Five Voices From a Donald Trump Counter-Protest
Trump is cruising to victory in Florida, one of the biggest prizes in 2016. These are the people handing it to him.
TAMPA BAY, Fla. — Reports of violence and cancelled campaign stops did not deter Donald Trump’s supporters who flocked Monday to a forum featuring the GOP presidential frontrunner — and to protests and counter-protests just outside. The New York businessman is poised for a sizeable victory Tuesday in Florida’s vote, one of the biggest of the presidential primaries and one likely to cement his claim to the Republican nomination.
From an aspiring medical student wearing a Trump Daytona Beach t-shirt to an admittedly buzzed college student holding a “Don’t Tread on Me” banner to two retiree sisters, here are a handful of the voters pushing Trump’s nominations past the protests and into likely inevitability.
Arms crossed, Drew Mazurkiewicz stood in front of a group of black protesters, telling them, “because white people don’t understand what it’s like to be black, right?” He wore a red bandana on his head and sported a t-shirt with Donald Trump standing in a leather jacket riding a motorcycle. “Daytona Beach bike week,” the shirt read. “I support making America great again.”
Mazurkiewicz, 25, lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., about a half hour away from the Trump event. He cast his vote early for the real estate mogul; Florida allows voters to go to the polls ahead of Tuesday’s primary; as of Sunday, some 2 million people had already cast their ballots across the state.
“America is a big business, and Donald Trump has been nothing but successful,” Mazurkiewicz said, explaining his support for Trump. The current state of the economy, he said, is “terrible.”
“You know how much the deficit is? $17 trillion,” Mazurkiewicz said. “You ask [Sen. Bernie] Sanders’s supporters here, “You know how many zeros are in $17 trillion?’ They can’t even tell you. That’s a problem.”
He appeared to shrug off recent Trump events where violence has broken out. “When you have opposing sides, violence could happen,” he said. “I believe if somebody hits me, I get to hit back.”
Of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who appears to have lost any home-court advantage, Mazurkiewicz was equally as dismissive. “What’d he do for Florida?” asked Mazurkiewicz, who said he was born and raised in the Sunshine State.
He said Sanders promises a lot but can’t deliver. Sanders “doesn’t know where the money comes from. Pixie dust, I guess.”
Michael Tomson, 21, said he and his compatriots wanted to attend Trump’s event, but couldn’t get in. “Now we’re f***ed,” he said. “Do you know if there are any bars around here?”
The Tampa Bay native with beer on his breath held one half of a “Don’t Tread on Me” banner, yellow with a black snake. Asked if he supported Trump, the self-identified libertarian leaned in and said behind his hand, “I gotta be quiet with everyone out here protesting: yes.”
He rattled off Trump’s critics: “Davos, elitist bankers, the richest, current presidents, former presidents … If they all oppose him, that obviously signifies that he must be good.”
Tomson said he’s largely supporting Trump because of the businessman’s promise to force the 9/11 Commission’s report to be released in its entirety, and asked why the military hadn’t shot down any of the planes that attacked New York and Washington. But asked if he was suggesting a conspiracy, Tomson waved his hands and said, “I’m just saying I’ve got questions, like Trump.”
Still, Tomson doesn’t think Trump would be elected in November, precisely because of the “anti-establishment,” rebel campaign he’s running.
“I know how this shit works,” he said. “As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, presidents are not elected; they’re selected.”
Donald Trump, Jr.
Never mind that Trump has already given his name to his own son. A tall, fake-tanned man with bleached blonde hair at Monday’s protest introduced himself as Donald Trump, Jr. — a name he claims to have had legally changed in New Hampshire, where he lives part-time. The courts didn’t want to let him, he said, because “Donald Trump” is a trademark. But he said he sent paperwork asking permission to Trump headquarters in New York, and soon after got a call welcoming him to the Trump family.
Trump Jr. says he’s followed his namesake across the campaign trail, from New Hampshire to Florida. The graphic designer estimates he’s spent about $60,000 dollars, from the travel and buying various paraphernalia from Trump, including former limousines.
He also claims credit for Trump toning down his rhetoric, saying he sent an email through campaign staff telling him to “zip it up” if he mogul wanted to win the White House. The first time he met Trump, he said, was in a casino lobby after losing $3,000. “He asked if I wanted to come to his book signing, and I said sure, but I just lost $3,000 in your casino, can I have my money back?” the fan recounted. “He said no.”
Miley and his dog, Oakley, wore matching “Make America Great Again” t-shirts, and watched the protesters. Miley teaches math to high school students in Riverview, Florida. He already cast an early vote for Trump, whom he said was winning Florida with the same message he had everywhere else: his “ethics,” and immigration policy. Personally, Miley also cited Trump’s tax platform.
“These people have a right to protest, to freedom of speech,” he said. “They don’t have a right to interrupt a private event.”
Miley doesn’t like some of Trump’s chosen language toward minorities. But he does like Trump’s strong personality, because he believes it’s a source of the businessman’s strength as a deal maker.
“Some of the stuff he’s said has been controversial,” Miley said, adding that he’d “like him to be more precise.”
“But we do have problems with illegal immigrants doing bad things,” he continued, giving President Barack Obama credit for deporting more undocumented immigrants than any other president. “I think [Trump’s] right to build a border wall to make it more difficult for people to come in.”
He says Trump will attract minorities in November because of his ability to create jobs. “A businessman is going to be better at creating jobs,” he said. “Despite the rhetoric.”
Christine Ford and her sister Claudia DeGrazie stopped next to the dwindling protests after exiting the Trump event. Because they know one of the campaign’s top Florida political hands, the sisters sat in the fourth row. “VIP,” DeGrazie called it. Both women retired to Florida from Dearborn, Mich.
Ford decided to wait to vote for Trump on Tuesday rather than taking advantage of the state’s early voting. “Tomorrow will be my day,” Ford said. “I wanted to physically be there, to pull the lever and punch my ticket for Donald Trump.” They came to the event from Venice, Fla., some 80 miles away, but have attended several events before, much larger than this one, they noted.
Ford switched her registration from Independent to Republican so she could vote for Trump in Florida’s closed primary.
“The excitement, you can just feel it,” Ford said described of a Trump campaign stop. “It’s electric,” DeGrazie agreed.
Asked about Trump’s language toward certain minority groups, Ford pointed out she used to live in Dearborn, Michigan, with one of the highest populations of Muslims in the country. She said everyone used to get along, but now the Muslim population was becoming too large. When asked to further explain herself on a range of claims — from Michigan Muslims now demanding sharia law, to a mosque there advocating “death to the infidels” — DeGrazie grew increasingly frustrated.
She said she’s voted for both Democrats and Republicans in past presidential elections, and may switch back to Independent because, “The GOP — it’s in an uproar,” she said. “The Democrats aren’t any party really, but the Republicans are showing their asses. It’s become the Jerry Springer show.”
But she said the disappointing focus on antics, rather than policy, was not on Trump.
“I’m sorry,” she said, apologizing to this Foreign Policy reporter. “I’m sorry, but it’s the media.”
Photo Credit: Molly O’Toole