Donald Trump’s manner does not always sit well with Steve and Mona Botello.
The couple, who identify as Latino, say the presumptive Republican nominee’s method can be brash and unpalatable. Yet his message resonates with them both – so much so that on the Friday before Memorial Day, they drove two hours from their home in San Bernardino, Calif., to see Mr. Trump speak at the San Diego Convention Center.
“I don’t agree with how he says a lot of things,” says Mrs. Botello, an X-ray technician currently in graduate school. “I don’t. But I do agree on the things he stands for.”
Trump supporters are often characterized as white, and male, and lacking in college diplomas – and it’s true that demographic has been a mainstay of the business mogul’s electoral success. But the crowd at this San Diego event is testament that his appeal isn’t limited to one race, gender, or education and income range.
Indeed, the Botellos demonstrate that Trump also connects with a small but vocal contingent of frustrated minorities who say that he is the best hope for the nation’s future. They dismiss the notion that he is racist and misogynistic, and resent any suggestion that they are voting for him because they don’t know any better.
Instead, they see in Trump’s rhetoric a man who loves his country so much he is willing to defend it at all costs, promising for example to build a wall at the American border with Mexico, to challenge China’s economic power, and to bring jobs back into the United States. To these voters, that kind of thinking is exactly what America needs right now.
“Trump’s not the most buttoned-up candidate, but he cares,” says Mr. Botello, who works for a marketing company. “We care. I used to think I was so lucky to live in this country. We just want to bring that back.”
Of course, Trump’s candidacy for president also inspires lots of criticism. At the San Diego event, protesters carried signs calling Trump a bigot and a racist, and found themselves exchanging volleys of trash and plastic bottles with Trump supporters after the rally, until police dispersed the crowd of nearly 1,000.
Such protests cut to the heart of what may be Trump’s most controversial position: His vows to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US, to temporarily ban foreign Muslims from coming into the country, and to keep out Syrian refugees.
His supporters, however, say he is only laying out what needs to be done to secure America’s borders and help the country regain its prominence as a world superpower – a status they say the nation is rapidly losing, if it’s not already lost.
“He puts Americans first,” says Lupin Chen, an engineer who immigrated to the US from China in 2004 and is now part of the group, “Chinese-Americans for Donald Trump.” “He wants to secure the border … and understands that [we] are here to pursue our American dream.”
“He recognizes the difference between illegal and legal immigrants. Others try to blur the lines between the two groups,” adds Jennifer Hu, an investor who moved the US, also from China, 29 years ago.
“He’s going to put American cities first,” she continues, echoing Mr. Chen. “That’s why I vote for him.”
Amal Oraiqal, a Muslim immigrant from Jordan, says she respects Trump for his commitment to his country.
“I like him because he’s real and he speaks his mind. He cares about his own people,” she says.
She acknowledges that he has said things about Muslims that could be construed as derogatory. But “there’s a lot of people that make Islam bad, and that’s what he sees,” Ms. Oraiqal says.
“We have so many rights here that I would not get if I was in my country,” and Trump wants to protect those rights, she adds. All he asks is that immigrants obey the law when they come to the US – like she herself did 27 years ago, Oraiqal says.
'We’re not racist'
Waiting for their turn to enter the convention center, Nestor Moto, Jr., and Mark Rizk make an unlikely pair. Mr. Moto, in his aviator sunglasses and stars-and-stripes shorts, provides a flashy foil to Mr. Rizk, who comes dressed in a conservative button-down and slacks.
Yet both identify as solid Republicans who support Trump, and together they pose for photographers who step up to take pictures of their handmade signs: “Gays for Trump” for Moto, and “Arab Christians for Trump” for Rizk.
Both men also say they’d appreciate a little empathy from Trump naysayers.
“We want to make sure that people understand we’re not racist, not violent,” says Moto, a recent political science graduate at Long Beach State University. “We have diversity among us.”
“We love America,” adds Rizk, a son of Egyptian immigrants. “We are sincere. Eight years of what’s been happening – we need a new direction for the country. Trump is going to be good [for the US].”
Others at the rally echo the sentiment, bemoaning what they say is the mainstream media’s vilification of both Trump and his supporters.
“I ask that they listen to what he’s saying in context, and that they don’t pre-judge people based on their support for a candidate,” says Diego Velazquez, a student in political science and business at Whittier College, just east of Los Angeles. “I think that’s not fair. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.”
Humbert Cabrera, a businessman from nearby El Cajon who identifies as a Mayan Indian from Mexico’s Yucatán state, has a more pointed perspective.
“It’s clichéd and trite,” he says of critics who say Trump and his supporters are racist and anti-women. “Criticism and name-calling is done by people who know they are getting close to getting their power taken away. That’s how Washington feels.”
'The outsider game'
The narrative of an outsider candidate who is willing to say what needs to be said and put America first is a powerful one, analysts say. The message has resonated most with white Americans who have felt disenfranchised in the wake of the Great Recession – but others have latched on to it, too.
Trump is “playing the outsider game at a time when everyone, both Democrat and Republican, is unhappy with government and unhappy with elected officials,” says Jan Leighley, a professor who specializes in American political behavior at American University in Washington. “He plays that card.”
Yet she says what draws some minority voters to Trump is less his message than the fact that they have likely leaned Republican for a long time.
“Systematic research puts party identification in the middle of everything,” Professor Leighley says. It’s not specific characteristics or features of the candidate, but the party with which a voter is affiliated that determines who people vote for, she says.
Indeed, from the Chinese Americans to other women and voters of color who spoke to the Monitor here, almost all say they identify as Republican.
“Even if a person just says they lean Republican,” Leighley says, “the chances of them voting Democrat is very small.”
That doesn’t mean American voters, including Trump fans, equate their political leanings with closed-mindedness.
Leticia Sullivan says intelligent, independent thinking has led her to support Trump.
“I think the most derogatory thing people have called us is low-information,” she says, waving around two posters proclaiming, “Latinos for Trump” and “Women for Trump.”
“We’re not low-information,” insists Mrs. Sullivan, a former social services worker and a granddaughter of immigrants from the Philippines and Spain. “We just want to make America the first again.”
Ms. Hu, the investor, agrees. “This is the second rally I’m going to, and I’ve met many other Trump supporters,” she says. “They are all very independent thinkers.”
“I’m Hispanic,” and a former voter for Bill Clinton, adds Mr. Botello, the marketing man from San Bernardino. “I don’t fit the ‘model’ of a Trump supporter.” But his vote counts as much as anyone else’s, he says.
“We love this country. [Trump] is going to surround himself with good people,” he says. “We’re going to be better off [with him].”