In a part of Northern Virginia that isn’t exactly “Trump Country,” on Tuesday approximately 1,500 people attended a Donald Trump rally at a high school in Ashburn, a suburb outside Washington DC. Trump won Virginia in the June primary but only by 34.7 percent; 31.9 percent went to Marco Rubio. Trump’s daily issuance of new, controversial comments did not hold back these supporters. If anything, it fired them up more.
At 10 a.m. when I arrived, the line of people still waiting in the 85-degree heat to enter the 11 a.m. event wrapped around the school building. The majority of those people, including me, did not make it inside. Only 900 were allowed in the auditorium (which reached capacity at around 10:30 a.m.) for safety reasons.
Located in Loudoun County, the wealthiest county in the United States according to 2012 Census Bureau data, Ashburn boasts a population with a nearly equal man to woman ratio. It’s chock-full of thirty-somethings, with a median household income of $116,000. Home values in the area are in the mid-$400,000 range. Whites make up almost 60 percent of the population, trailed by Asians (15 percent), Hispanics (11 percent), and blacks (10 percent).
Half of the country’s top ten richest counties surround Washington DC, but the size, coupled with the demographics, all supporting a candidate as unique and controversial as Trump, is of note. While I saw few African-Americans, I saw a range of age groups, children to collegiates to elderly, and an apparently equal mix of men and women.
Trump’s Supporters Come Out in Force
Usually only die-hard activists attend rallies, but Trump isn’t your average candidate running for president. Whether it’s his relationship with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, his strange tweets, or attacking a military service member’s family, on a daily basis now he incites controversy everywhere he goes. Even at this very rally, Trump asked a woman with a crying baby to leave. Twitter erupted with criticism, even though the video suggests Trump may have been joking.
His zany comments did not deter the supporters with whom I spoke. In fact, many cited his lack of political correctness as a boon for the GOP nominee. Janeen Meehan, a 78-year-old retired woman who has voted since she was 18 years old—“I voted for Romney last cycle and I was disappointed,” she told me—loves that he speaks his mind. She says it showcases his uniqueness.
“I like Trump because he’s not a part of the establishment. He’s not a crook. He’s not a liar. We haven’t had a candidate like him ever. He is actually interested in America. He’s not one of the old cronies.” What about Hillary Clinton? Meehan shook her head. “She’s splitting America.”
Wearing red, white, and blue and sporting various American flag accessories, 57-year-old Janet McDonald taught school for more than 30 years and told me, while sitting on the concrete outside the school doors: “I liked Ben Carson at first. Then I became a closet Trump-er. I’ve campaigned for him for months now.”
Why is she a Trump activist? “I feel he supports the American people. He’s truly anti-establishment, that’s what has elites shaking in their boots. He supports the average Joe.” I pointed out that Trump was a billionaire, yet she was confident he supported the average person. McDonald thought on this for a moment. “He’s been down there working with the average person. He’s been there. You can see how successful his kids are—that says a lot about him.”
Several supporters, including children, sported these signs, no doubt related to Hillary’s e-mail scandal and subsequent FBI investigation.
This was a huge motivator for one thirty-something gentleman in a red “Make America Great Again” hat, who stood in line near the door (and got in) with his friend, one of the few African-American attendees I saw. Neither wanted to tell me their names, but the man in the hat was clear and articulate about his reasons for supporting Trump.
“I was in the military and have worked at several U.S. intelligence services. I think Trump is the only person who can keep us safe at that level. I don’t think Hillary has what it takes,” he said. When asked if he’s more anti-Hillary than pro-Trump, “I’m a mixture of both,” he responded.
When I pointed out Trump has not served in the military and it’s unclear what his national security plan might be beyond border issues, he shook his head mildly: “I’m still more comfortable with the unknown than Hillary.”
Ironically at his speech following this conversation, Trump opened his rally thanking a supporter who had given him a replica of the man’s Purple Heart. “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier,” Trump said.
According to CNN, Trump’s support among young people is “historically low,” but I saw good amount of twenty-somethings at the event. One group of about eight young white men were excited to nearly be inside the auditorium. When I asked why they supported Trump, one pointed to his friend: “He can tell you.”
Indeed the friend, 19-year-old Brett Clark, was enthusiastic, chatty, and might have talked to me about Trump all day. “I’m a self-determined-alist,” he told me, sounding very much his rising-freshmen-in-college self. “But I like Trump because he finally puts America first. I’ve been going to school with neocons, with progressives, who don’t really think America should be first—they feel bad about it. Trump will bring back that pride.”
Despite Clark attending with buddies all his age, one who falls short of voting age by one month, he was confident “Trump doesn’t care what color people are or what they do—he cares that America comes first, and we need to get back to that mindset.”
This younger age bracket is notorious for being all vigor but not actually voting. I asked the young friends if they will all go to the polls in November. Clark shrugged. “Probably a couple of them won’t because of absentee ballot and college confusion, but the rest of us will.” His friends nodded and strode into the building, grinning.