1. Florida Politics

Behind the spectacle and stereotypes, real people at a Donald Trump rally


They started lining up three hours early, huddling outside a high school gym for a chance to see Donald Trump, wearing "Make America Great Again" hats and pins that showed Hillary Clinton behind bars or read "Bomb the s--- out of ISIS," just one of the outlandish lines from Trump in his increasingly viable quest for the presidency.

The Rolling Stones rocked on the loudspeakers. People wore smirks, waiting to be entertained. Some guy slipped on a puppet of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. And moments before Trump bounded on stage, an announcement set the mood:

"If a protester starts demonstrating in the area around you, please do not touch or harm the protester. This is a peaceful rally. In order to notify the law enforcement officers of the location of the protester, please hold a rally sign over your head and start chanting, 'Trump, Trump, Trump.' Ask the people around you to do likewise until the officer removes the protester. Thank you for helping us make America great again."

A woman in the cheap seats, back by the press corps penned in like cattle, looked at her husband and laughed. "Wow."

It's easy to find fun in a Trump rally. But behind the spectacle and stereotypes are real people prosecuting a powerful case against the American political system.

Again and again here Tuesday, they affirmed Trump's appeal. They are disgusted with politicians and calibrated words, worried about their financial futures and sick of illegal immigration. They want a businessman in charge, someone so rich he doesn't have to suck up to corporations and lobbyists.

They do want to bomb the s--- out of ISIS.

"He's talking like the way I'm thinking," said Gary Bumsted, 65, who wore a blue Trump cap in the 20-degree fading daylight.

"We live in a world that's becoming so PC. It's beyond annoying. Some things he's said I can see why people are offended, but it's just refreshing that he doesn't care," said Kristen Pinnick, 43, a homeschool mom, who secured a spot up in front of the gym, capacity 2,149.

She said she heard about how Trump years ago pushed a dysfunctional New York City government to rebuild an ice skating rink in Central Park. "He got it done," Pinnick said. "I really believe that when he says we're going to build a wall and secure America, he's going to do it. He'll make our military great again, which is No. 1 to me."

Trump's approach is short on specifics and large on bravado, a stream of finger-wagging tough talk. He's roundly criticized in the news media, but it only builds his following.

"He says what everybody is thinking but they don't have enough guts to say. We can't have all these Mexicans and all this other riff-raff coming in," said Craig Ziemke, 66, who voted twice for Barack Obama. "Trump don't take s--- off nobody."

There's been much attention this election to the anger from voters, and interviews with about 20 people showed a good deal of it lies in a distrust of politicians and Washington. Trump, they said, is a dealmaker who can get government working again and pay more attention to American interests and jobs.

"I'm tired of politicians. I'm 72. I've watched a lot of them promise a lot of things and nothing happens," said Don Dodd, who is retired from an industrial gas plant. "He's just different. I think he's going to run it like a business. You don't have to know everything if you hire the right people."

Dodd, like many of the people interviewed, said he had never caucused before but plans to Monday. Trump has a huge lead in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two nominating states, but turnout among his followers is an open question.

Zach Underhill, a 20-year-old electrician, said he will also caucus for Trump. He's attracted to Trump's stance on illegal immigration. "I go in houses and when I can't understand (immigrants) and they don't want to learn our language, it's harder for me to do my job."

He conceded his second choice was contradictory: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose critics have blasted him for supporting a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented residents in the United States — "amnesty," in Trump's view.

It seems no accident that Trump, who opened his campaign in June by casting immigrants as drug pushers and rapists and pledged to build a huge wall on the Mexican border, chose Marshalltown. The city's population is about a quarter Hispanic vs. 6 percent statewide. In 2007, immigration enforcement raids at the meatpacking plant here made national news.

"If you don't have documentation, get the hell out of the country," said Michael Shawn Ecklor, 46, who was injured during the first Gulf War and says he's fought to get disability benefits. He now works as a janitor at the YMCA.

"I never had a reason to caucus for anybody," Ecklor said. He feels Trump will turn the country around and won't be weak. "He don't take no crap from nobody. I'm a Marine. I don't take crap, either."

Before Trump took the stage, controversial anti-immigration Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio endorsed him and credited Trump for elevating the issue. Trump has savaged Rubio and Jeb Bush for their moderate positions on the issue, trampling on the GOP establishment's hopes of attracting Hispanic voters.

A couple of young demonstrators, identifying themselves as Latinos, did cause a stir during the Trump rally and were escorted out. The crowd wasn't especially vocal about shutting them down, showing the mixed feelings here. The city's police chief released a statement before the event saying, "Marshalltown has been enriched by the arrival and contributions of immigrants to the community."

Just as often as immigration, people cited Trump's outspokenness and business background. Several said they were not bothered by Trump's past bankruptcies, which some rivals have tried to play up. Rather, they said, it made Trump more real.

"He bounced back. That goes a long way with me. It shows me he doesn't give up," said Bumsted, the man in the Trump cap.

"We finally have somebody now they can't put their thumb down on and make him fall in line because he doesn't take anyone's money," said Tom Cooper, 58, who moved to Iowa last year and said he will caucus for Trump. "The lobbyists can't get to him."

"I'm sick and tired of the politicians because they promise you this and promise you that and they get in there and don't do anything. This last round of voting we put Republicans in (control of Congress). What did they do? Nothing. I want somebody that's not a politician, that's not backed by large corporations and is bought and paid for."

Cindy Smiley, a 58-year-old loan officer, came in just before Trump began. She caucused last time for Rick Perry and is leaning toward Trump.

"Sometimes I think he's a little over the top, but he gets attention that way," she said. "I like that he doesn't want to take care of every other country and not ours. Our country is so far gone and he's our only hope to bring it back."

Contact Alex Leary at Follow @learyreports.