From the beginning of Donald Trump's rise, I have been mystified by his supporters. They struck me as rubes, easy marks for a con man. In an excerpt from his new book -- published by The Washington Post -- Michael Bender offers some insight into Trumpers:
The deafening roars and vigorous choruses from the capacity crowd at the 20,000-seat Amway Arena showed that Trump’s supporters were excited to watch a rerun. They’d stood in line for hours or camped overnight — enduring stifling humidity interrupted only by brief bursts of hard, heavy rain — to ensure a spot inside. Now I was rattled. I had let the rallies, which formed the core of one of the most steadfast political movements in modern American history and reordered the Republican Party, turn stale and rote. Why was Trump’s performance still so fresh and resonant for an entire arena of fellow Americans? I spent the next year and a half embedded with a group of Trump’s most hardcore rallygoers — known as the “Front Row Joes” — to try to understand what I’d overlooked.
Hillary Clinton called the Front Row Joes "the deplorables." It was an unfortunate term. But it was also accurate:
They were mostly older White men and women who lived paycheck to paycheck with plenty of time on their hands — retired or close to it, estranged from their families or otherwise without children — and Trump had, in a surprising way, made their lives richer. The president himself almost always spent the night in his own bed and kept few close friends. But his rallies gave the Joes a reason to travel the country, staying at one another’s homes, sharing hotel rooms and carpooling. Two had married — and later divorced — by Trump’s second year in office.
In Trump, they’d found someone whose endless thirst for a fight encouraged them to speak up for themselves, not just in politics but also in relationships and at work. His rallies turned arenas into modern-day tent revivals, where the preacher and the parishioners engaged in an adrenaline-fueled psychic cleansing brought on by chanting and cheering with 15,000 other like-minded loyalists. Saundra Kiczenski, a 56-year-old from Michigan, compared the energy at a Trump rally to the feelings she had as a teenager in 1980 watching the “Miracle on Ice” — when the U.S. Olympic hockey team unexpectedly beat the Soviet Union.
“The whole place is erupting, everyone is screaming, and your heart is beating like, just, oh my God,” Kiczenski told me. “It’s like nothing I’ve experienced in my lifetime.”
Like aging groupies at a rock concert, they were there for the performance. And that's what Trump gave them -- even as he despised them:
Their devotion wasn’t reciprocated. Trump was careless with his supporters’ innocence, as he turned coronavirus tests into political scorecards and painted civil rights protests as a breeding ground for antifa. His last campaign-style event as president, the “Save America” rally on Jan. 6 in Washington, helped fuel a deadly riot at the Capitol that has resulted in the arrests of more than 500 Americans. But the former president still drew thousands to a rural fairground about an hour outside Cleveland last month and to another in central Florida. And the question from June 2019 about what keeps bringing his fans back remains a pressing one for the country — and an urgent one for the Republican Party.
Like Lonesome Rhodes in the film, "A Face in the Crowd," Trump hates his supporters. Unfortunately, unlike the rubes in the film, they refuse to see who he is.