Some Trump Backers Growing Wary of His Rhetoric

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MANASSAS, Va. — Donald Trump continues to dominate the polls based on his fiery rhetoric and blunt words, but some of his supporters are starting to question whether the business mogul is going too far.

Trump’s tack has long brought rebukes from within the Republican Party, but that same style is also what appealed to many of his supporters, who appreciate such unapologetic disregard for political correctness.

At a Trump rally here this week, however, conversations with his backers revealed some profound misgivings about statements Trump has made and even some of his central policy stances.

“Some of the ways he talks about people does make me worry, like the disabled journalist he supposedly made fun of,” said Austin Maddock, 18, who sported a Trump sticker on his windbreaker. “That concerns me a little bit, because it says he may or may not respect people fully.”

Trump has denied that he intended to mock that journalist, Serge Kovaleski, who has a physical disability, although Trump gesticulated wildly at a rally when quoting him in reference to an article the reporter wrote about U.S. Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks. The incident is one of many recently that have drawn fresh attention to Trump and, in some cases, scorn.

Still, other supporters at the rally took Trump’s side in this latest controversy.

“I know everybody was upset because he made fun of the disabled reporter, everyone spontaneously combusted about it, but that didn’t sway me at all,” said Gunnar Welch, 24. “I don’t think he meant to do that, or he wasn’t targeting the guy for his disability.”

“And this is where everyone is going to hate me, but even if he was, that’s very minor to me,” Welch added. “Even if you have a disability, that doesn’t save you from lying about people. I personally wouldn’t have done that, but what can you do?”

But, on another recent flashpoint -- Trump’s suggestion that he might support a federal registry of Muslims in light of the Paris terror attacks -- people at the rally also expressed support.

"I think that if the shoe fits you have to wear it," said Scott Snow, who supports Trump but has not firmly decided to cast his vote for him. "If there’s a major problem with an individual group, then I think we have to look close at them."

Many Trump supporters are also enthusiastic about his immigration reform plan, which would include deporting millions of undocumented immigrants.  

“We gathered in World War II all the Japanese and put them in camps. ... It’s appropriate today to do to the Muslims, same way,” said David Brooks, 67, a former owner of a paving company. “And anybody that don’t like it, liberals can get the hell out. I’d close every mosque in this country."

But even on Trump’s central policy issue, there are some deep-seated doubts among some of his backers.

“I think his policy on immigration might be a little bit misguided in some instances,” said Shane Jampole, 17, who said he plans to support Trump. “There’s a lot of people who have migrated to America and live in this general area. My grandpa, his parents were immigrants. It’s just the way it is. We need immigrants to keep America the melting pot that it is.”

Jampole pointed to a friend, Mohammed, as he walked by on his way into the rally. “His parents emigrated from Pakistan, and I don’t know why he’s here. I think he’s a little bit offended. But I think he’s hoping to learn.”

Although Trump has earned a reputation for bombast, his rallies can be festive, entertaining and exciting.

“There’s so much love in the room,” Trump said Wednesday — and there was, in a uniquely Trumpian sense.

In the span of a few minutes, the GOP frontrunner acknowledged a supporter holding an anti-immigration sign that read, “Adios amigos, make America great again,” and then a Hispanic woman who told him: “The citizens of Virginia, and all of the Hispanic community that I represent, we love you, respect you, and are going to vote and support you.”  

A male supporter gushed to Trump, “We love your tone.”

By now, that tone has been well documented, particularly as exhibited in his most divisive remarks: He has warned against supposedly widespread violence and crime perpetrated by illegal immigrants. He has suggested Muslims are a “problem.” Trump has been attacked for this language, but there is also a practical dimension to his word choice: It works.

This strategy is not new to presidential politics. Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” deliberately took advantage of racial misgivings -- which was to some extent rooted in resentment for immigrants -- to consolidate the support of white southerners.

"The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans,” the plan’s architect, Kevin Phillips, told The New York Times in 1970. “That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats."

The strategy worked for Nixon, but it had its critics even then. Richard Barnet, then co-director of the Institute for Policy Studies, characterized the strategy to the Times as “scapegoat politics, which is a tactic of fascism.”

Trump has ties to the architects of Nixon’s strategy. Roger Stone, a former senior adviser who set the Trump  campaign on its path before resigning in August, worked as a close campaign adviser to Nixon.

At Trump’s Manassas rally, Cayce Utley and Cat Clark, of the group Showing Up for Racial Justice, protested Trump for appealing to “white supremacist narratives.”

“There’s a lot of anxiety right now in white communities, and I think there is an uncertainty about how to proceed forward, and there is a tendency to rely on the white supremacist narratives that we’re just used to,” said Utley. “So now is the time to disrupt that and tell a different kind of story.”

Clark recalled a hate crime in her own community, when a mosque was vandalized over the summer, as an example of the violence Trump’s rhetoric could incite.

“He has said of protesters that they deserved what they got when they were beaten up at one of his rallies,” Clark said. “I do think that he feeds into that, whether he realizes it or not.”

“Anytime you start talking about people of color as a threatening force, you’re activating something in white American consciousness that is really old and really dangerous to people of color,” Utley added. “Whether or not he knows what he’s doing, he knows that it works and it’s effective, and he’s going to keep doing it unless people resist.”

Trump’s supporters are not resisting. Indeed, their ranks are growing: A CNN/ORC poll released Friday showed Trump’s national support at 36 percent, a new high. The real estate tycoon’s support has also hit a new high point in the RealClearPolitics polling average.

But, amid the festive atmosphere of Trump’s Manassas rally, the campaign seemed to subtly soften its tone.

Before the candidate took the stage, a man with a Confederate flag was tossed from the venue. And, when protesters chanted outside during Trump’s remarks, he urged police to “remove them very nicely, very gently,” noting the recent controversy regarding a Black Lives Matter protester at one of his events. (Trump had said of that man, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”)

Earlier this week, a group of black pastors met with Trump at his New York City headquarters, where they asked him about that incident and others. Trump insisted during that meeting, the pastors told RealClearPolitics, that he had not known the protester was affiliated with Black Lives Matter or even that he was black. The pastors took Trump at his word, and some have endorsed him.

One of them, the Rev. Steve Parson, acknowledged that Trump’s tone can be divisive. “He can say some things better. He’s not perfect,” Parson told RCP. “But he’s best for the country, and that’s why we’re for him."

During his rally Wednesday, Trump brought the pastors to the stage to trumpet their endorsement, and touted his support among African-American voters.

“What the hell has [President Obama] done for the African-Americans?” Trump asked the crowd, before answering his question. “He’s done nothing. I don’t think he cares about them.”

“He’s an unbelievable divider,” Trump continued. “I thought he’d be a great cheerleader for the country. That’s one thing I thought. I said, he’ll unify the country, and he’s really divided the country, he really has.”

Trump added, “We’re going to unify the country.”

 

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at rberg@realclearpolitics.com.

 

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