Who in their right mind is voting for Donald Trump?
It's the question that's hung over every major article that has sought to profile Trump fans during the election cycle. The New Yorker went down to West Virginia and enlisted George Saunders to study that question; multiple outlets have embedded reporters in Trump strongholds; the NY Times has agonized over it and the Washington Post has seemingly thrown its hands up in the air in revulsion. The Daily Beast has analyzed their T-shirts, the New Republic has analyzed why they seem to be so susceptible to conspiracy theories, BuzzFeed has analyzed why women still support him, and Business Insider has analyzed the demographics.
Trump has bragged about the loyalty he's inspired throughout his campaign. Early on, he noted, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters," and even if the numbers don't really back that up anymore, there's still 50 million or so people who have hitched their wagons to the Trump train and don't plan on changing tracks before November 8th. Are they so devoted to him because there's something wrong with their psychologies? Because Trump has taken advantage of them? Because they're ignorant? Because they're contrarian trolls? Or because they're racists?
Some of those explanations seem like a big reach to me, but as the accusations of sexism, racism, and bigotry have piled up against Trump, and as he has continued to run a presidential campaign fueled by hateful and negative rhetoric, it's hard not to feel exasperated by people who are so completely unfazed by him.
But I certainly didn't have any better answers to the question, and for good reason: before a month ago, I didn't know anyone who was actually voting for Trump.
With the exception of Staten Island and southern Brooklyn, NYC is a pro-Hillary city. Or perhaps more accurately, we live in a city that has an overwhelmingly anti-Trump bias. At this point, it is totally normal—nay, encouraged—to strip off your shirt and sing, "Less Donald Trump, More Techno Music" on the subway. This is a city where it's more likely you're campaigning to get the Trump name removed from your building than you are canvassing for him. Chances are, outside of certain terrifying extended family members, Facebook college acquaintances who type in all caps, and perhaps a Staten Island friend you bonded with at Tonic during an ill-advised bender six years ago, you also don't know any Trump supporters personally.
So the question that has stuck with me recently: what New Yorker would vote for Trump? And knowing what the atmosphere is like here, would they even tell anyone about it? Is there a silent orange majority secretly lurking in the margins of the avenues?
I wanted to hear what people with opposing views on this election had to say, so I've spent the past month talking to every New York Trump supporter I could find, via friends-of-friends-of-friends, Republican clubs (note: The New York Young Republicans club went out of their way to distance themselves from Trump), pro-Trump art shows, anti-Trump rallies, debate events, and people on Twitter who complained about Gothamist being too liberal. Out of the dozens of supporters I ended up speaking with, there were some toxic people, including so-called "Alt Right trolls" who clearly were in it for the attention, teens (mostly men) who seemed less interested in policy issues and more interested in anarchic opportunities, and many who seemed to blindly hate and lash out at Hillary, as if she had personally wronged them.
At the same time, I was pleasantly surprised that my worst assumptions about his supporters were challenged again and again. There were plenty of articulate, sincere defenders who were struggling with the decision, or who found Trump's blustery demeanor to be a veil covering rather reasonable policy choices. There was a woman from Staten Island clearly troubled by Trump's treatment of women, which triggered her own experiences; a man from Syria who liked Trump solely because of his foreign policy agenda; and of course, many people who really, really don't like "media bias."
Below, you'll find a sampling of these interviews, with six New Yorkers opening up about what life is like in NYC for Trump supporters. We interviewed a dozen in all, and tomorrow we'll publish the other six interviews. Their words are only edited for clarity.
(NOTE: With a few exceptions, most of these photos are not of the subjects interviewed, but are of Trump supporters from various rallies and events.)
Michael Darr, 31, Greenpoint, works in real estate
What are your thoughts on the election? I think it’s really, really spectacular what’s happening right now.
