CINCINNATI – On a warm, perfect blue sky afternoon, Laurie — a fortysomething woman from Canton, Michigan — was hustling to get her Trump merch in order. The security near the entrances to the US Bank Arena — home to the city’s minor league hockey team and, for the night, Trump’s first Cincinnati rally — had told her she needed to move her table at the last second, and she was frantically unpacking her full-size suitcases.
“I’ve been to 40 states, all over this country,” she told me, beaming. “And I sell quality merchandise — not that cheap crap those other guys sell up there. This hat here," she said, pointing to a stack of standard Make America Great Again ball caps, "was made in America.”
Laurie makes about $14 on each Trump shirt she sells — she buys them for about $11 and they go for $25. Business has always been good, but it received a boost about a month ago, when Hillary referred to some Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables,” opening up an entirely new identity for people to own vis-à-vis items of clothing.
Unlike some other vendors who don’t even support the candidate whose goods they’re selling, Laurie loves Trump. She’s met him; she’s felt his warmth, his kindness, she tells me. He’s nice to the merch sellers, unlike Kasich, who was “just horrible.” She has zero worries about the Access Hollywood tape, released last Friday, which caught him speaking explicitly about what he does with women and their bodies because of his power as a celebrity. Trump called it “locker room talk,” and Laurie agrees: “If my husband didn’t talk like that,” she told me, “I’d think there was something wrong with him.”
Laurie is one of thousands of female Trump supporters at the Cincinnati rally — which police estimate drew over 17,000 people — and one of nearly two dozen I spoke with who have rejected the idea that a slew of claims of abuse now surfacing should have any bearing on Trump's campaign. These women, however, do not fit the easy stereotype of Trump supporters — some are from rural areas, but the vast majority are from suburban areas and have steady, middle-class livelihoods. Some wore matching pink and white shirts emblazoned with ADORABLE DEPLORABLES; others donned the contemporary classic uniform of skinny jeans, knee-high boots, and perfectly coiffed hair.
When asked what will change for them, personally, under a Trump presidency, there’s little they can pinpoint: It’s not about them. It’s about the country, and Trump will create new jobs for the country — something, they say, that has nothing to do with how he’s spoken to women.
For some, the accounts of Trump’s alleged abuse pale in comparison to what Bill Clinton allegedly did to women, or how Hillary, they believe, laughed at the victim of a child rapist she “volunteered” to defend in the late ’70s. For others, it’s all just a diversion — a deliberate political ploy, orchestrated by Trump’s various Republican and Democratic enemies, to distract from Clinton’s faults. Or it’s making something out of nothing: That’s how men are, and speak, and behave, and there’s simply nothing wrong with it.
While every woman I spoke to had a different way to excuse the allegations against Trump, one thing remained constant: It does not matter what he does, or what other women say Trump’s done to them. These women, they’re with him.
There’s a group of women waiting in line to get into the arena dressed like they could be going to a Steely Dan concert, with the accompanying excitement. They’re all grandmothers, somewhere in their sixties and early seventies, all wearing different combinations of bedazzled jeans, J.Crew-style puffy vests, jeweled American flag pins, and Trump shirts. They live in the suburbs surrounding Cincinnati, and they have no problem with Trump’s words or actions when it comes to women. “He’s for us,” a woman with a carefully gelled pixie cut says. “He wasn’t thinking about public office back then. I’m a different person than I was 10 years ago!”
“That was 10 years ago, and he’s a 70-year-old man now, so it’s not going to be a problem,” her friend says, leaning in close to whisper. “Look behind you, not now, but in a second — that’s my husband, and he’s 70 years old, and let me tell you, it’s not going to be a problem.”
