trump signs over them.

The crowd also didn’t seem to mind if Trump was condescending. During a question and answer session—he wanted the event to be like a town-hall meeting—an attendee started to explain his own proposal for securing the border. Trump appeared to grow bored and asked the man if he actually had a question or if he was just going to talk.

And in an era of politicians playing down their wealth and trying to come across as everyday Americans, these supporters didn’t mind that Trump likes to talk about how rich he is.

“I admire him for the way he earned his money,” said Paul Marques, a mechanical engineer from Litchfield, noting that Trump, whom he has seen four times already, is on his candidate short list that includes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. “I have no problem with people getting wealthy, even though I’m not.”

“He deserves it, he works so hard, and he probably gives a lot of it away, I’m sure,” said Will Gion, a retiree from Manchester who is happy with the entire GOP field. “He’s aggressive enough to win,” said his wife, Cecile Gion. “He loves his country. … I think that’s why he’s running.  I don’t think he really needs to be president of the United States, but I think he thinks he feels he doesn’t have an alternative. And he certainly doesn’t need the money.”

But not all were ready to take Trump at his word.

“I think he’s a little too full of himself,” said Cindy Freese of Manchester, who came to the event out of curiosity. Asked if she believed Trump is running for president as a publicity stunt or actually in it for the long haul, Freese said, “Who knows? It could go any which way—because he’s done it before, hasn’t he?”

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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