Do you think the media has treated Trump unfairly? Yes, absolutely. My biggest issue, and I want to get this off my chest—this is on my chest is the Syrian flag. My grandparents came here from Aleppo, Syria. There has been a five-year war in Syria because Hillary Clinton, when she was Secretary of State, financed Salafist terrorist groups in Syria. Now she wants to impose a no-fly zone, which is code for waging direct war on Syrians, and on Russians.
Trump, I’ve been waiting for him to fuck up this whole time. I’m not a Republican. I’ve never voted Republican. I’ve been waiting for him to say what every other Republican has said, and just say, "Okay, let’s just get rid of the government there and, you know, just feed the war machine.” He hasn’t. So right now, we have a choice between somebody who has supported every single war in front of her: the Iraq War, the invasion of Libya, the bombing of Kosovo, and what’s going on in Syria, everything. Everything she has had an opportunity to support, she has. And we have a guy who has spent the entire election criticizing that. So that’s why I support him, that’s my main issue.
How do you feel about the things he’s said about Syrian refugees? I think he’s telling the truth. I think that there is a security risk. We should vet them, which is what he’s saying, or we should freeze immigration, that’s fine. I don’t want guys from ISIS coming over here and killing people. If they’re coming from Syria, it will make Syrians look bad. Then everybody will be mad at Syrians. Look at what’s happening in Europe, against the Syrians there.
Isn’t there already a vetting process in place? There is. Honestly, I don’t care about that. I think that the refugee issue is being used as a leverage for Hillary Clinton so she can kill Syrians and then say “Oh, we’re taking them in as refugees.” She’s turning them into refugees. He’s not.
Have you felt pressure or judgement from your friends and loved ones about your support for Trump? Do you have any fear of public shaming? I don’t have any fear and I don’t keep it to myself, no.
Do any of his policies or things that he’s said give you pause? I don’t like a lot of his policies. I don’t agree with a lot of the things he represents. My main issue is foreign policy, which is the main job of the Commander in Chief. That’s why I support him. But he has a number of domestic issues I don’t agree with.
I don’t care about the wall thing, for instance. The putting a ban on purchase of guns for anybody on the no-fly list, I think that is a trojan horse to take away our rights. Both candidates support that, unfortunately. Because basically, you get on a list. It’s a secret list you don’t know you’re on. You don’t go through court to get on it. And you can’t get off of it. And you get your Second Amendment taken away. Whatever you want to say about gun rights, they’ll start applying this to your First Amendment right, your Fourth Amendment right. If you get your rights removed because you’re on a secret list. You know.
Do you hate Hillary? Yes.
Can you elaborate? She’s murdering Syrians. She’s responsible for murdering Syrians. She’s responsible for what happened in Iraq. She’s a war monger. She represents everything that is corrupt with our political system. She rigged the vote against Bernie Sanders. She stole that from him. Should have been his nomination.
Were you originally a Bernie supporter? No, I liked Lincoln Chafee in the Democratic primaries.
When did you decide to vote for Trump? Was there a conscious moment, an event, a speech? It was a slow gradual thing. I was going to vote for Gary Johnson. Okay, here’s when I decided. I was waiting for him to change his mind and become a war monger. I thought it was too good to be true that he’s as anti-war as he is. Even though he’s talked tough, he condemns all these wars.
How do you feel about his previous support of the war in Iraq? I don’t think that was legit support. He said, “Yeah, I guess so” on The Howard Stern Show. So, I mean, there’s a big difference between that and voting for it and drumming up support when you’re a sitting senator.
Is there any cognitive dissonance between living in New York City, which is typically such a liberal-leaning environment, and supporting Trump? Yes, absolutely. I live in the most, probably one of the most left-leaning neighborhoods, and yeah. I was wearing this shirt on the way over here and man did I get some looks. I’m in enemy territory. But I think that’s how it is most parts of the country. There’s going to be really rabid animosity for supporting either of these candidates. I’m cool with being an outsider. It’s fine. I like it.
When you are around Hillary supporters do you find yourself holding your tongue or do you debate them? Well, if I’m being polite and we aren’t talking about politics, I will avoid the subject. But I have no issue talking about this stuff. I feel like I’m in the right, so I don’t have any shame in supporting Trump, regardless of him being orange Hitler and whatever else people want to say about him.