They also see the recent emergence of accusers as being too pat, too convenient. Take the case of People journalist Natasha Stoynoff, who recently came forward with the story of visiting Mar-a-Lago to profile Donald and Melania Trump for the couple’s first anniversary while Melania was still pregnant with Trump’s fifth child, Barron. Trump allegedly cornered Stoynoff in a room and started aggressively "forcing his tongue down [her] throat." Why didn’t she come forward before, the group wondered. “If she was that good of a journalist, she could’ve come forward and still got another job,” Roseanne, a blonde who prides herself on being well-informed in all political matters, told me. “Next time she should record it, if she wants people to believe her.” They agreed that even if another woman came forward alleging rape, it would not alter their support, because she’d be lying.
A little further ahead in the line, a tight group of teenage girls giggle in unison. “We love the wall! Build the wall!” they yell, collapsing into more giggles. A middle-aged woman stands nearby with her daughter, who’s a junior in high school, and their German exchange student, who just arrived in August. The mother and daughter are Trump supporters; the exchange student is there to observe. “In Germany, we are not as public about who we support,” she says, her eyes widening as a man walks by with a poster depicting an aborted fetus.
Inside the rally, a trio of women from rural Ohio, all related, found their seats early. They wince when the loudspeaker amps up to ear-piercing levels as a new video spoofing Hillary comes up on the Jumbotron. Jo, the oldest, worked in a Formica factory in Evendale, Ohio, her entire life before retiring, 10 years ago, with a full pension. Her daughter worked for DHL in Wilmington, Ohio, but was laid off when the company left the town in 2008, taking with it 9,500 jobs. “It’s just a shell now,” she says of Wilmington.
Like every woman I spoke to, they’ve been watching the debates closely, and dislike how Clinton comes off as a know-it-all. “My husband read a book and told me that if you look closely at the eyes, you can see them dilate when someone’s lying,” Jo says. “So now I’ve been watching Hillary’s eyes.” Jo gets mad at Trump when he starts talking about the allegations against him — and believes he shouldn’t even address them.
“I think those women were paid,” she continues. “And Billy Bush, he has nothing to lose, maybe he’s doing a favor for his cousin, or his uncle — they hate Trump.”
Near the concessions, several women with ADORABLE DEPLORABLE shirts in white and pink wait on some soda. Their friend Victoria made the shirts for the seven of them — and they’re eager to show them off. Victoria’s just outside, in the smoker’s area, with a line of Trump supporters looking down to the parking lot across from the arena, where a group of Clinton supporters are chanting, “This is what democracy looks like.”
Vicki, a middle-aged woman wearing her Trump socks pulled high, told me that as a Catholic, she prays for Trump every night. “I don’t think Donald Trump could do anything to upset me,” she said. “There’s nothing he could do to make me change my vote for him. Absolutely nothing.”
Leaning over the side of arena, Kristen, a thirtysomething blonde with sparkly eyeshadow, directs me to look at a sign across the way. “It says we’re racist, but I don’t see how,” she says. “I coach teams, and I’m like the United Nations with my teams, because their parents are mostly locked up, they live with their grandparents, and I can’t tell you what we all do for these children. We do more than their parents do. So I’m not racist, we’re very giving, and I’m also a Catholic.” As to how the other side could get that idea: "They’re just ignorant.”
Kristen’s aunt, Jenna, chimes in. “When you’re ignorant and uneducated, you don’t know these things.” She talks about how Clinton supporters haven’t been paying attention to what the Clintons have been doing the last 30 years — getting rich. But Clinton’s supporters don’t want to talk about that, or her other indiscretions — including the story of the child who’d been raped in the late ’70s and who, according to a widely circulated (and discredited) meme picked up by Fox News, Hillary had shamed in the courtroom, later laughing about getting off the young girl’s rapist. (Clinton objected to being put on the case, did not shame the girl in court, and arranged for a plea deal, not an acquittal; she did laugh about the details of the case years later in a phone call, namely, that the defendant's passing a polygraph test had "forever destroyed her faith" in that technology.)
“You listen to that compelling story,” Jenna says, referring to the story of the young victim, "and, I mean, anyone who would vote for Hillary Clinton, shame on them... If she truly did that to that girl, she’s going to have to answer to someone much greater than Congress.” As for Trump’s indiscretions, they’re nothing special. “What’s the difference? Fifty percent of the United States is immoral,” Jenna said. “These women come out and say, ‘Oh my god, you can’t treat people like that.’ But [Trump] will screw anything that walks! I’m telling it like it is. That’s why I like Donald Trump.”
