JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Donald Trump supporters in swing states like Florida and North Carolina shared high hopes in the waning days of the election that their candidate will change the direction of the country — even if he hasn’t yet revealed how.
“I’m looking for him to pretty much fix everything he could try to fix,” said Tolliver, a young man selling t-shirts on the lawn outside the Jacksonville Equestrian Center, where Trump held a rally on Thursday. “I think he’s going to change everything that he says he will,” said Lillian Traylor, beaming with optimism.
The midday crowd in Jacksonville was dominated by veterans. Traylor was there with her son Dale, a hydrographer with the Army Corps of Engineers, and her husband Robert, a retired naval chief. “We’re just excited,” she added, softly, nudging her son to share more specifics. “He’s going to bring back jobs to these United States,” said Dale. Lillian nodded in agreement, pleased that he found the right phrase.
Trump coasted from podium to podium on Thursday, relaxing into his new mode as a candidate mostly on message. His first stop of the day was in Jacksonville, where he offered the crowd some “breaking news” about the new investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. “FBI agents say their investigation is likely to yield an indictment,” he said. It didn’t matter that Trump’s claim was without merit. His supporters responded by chanting, “Lock her up,” just as they had during the warm-up speakers, stomping their feet so that the bleachers rumbled from the packed seats up front to the empty rows further back.
After Jacksonville, Trump made two stops in North Carolina, first Concord, then Selma. None of the venues were filled to capacity despite the lines that formed early. In Selma, the audience seemed to get bored at one point before Trump got everyone cheering again by remarking on the size of the crowd.
On stage, Trump ran through rising Obamacare premiums, the Wikileaks hack of the Clinton campaign, and his sneak attack strategy for Mosul like a litany of I told you so’s, without much fanfare.
His supporters, however, remained as fervent as ever. When BuzzFeed News asked how Trump’s policies would improve their life, the majority expressed unwavering optimism that he could restore America on any front — their faith in Trump rivaled only by disgust of "career politicians" like Hillary Clinton. Pressed to share the policy changes they wanted to see, those supporters echoed mainstays from Trump’s campaign trail: bringing back jobs, the Second Amendment, nominating Supreme Court justices who could rule on abortion, fixing foreign trade deals that screwed over Americans, protecting our borders, and repealing Obamacare.
Even disillusioned voters believed that Trump could pull off his promises. "I'm really looking forward to his bringing factory jobs back to North Carolina,” said Karo Matthews, 27, who showed up to Cabarrus Arena in Concord wearing black lipstick and carrying a sign that read "this lesbian voted Trump.” Matthews, who drove 300 miles to get to the rally lost her job as a news carrier. She’s never cast a ballot before this election. “I've always said I'll never be a voter because it's rigged in a way your vote won't count. Donald Trump came along and changed my mind."
Ronnie Goodman, who was also at the rally in Concord, shared the same sense of certainty around Trump’s impact. "He will bring back some of the jobs and keep them here,” said Goodman. "My mother worked the same job for 25 years and it went to China. She lost everything she had."
Spencer Stevens, a yacht captain, listed fixing foreign trade deals at the top of Trump’s to-do list. “We’re losing so much work to companies that turn around and sell the products back to us. That doesn’t make sense,” said Stevens, who said he has a 100 ton masters license with the Coast Guard and is also an artist who makes mosaics. Trump could just “get with the right heads on that,” to get rid of NAFTA or change tariffs, he said confidently. Stevens was wearing a homemade Hillary costume: an off-white suit from Good Will that he colored with prison stripes, although guards asked him to ditch the accompanying Hillary mask for security reasons.
Some attendees had more strategic hopes. “If Hillary gets in we’re gonna be locked up in Congress. If [Trump] gets elected, the Democrats and Republicans will be working together against him and we might actually get something done,” said Scott Kenefick, a 54-year-old maintenance supervisor attending the rally in Selma. The rhetoric was just how the game is played, he said. “There’s a false belief that presidents can make laws — he can’t repeal Obamacare, but it’s a good soundbite."
Some just wanted Trump because they saw him as a change from the norm, even though they didn't think he'd follow through and implement policy. “I don’t think he’s an eight year president,” said Eric, 30, a municipal worker who was also at The Farm in Selma. “He’ll get something rolling and then Mike Pence can come in in four years and deal with the political part.”
Priorities varied from city to city. In Selma, the common concern was the textile industry. Foreign policy took on a different cast in Jacksonville, which is home to a Navy ship base, Navy airport, and Marine Corps base. Haley Vaca, 25, who said she served in the Coast Guard, said the concern about border security stemmed from the fact that the people who lived there would be the ones put in jeopardy, only to come home be unable to get health benefits. “A lot of veterans feel like they’ve been cheated.”
Overwhelmingly, the sentiment seemed to be that Trump had earned their trust, regardless of his capabilities, because he shared their concerns.
Darin Hayes, a handyman, was sitting in a folding chair on the lawn in Jacksonville, tucked between Trump merchandise stands doing a brisk business. He wants Trump to bring back prayer in school, but more so than that, Hayes seemed to want a genuine representative for his point of view. “American is going off on the wrong track [compared to] when I was a little boy growing up. He's speaking out for us. He's not a politician. And I believe he's a man of his word,” he said.
Despite that broad mandate, Hayes seemed forgiving of any potential roadblocks Trump might face from those career politicians. “Yeah that is a concern, but if anybody can clean house, he'll do it best,” said Hayes. “He's only one man.”
Nitasha Tiku is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
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Mat Honan is the San Francisco bureau chief for BuzzFeed News. Formerly a senior staff writer at Wired, he has been writing about the technology industry and its impact on society for nearly 20 years.
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Otillia Steadman is a world assistant for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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