Is there anything that you could imagine happening before the election that might change your vote? If he said, “Assad must go in Syria” he would lose my vote.
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) August 21, 2016
Lucian Wintrich, 26, East Village, Creative Director of On Rabble, artist behind "Twinks 4 Trump" photos
What are your thoughts on the election? Do you think the media has treated Trump unfairly? Absolutely. They have beyond scrutinized his business dealings while they disregarded the corruption and scandal behind the bulk of Hillary Clinton’s income, income that came from special interests that neither provide value to the economy or benefit the American people. They put Trump’s past relationships under a microscope while refusing to analyze Hillary’s, relationships that include her “mentor” and “good friend” KKK Grand Dragon Recruiter Robert Byrd. They have analyzed his height, appearance, and clothes but lash out in horror with screams of “sexism” should anyone do the same to Hillary, or mention her very tacky yet multi-million dollar wardrobe. Scrutiny is good, and criticizing his public policy is fine, but the middle-school type of reporting that solely Trump has been subject to is transparently biased.
Have you felt pressure or judgement from friends and loved ones about Trump, or have you kept it to yourself? Do you fear public shaming? I lost my job a day after I went on Newsmax discussing how Trump has a better LGBT record than the Clintons, and five hours after Milo [Yiannopoulos] praised my efforts in the movement. A few weeks later, my boyfriend said he wanted to lay low during the societal pressure I was receiving. Luckily, I have a better job and a better boyfriend now, so everything worked out. And the few friends of mine who have distanced themselves in recent months—who have known me as an outspoken conservative for ages— are simply weak-willed and will come back around after Daddy ascends to the White House.
Do any of his policies, or any of the things he's said, give you pause? I know the type of person outraged. They grew up in very privileged households in metropolitan areas, went to schools like Berkley, and believe they need to impose their very PC worldview on everyone around them. I have feminist friends and very progressive friends. I did go to Bard College after all, which is one of the most liberal schools in the nation. When did we as a country decide to become so humorless? Those folks who act like every word Trump says is the most despicable thing they’ve ever been exposed to need [to be] grabbed in the pussy. What a joke, by the way, the people implying that Trump was literally walking around grabbing women’s crotches.
Do you hate Hillary? I understand that her raison d'etre is simply to maintain political power. I despise that. I don’t remotely trust her. Her economic policies are a disaster, her continuous pandering furthers the division we have in this country. I am a very Goldwater-type conservative, and so I look at politicians through that lens. Those who fight not for the people, but to expand government and expand their own personal agenda, give me more than pause. It is very unfortunate that Hillary swung from being a “Goldwater girl” to fully embracing the federal government leviathan.
When did you decide (was there a conscious moment/event/speech/etc) to vote for Trump? I loved Rand Paul, he would easily have secured the nomination and the White House if he looked and acted less like a poodle. In ideology, he and I were more aligned than Trump. I despised Cruze [sic]. Cruze is not only homophobic but would have fanned the flames of the evangelical wing of the right. Trump is one of the most socially progressive politicians on the right, I like that. I like that he is coming from the private sector. Eventually, I want the party to return to a Goldwater and purely constitutional framework—Trump is a major step in that direction and the more I’ve seen, the more I’ve embraced him.
Is there any cognitive dissonance between living in NYC, a typically liberal-leaning urban environment, and supporting Trump? If anything, I think it’s a turn on for many people. There is something humorously subversive about it, a lot of people think I’m joking when I say I support him. Sure, there have been a few strangers who have gotten physically aggressive with me about it, but most often people who know me will either roll their eyes and change the subject or say, “wow, I’ve never met a Trump supporter before” and start rubbing my thigh.