Back inside the rally, two women in their twenties who look like they could be on a CW show with their skinny jeans and leather boots to their knees, wait patiently for former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to warm up the crowd before Trump took the stage. They don’t want to give their names, in part because they know how a name can travel on the internet. One, a blonde, is a firm Trump supporter and works in medical sales: “That’s why I hate Obamacare,” she says. The other works for a bank and hasn’t decided who she’s voting for. “The most important thing, for me, is foreign affairs,” she told me. “And while I do think we should do something about immigration, I also don’t want someone like Trump with the nuclear codes.” “I can see that,” her friend replied, nodding.
As we spoke, the crowd erupted in boos as the official Trump press corps entered the building; an entire section rose to their feet and started chanting, “Tell the truth! Tell the truth!”
Unlike the bulk of women here, these two women don’t watch cable news. Instead, they get their political news from a mix of Drudge Report, BuzzFeed, and Reddit, “which is actually really good.” When it comes to the allegations about Trump’s sexual assaults, they’re of two minds. “I’m not okay with that behavior; it’s not okay,” the undecided voter says. “But both he and Hillary have these pasts — think of what the other presidents have done! JFK! Just imagine!” she continues. “Plus, guys just say dumb stuff. My dad is a good guy, but he says dumb stuff all the time. But you wouldn’t be able to raise a daughter like Ivanka if you were a bad guy.”
At the rally, the excuse a woman chooses for Trump’s conduct toward women has a lot to do with her age: older women, who say they’ve been surrounded by that sort of behavior all their lives, think of it as par for the course, even desirable. Victoria, the woman who’d made the ADORABLE DEPLORABLE shirts, tells me, “Women love that. I’m not talking about assault here, but getting grabbed at, it’s a way of saying you’re still cute — I’d like it, and I’m 65! Wouldn’t you like it?” Younger women think of it as classic dad behavior: Maybe it’s bad, but it’s not meant that way. Or they say that they’d never thought of the power dynamics that keep women silent after instances of abuse. As one woman asks me, “Trump’s so rich. If he did that to you, wouldn’t you just sue him and get that money?”
Once Trump finally hits the stage, he is composed and measured; he rarely goes off-script, and unlike his speech in West Palm Beach, Florida, earlier in the day, he avoids any of the meandering musings on what his career would be after the campaign. His address is punctuated by the same “lock her up” and “build the wall” chants that show up in sound bites from every speech. Those chants, which come off as baritone and masculine on television, are often paired with polling data that proclaims Trump’s support is plummeting among women. But the sound of those chants mask the fact that women are yelling along: They’re just as angry at Hillary, whom they find smug and condescending, while the revelations of Trump’s sexual conduct simply do not faze them. “The mainstream media is reporting that women aren’t supporting Trump,” Roseanne, a middle-aged woman from Edgewood, Kentucky, told me. “But I haven’t met one woman who’s not supporting Trump.”
They did not flock to Hillary simply because she was a woman, and they are not persuaded by women’s claims of sexual misconduct against their candidate. And while they readily dismiss the suggestion, propagated across Twitter, that the 19th Amendment should be repealed, their personal ideologies have little room for advocating for women who are not like them, whether in their reproductive choices, their belief systems, their race, their religion, or their posture toward the seriousness of sexual abuse.
At one point during the rally, a middle-aged woman sought me out so she could declare her message on camera. “No I’m not a feminist!” she declared. “I’m a strong, totally independent person!” In that, she’s like the vast majority of Trump female supporters — women who are currently using that same strength and independence not to protect other women, but to define themselves as profoundly different from them.
Anne Helen Petersen is a senior culture writer for BuzzFeed News. Petersen has a Ph.D. from the University Of Texas and wrote her dissertation on the gossip industry.
Contact Anne Helen Petersen at email@example.com.
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