Wall Street Journal
By Ben Kesling
March 1, 2016
At the Donald Trump rally in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, people nodded to each other, laughed with each other and high-fived each other. As Trump voters, they’re part of the in crowd.
At rallies across the country, Trump supporters again and again talk about Mr. Trump as a politician they have been waiting for. Mr. Trump, they say, has their best interests in mind and is someone they trust.
That personal connection, and the bond Trump voters make among themselves through him, explains in part, the candidate’s appeal and how his popularity has grown despite what would be disastrous gaffes, flaws and stumbles on the campaign trail were he a conventional candidate.
“I used to think I was the only person,” said Jon Turner, 59, who said he felt alone in his outrage against the established political system. “For the longest time people have been sitting back.”
Mr. Turner, who works in construction, said he tried to get energized by candidates in past elections, but felt they were all phonies or put up by the establishment. Now he said he’s excited by Mr. Trump who seems to speak exactly to the issues that have bothered him, things like immigration and slashing government regulations.
Before the rally began, Mr. Turner struck up a conversation with the man standing next to him, Kenneth Wells, who said he’s an Army veteran. The two smiled and finished each other’s’ sentences when they were asked about Mr. Trump’s appeal even though they had never met before.
“He has no filter, he says what we all think,” said Mr. Wells of the candidate as his new friend nodded along. The two laughed when Mr. Wells said, “This is the only time you’ll hear me quoting Obama, but we need a change.”
At other rallies, for Marco Rubio or John Kasich for example, voters are likely to say they like the candidates because of policy positions, experience or because they seem more electable.
But at Trump rallies, voters say they like him because he connects with them and he’s willing to pluck the beard of a Republican establishment that many feel has failed them.
In Columbus, people with red, white and blue hats and signs posed for snapshots with groups of other people. Days before in Tennessee, a man with a homemade sign was pulled aside for photos with folks he didn’t know. At a rally in Louisville, four kids in matching Trump T-shirts posed with a woman so she could get a memento of the day.
That Mr. Trump hasn’t presented detailed plans, one of the biggest criticisms from his opponents, doesn’t bother his supporters. It’s enough for most that he’s identified the problems.
“Am I concerned about the minute details? No,” said Jim Lawhead, who came over from Oberlin, Ohio, for the event. He said complex plans are just something that can get derailed anyway.
Mr. Lawhead, a software consultant, said he had been skeptical of Mr. Trump at first but was now a firm supporter. As he spoke, other rally-goers jumped in to give him a handshake when he made a great point or to help him out with the right word as he talked.
“He’s not afraid of anybody,” Mr. Lawhead said, adding that he’d read ‘The Art of the Deal’ and had been inspired. “There’s a lot of people like me who are closet supporters,” he said as a woman grabbed his arm and confessed she’s a first-time voter. And a Trump supporter.
On stage, Mr. Trump went into a wandering talk about his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border, to make America great and recited a litany of past business successes.
“We’re going to bring people back together,” Mr. Trump said to applause. “The country is so divided.”
Mr. Trump has also hit on a way to identify himself in the broadest terms to appeal to voters. He now calls himself a “commonsense conservative.” He also told the crowd that he doesn’t owe anything to anyone and will be an independent man once in office.
“I didn’t think billionaires would stand with the people,” said David Conklin, 54, who came to the rally with three of his children. “When he says something he stands for it.”
Even people who think Mr. Trump is a bit rough and tumble for their liking are drawn to his big ideas and his personality.
“I feel like he’s giving us a voice,” said Sue White, 69, a retired court reporter from Granville, Ohio. “He says the things I think even though it may not be the way I’d say it.”
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