Do you find yourself holding your tongue about politics around Hillary supporters, or debating/challenging them? In New York, you can pretty much say “9/11 was an inside job”, “abortions should be allowed up until a day before pregnancy”, and “all those cops in Texas deserve to have been shot”, but if you say “I support Trump” everyone is like “get the fuck outa here.” I think it is insane that anyone would criticize someone for supporting a certain candidate in what is supposed to be a democratic country where each citizen has as a right to expression.
Is there anything that you could imagine happening before the election that might change your vote? Perhaps if at the last minute he said, “I love Obamacare. I the federal government is fantastic, let’s make it YUGE! Oh, and all the charges against me are true” then I would have to reconsider my vote. I’ve seen far more damning things coming out of the Hillary campaign, actually just last night James O’Keefe showed me some unreleased footage in private that paints an incredibly damning picture of the hypocrisy that Hillary's campaign is running in.
Such being said, even if he doesn’t win, I think he has already had a tremendous impact on American culture for the better. The joke that people kept posting on Facebook is, “Aren’t we taking this ‘anyone can run for president’ thing too seriously?” I think that’s almost the point—we are looking at everyone we allow to run with such a magnifying glass—to have the politicians we currently have, people who have ascended power just to maintain and grow in power. It's awful and needs to change.
Anthony Loman, 36, Ridgewood, lawyer
What are your thoughts on the election? Do you think the media has treated Trump unfairly? Every day is like Christmas morning, I cannot imagine a more glorious election season—the scandals, the WikiLeaks, the assassinations (RIP Seth Rich), promises of majestic walls, old timey unreformed communists—it is living in a Bond movie. Every morning I wake up read the latest shocking scandals and roll on the floor howling uncontrollably for 20 minutes straight. I broke a rib when Donald dropped, “Because you’d be in jail." I wish this election season would never end.
Obviously the media is unfair but the old media’s days are numbered and will soon be relegated to the dustbins of history. It is all about social media blogs, podcasts, etc. now.
Have you felt pressure or judgement from friends and loved ones about Trump, or have you kept it to yourself? Do you fear public shaming? Obviously, what can you expect when your candidate is LITERALLY HITLER. My parents are not proud of their boy.
Do any of his policies, or any of the things he's said, give you pause? Pretty much only his threats to bankrupt journalists by filing libel lawsuits. As an attorney I despise litigation. And am pretty much an absolutist on free speech. What are you going to do? Even gods sometimes blunder.
Do you hate Hillary? Every Batman needs a Joker. Every Beowulf needs a Grendel. Hillary is the perfect villain. Shrill, cunning, unbridled in her ambition and arrogance with the full weight of the media and the corporations behind her.
I am not an emotional person so I don’t really hate the old bat, but I do blame her for foolishly meddling in Libya and Syria and trying to over throw authoritarian leaders who were necessary to keep Islamists in check (and succeeding in the case of Libya) the spill over which has led to the destruction of much of Europe. Her cackling in glee at the death of Gaddafi was indicative of a soulless black heart.
When did you decide (was there a conscious moment/event/speech/etc) to vote for Trump? More than anything it was probably the memes. The slogan 'Make America Great Again' also is perfect. More than anything, the Trump movement is about changing the culture, and doing away with the whinging, the guilt, the lack of pride and patriotism.
Is there any cognitive dissonance between living in NYC, a typically liberal-leaning urban environment, and supporting Trump? Um not really. I don’t understand the question. Trump has armies of supporters—all the cool people. Only nerds support Hillary.
Do you find yourself holding your tongue about politics around Hillary supporters, or debating/challenging them? Only around cute girls. Literally everyone always assumes you are for Hillary so you just let them ramble and stare blankly at them until they run out of breath. But if it is a dude, or a homely woman ragging on the “Drumpf”— it is put on the red hat time and go to WAR.
Is there anything that you could imagine happening before the election that might change your vote? If the Republicans somehow try to change horses in the 11th hour and run some loser goober like Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney I'd vote for some wacky third party like the lady who thinks WiFi is killing us, other than that I am riding full speed ahead on the Trump train.
