Probing the minds of the Trumpitistas

     Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to supporters during a campaign rally in Mobile, Ala., on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to supporters during a campaign rally in Mobile, Ala., on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

    If you’re struggling to fathom why so many supposedly sane fellow Americans are besotted with Donald Trump, his Friday night rally in Alabama should help dispel the mystery. It would appear that his credulous fans – let’s call them Trumpitistas – fall into five overlapping categories:

    People who hate complexity and pine for simple solutions. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has decreed, ever since 1866, that anyone born on American soil is an American citizen, and nixing that guarantee would require years and even decades of court litigation. But Trump simplistically insists, “You can do something with it, and you can do something fast.” On this issue, there is no such thing as “fast,” but a hefty subset of the Republican electorate finds his dream world alluring.

    People who worship the cult of celebrity personality. They’ve seen Trump on TV reality shows, so they think they “know” him. And because they “know” him, they believe in him. Amanda Mancini, a Trumpitista at the Alabama rally, said “we have to trust him, but he has something that we can trust in. We can look at the Trump brand.” For instance, according to one news story, “Some mention trips to his golf courses, which they admiringly note are impeccably run.”

    A well-run golf course is a presidential credential? This I did not know.

    The “brand” bedazzles; policy facts are irrelevant. Heck, the guy is post-fact. On ABC News yesterday, host George Stephanopoulos repeatedly asked Trump to explain where he’d get the money to mass-deport 11 million people (the estimated cost would be as high as $600 billion). Trump repeatedly dodged the question, and simply said: “It’s called management.” He’ll simply get “great people” to handle the deportations. Conclusion: “It’s called management and great people.”

    Mancini, the aforementioned Trumpitista, simply has faith: “When he gets in there, he’ll figure it out.”

    People who hate politicians but love rich businessmen. Every generation or so, a slice of the electorate will say, “We don’t need a politician for president” (that’s a quote from the Alabama rally), because, supposedly, only a business leader has the cred to step in and clean up the mess. There was an ’80s boomlet for car executive Lee Iacocca, and many of us remember Ross Perot’s ’92 insurgency. Now we’re hearing some of the same arguments, such as, “Trump isn’t a politician, and he’s so rich that, unlike politicians, he’s not beholden to special interests.” (Um, yes he is.) And how exactly is an outsider-autocrat going to succeed in a system of checks and balances and separation of power?

    People who totally hate their own Republican establishment. They’re mad as hell, and thirsting for payback. Trump is the payback. Norman Ornstein, political analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, explains it best: “Egged on by talk radio, cable news, right-wing blogs, and social media, the activist voters who make up the primary and caucus electorates have become angrier and angrier, not just at the Kenyan Socialist president but also at their own leaders. Promised that Obamacare would be repealed, the government would be radically reduced, immigration would be halted, and illegals punished, they see themselves as euchred and scorned by politicians of all stripes, especially on their own side of the aisle.”

    People who need an outlet for their racist hatred. Am I being unfair? Nah. Here’s Jim Sherota, a Trumpitista at the Alabama rally, pining for what he sees as the perfect Trump proposal: “Hopefully, he’s going to sit there and say, ‘When I become elected president, what we’re going to do is we’re going to make the border a vacation spot, it’s going to cost you $25 for a permit, and then you get $50 for every confirmed kill.’ That’d be one nice thing.”

    And aside from the random shouts of “White Power!” at the virtually all-white rally, a white farmer offered this scholarly treatise to a Washington Post reporter: “You probably think we’re prejudiced, but my whole life we had n—–s work for us in the field. And they were n—–s. My daddy called them n—–s. I’m not ignorant.”

    No comment.

    So the nagging question is whether the Trumpitistas will prove to be as ephemeral as the Perotistas of ’92. Candidates like Perot and Trump tend to flame out, victims of hubris and inexperience. Heck, an entire political party devoted to anti-immigrant hatred – the American Party, better known as the Know Nothing Party – rose and fell in the mid-1850s after demanding that Irish and German immigrants (whom they called “felons” and “paupers”) be barred from entering.

    I’d like to think that Trump’s support has a ceiling, and that we’ll be spared further expressions of bloodlust for “confirmed kills” at the border. But that requires us to believe that the Republican electorate hasn’t already lost its mind.


    By the way, if the Know Nothing Party had succeeded, German immigrant Frederich Christ Trump – grandfather of Donald – would never have been able to enter America in 1885.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.




    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal