It would be more than two-and-a-half hours before Donald Trump would appear, yet there were already hundreds of people standing in the pit area in front of the stage at the Robarts Arena in Sarasota, making sure they had a good spot last Saturday morning to see the man who has dominated American politics in 2015.
Among those excited to be up front that early was James Bankes, a 51-year-old St. Petersburg resident. A political independent who leans to the right, Bankes says he didn’t vote in the 2012 presidential election, and didn’t support Rick Scott for governor last year. He’s all in for Trump in 2016, however.
“He’s the face of change, ’cause he’s not so partisan. He’s not a politician,” he says. “And while he hasn’t outlined all of his plans, he plans to manage. A lot of people think you have to have some type of resume to run the country. Well, no president has ever had a resume to run the country, but he has a resume to think logically, to think intelligently, and listen to what people feel, and say that’s how we need to move. So, often politicians just go in their own direction, no matter how they were voted in. That’s what people are fed up with.”
The message about the 2015-2016 campaign has been characterized on the GOP side as one about the voters rejecting politics as usual and celebrating outsiders. That certainly explains a lot of Trump’s appeal. That and the fact that he’s unencumbered when it comes to worrying about offending anybody, which the crowd in Sarasota celebrated.
Bradenton resident Rich Gross had been carrying a sign criticizing Hillary Clinton before another member of the crowd took it away from him. He said he loves the way Trump “tells it like it is” and isn’t a career politician.
Gross said that he’s totally disaffected by politics. When asked why, he blamed the current occupant of the White House.
Actually, he can’t even bring himself to say Barack Obama‘s name, instead referring to him as, “That guy.”
You mean Barack Obama?
“You can call him whatever you want,” says Gross. “I call him other things. He (Trump) talks like the common man, speaks about what we want to hear.”
Gross says he thinks a Clinton vs. Trump election won’t even be close at the end, with the real estate magnate becoming commander in chief. “I don’t think America is that stupid,” he says of any other result. “Unless all the people with the handouts vote for her.”
The question about government handouts has always been a persistent issue with conservatives, and feels amped up larger than ever in the Age of Obama. When I ask Gross if he thinks that’s out of hand now, he responds, “How do you think Obama got elected for eight years?”
Nicole Affatao from Lakewood Ranch says she’s also tired of “everybody coming here for a free ride,” more of a reference to the undocumented immigrants who Trump claims he’ll be able to deport en masse. But she does believe in a social safety net. “People who need it, so be it. They need it. But that’s not a way of life. That’s not a lifestyle.”
Tampa resident Shelby McIntyre says he thinks Trump’s tough talk on immigration will fold into a more pragmatic approach if he ends up getting the Republican nomination. “I think we’ll hear in the near future, as we get closer. It’s going to be one of those, ‘you know, I thought about that, this is how we’re going to handle it.”
McIntyre, a Democrat who says as of now he intends to support Trump next year, believes that the New York City businessman is tapping into the hard-core conservative voter by making his claims about deportees. “People say he’s going to divide people. Listen, this is politics. It’s a show. He is being hard-core right now. I think he’s going to dial it back, I think he knows he can’t deport that many people, I think they’ll be some self-deportation.”
None of the people interviewed expressed much interest in the other Republican candidates, except for Affatao, who expressed her ardor for Ted Cruz.
“He’s a brilliant man,” she said of the Texas senator. She said she’d love to see a Trump-Cruz ticket. “We need a businessman and we need somebody who knows politics. The combination. Oh My God, yeah!”
“I thought that Jeb was a respectable governor for the state,” said Tampa resident Jim Lucier. “I think Mr. Trump’s right — Jeb’s low energy. He certainly hasn’t distinguished himself in the debates, I just don’t think he’s bringing his message very well.”
Regarding Marco Rubio, Lucier calls him a good man and good public servant, but said he certainly fits that career politician resume that he’s not in the mood for. “I’m interested in an outsider candidate,” Lucier says. “But one that I thought that has the intellect, the charisma, the ideas and the strength to lead the country.”
Most of those interviewed by Florida Politics seemed to have no issue at all with the many controversial comments that the Republican presidential front-runner has said since entering the race earlier this year. But James Bankes says that Trump’s most recent comments regarding New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski went too far.
“This latest one, where he flailed like he was disabled, was a little outrageous,” Bankes said about Trump’s mocking of the disabled reporter. “But in the end if you think about it, so many politicians say lies and ridiculous things with a straight face. Maybe they don’t have dramatics with it, and maybe they don’t have antics with it, and maybe they don’t say it as if they’re a regular lay person. They say it in an articulated, pre-canned fashion speed, when really all they’re doing is the same thing. And it’s called they’re mocking us. They mock us regular people for like we don’t know any better, and I’m in power, so deal with it!”
“Nobody ever heard of the guy,” Trump said of Kovaleski on Saturday. “He’s using what he’s got to such a horrible degree. I think it’s disgraceful. And I think The New York Times should give me an apology.”
Of course, bashing the media is a tried and true practice in Republican politics, but Trump’s harangue regarding the Times was particularly vitriolic, and extensive.
Ernie Votaw, 64, said that Trump’s popularity is because of the “way he just tells it like it is. And people really like it,” he adds. “They don’t want stuff clouded with politically correct stuff.”
Vote said he thought Trump could beat Hillary Clinton next year, and says it will be “entertaining.”
“He’s a deal maker and we need a deal maker on a lot of these treaties and future treaties,” he said. “And he has a knack of picking the best people. I have faith in him.”