Moshe Gross, 27, Boro Park, business owner and member of "Jewish Democrats for Trump"
Being an Orthodox Jew and proud of it, I don't hide my political view of supporting Trump. Among Orthodox Jews, you would be embarrassed if you said you supported Hillary. The vast majority of Orthodox Jews I know support Trump because of issues that we truly care about. For one, Israel's security, where Iran was given 150 billion dollars and the permission to create nuclear weapons within a few years. This was facilitated by Hillary. And she thinks it's a good deal!
She wants to bring in hundreds of thousands of foreigners from dangerous areas which will turn America into another Europe. The more I read up on Hillary, the more I realize how dangerous she is. Having her with the finger on the nukes is far more dangerous with her possible future fainting spells. She talks about women's rights, but she takes money from leaders of countries that treat women like third class citizens.
Laura Piil-Cerqua, 41, Staten Island, real estate agent
What are your thoughts on the election? I have been thinking very hard about this election. I can't believe it is so dirty. I know politics is a dirty business, but this year it has changed to a new level of dirty. What the mainstream media is doing to this election is criminal. They are one-sided. They are not reporting the news, instead they are the news, which is a conflict of interest in my opinion. I wish this election was about the issues. This country has a lot of serious problems and we need to take this very seriously.
Do you think the media has treated Trump unfairly? The only channel that is taking Donald J. Trump seriously is Fox News Channel. They are the only ones that are taking Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton seriously. They are Fair and Balanced on both sides. I like this channel. This is the only place I watch the news now. Every other media outlet is against Donald Trump like never before. They wanted him to win the Republican Primary. They gave him free media all the time and at the end they are now doing hit jobs on him. It is unbelievable.
Have you felt pressure or judgment from friends and loved ones about Trump, or have you kept it to yourself? My thoughts on this election are kept to myself for the most part. Sometime I talk about it with co-workers at my job. I live in Staten Island. Home of the Large T sculpture that represents The Trump Campaign. Everyone here in Staten Island is supporting Donald J. Trump. My city councilman Joe Borelli is a big Trump supporter and surrogate on CNN and other media channels. I am very proud of him and what he is doing to represent us and our neighborhood. My husband Rob likes Trump too. We talk about the election all the time.
Do you fear public shaming? No, I don't fear public shaming. Everyone has the right to support the candidate of their choosing. No one should be ashamed of what they believe in.
Do any of his policies, or any of the things he's said, give you pause? The policy that I wish he and the GOP took a stand on is climate change. It is a very serious issue that our world faces. That is one thing I wish the GOP believed in. The issue about the Trump Tape was disgusting. I agree with everyone on that. Sexual assault is not something to talk about at all. When I was 13 years old I was unfortunately sexually assaulted. This tape brought back memories of what happened to me. It is very important to report these cases to the police and have them in writing. I did not do that because I was scared. This tape should have never been released to the public. This was a private conversation between two people. Our privacy is now becoming an issue. I can't believe everyone is now going to know everyone's business. That is very scary.
Do you hate Hillary? I do not hate Secretary of State Clinton. Hate is a very strong powerful word. I have worked on her US Senate run in 2000. I became an active member of the New York State Democratic Committee for over 10 years. I retired in my 30s. I did not like the direction the Democratic Party was going. Some of the issues that they took a stand on I did not agree with like high taxes.
When did you decide (was there a conscious moment/event/speech/etc) to vote for Trump? His daughter Ivanka Trump. I love what she stands for. Donald Trump was talking about women issues before the Tape Scandal. The media did not report this. Ivanka was helping her father understand the equal pay for equal work for women. She was also helping her father about child care issues that affect women in this country.
Is there any cognitive dissonance between living in NYC, a typically liberal-leaning urban environment, and supporting Trump? No. Staten Island loves Trump!! We are on the Trump Train in my neighborhood. It's cool that there is some red in the city and not all blue. The New York City GOP are amazing people just like the New York City Democrats. I love working with both groups. It is good to have balance between the parties. I wish we could have an Independent Party too. Most Americans now are independent with their issues like myself. I am a registered Democratic voter because I want to vote in primaries and this is the dominant party in our city.
Do you find yourself holding your tongue about politics around Hillary supporters, or debating/challenging them? No. Some of the things the Hillary supporters are saying are true. What Donald Trump said about women was terrible. I wish at that time in his life he was not like that. Now I see some change in him and I know he wants to give back to this country. I know my friends would say, 'But Laura, he did not pay his taxes or give money to charities and he destroyed Atlantic City,' (my favorite city in the world) and so many other bad things he wants to do, but I feel in my heart that the Clintons are worse. They are so corrupt and the things that they said about us supporting Mr. Trump is terrible and hurtful.
Is there anything that you could imagine happening before the election that might change your vote? This question is so hard. I am not sure right now. I will know on November 7th if Mr. Trump can change his poll numbers around. Right now he is seven points down with no help from the media, his party, celebrities, and so many others. My whole life I always rooted for the underdog. Now I am doing it again.
Joshua Rodriguez watching one of the debates at a Young Republicans event in October: "Trump would be good because he's not part of the system, either. We need to break the foundation and rebuild the whole house." (Gaby Del Valle/Gothamist)
Ashby Sutherland, currently studying at a college on Long Island
What are your thoughts on the election? Do you support Trump? I would say support is a strong word. I only kinda support Trump. Obviously the election is a touchy subject for a lot of people. I don't really support support Trump 100%. If you asked me Trump or Hillary with a gun to my head, I would say Trump.
Do you hate Hillary? I don't hate Hillary or anyone for that matter. You as a left-leaning journalist obviously find the things Trump says extremely distasteful. Well I find the things Secretary Clinton has done awful. Like how the Clinton Foundation has made their family extremely wealthy in the name of "charity" and how the Clintons auction off 20% of the country's uranium deposits to a Russian shell company. As a shy nerdy stoner who has a hard time talking to girls, Secretary Clinton's foreign policy scares me. I don't like they way she threatens Putin's Russia with war over whatever is going on in Syria. The Soviet Union is gone and even if it wasn't, what would be the point in antagonizing them at this point?
Have you felt pressure or judgement from friends and loved ones about Trump, or have you kept it to yourself? Do you fear public shaming? I do think it is a social liability to be a conservative nowadays, let alone a Trump supporter, and I think that's unfair. I would think it would be unfair if it were the reverse situation but right now it's not. I have a lot of really liberal friends and I love them and I respect their opinions, I just don't think they would respect mine. I don't think politics is worth losing friends over.
Is there anything that you could imagine happening before the election that might change your vote? As for Trump, my vote could totally change, we'll see how I feel in November, but one thing is for sure: it won't be a vote for Clinton, just please anyone but her. I'll take Trump, Johnson, Stein, whatever but not her, I think we need something new. I think we have lot of interesting third party candidates while the two main candidates are anything but candid. I see a Trump presidency as a giant reset button for our political system.
Look at it this way, whether you love him or hate him, Trump has gotten young people into politics and I think that is a good thing. Like I said, "support" is too strong a word.
I want the current political establishment to burn so we can build something more positive. I see Trump as our best bet for that, and even if having Trump in the White House becomes an unmitigated disaster it'll be something new. Like I really don't give a shit about immigration or anything like that. I'm just sick and tired of being controlled by the Bushes and Clintons of the world. I'd rather a private citizen in the White House over a career politician who will say literally anything for power. This is a democracy, we don't have room for political dynasties.
I was for Sanders six months ago but he sold out, now I'm left with Trump. I went to the Sanders rally by NYU and I gotta say the Trump guys throw a much better party. It's funny really, Trump was a hero to a lot of people in NY in the '80s and '90s, and now that he's running as a Republican he's "literally Hitler." Come on dude, America 2016 is nothing like Germany circa 1930s, it's a weird comparison to make.
Check back tomorrow for the rest of our interviews with local Trump supporters.
Additional interviews by Gaby Del Valle