At Trump's presidential rallies, a combustible mix of glee, fear

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 25, 2015 3:46 PM

By Luciana Lopez

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (Reuters) - "We're not gonna take it anymore," a crowd of thousands sang as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump entered a South Carolina convention center on Tuesday night as a 1980s heavy metal song by the band Twisted Sister blared from speakers.

The billionaire real-estate developer's packed rallies have been among the liveliest events in the long build-up to the November 2016 U.S. presidential election.

But they are increasingly becoming known for their undercurrent of aggression, which escalated into a physical altercation over the weekend when white Trump supporters attacked a black protester at his rally, to the candidate's approval.

Out in the crowds, the mix of emotions is heady, setting a Trump rally apart from those of virtually all the other Republican and Democratic White House hopefuls. The rallies combine a gleeful rejection of establishment politics, a fear that the country is about to be transformed into something un-American, and a simmering aggression toward those who dissent from Trump's world view.

Although he has been the front-runner almost without interruption for four months in the race for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, Trump is not the only candidate who can draw more supporters than a venue has chairs.

But at rallies other than Trump's, it would be unusual for disputes over blocked views between those who are standing and those who are sitting to escalate into yelling matches, as happened a couple of times mid-speech on Tuesday. On one occasion, police officers intervened to calm tempers.

At a Trump rally in Alabama on Saturday attended predominantly by white people, Trump supporters punched and kicked a black civil-rights activist who shouted "Black lives matter!" as Trump called from the stage for the activist to be thrown out.

Trump later said the activist was "obnoxious" and deserved to be "roughed up."

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who is the Democratic front-runner, criticized Trump for his response. "Violence is never, ever acceptable," she said on Tuesday.

Such talk did not deter the thousands crowding into the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in South Carolina, one of the first states to vote in next year's primary elections that will help determine the two parties' presidential nominees.

Many supporters spoke of the thrill of shunning career politicians - a label that captures all three Democratic contenders and 11 of the 14 Republican contenders - for a man who has never held elected office but appears to know how to run a business.

"We should be done with politicians," Sue Remillard, 67, said, her facial expression showing disgust. "I want a change. I'm tired of politicians."

Two of Trump's Republican rivals are similarly outsiders: Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, and Carly Fiorina, a former corporate executive whose business accomplishments are less tangible to many Americans than the Trump-branded hotels dotting major cities and vacation resorts.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed that 37 percent of Republicans would vote for Trump, putting him far ahead of his nearest rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who stood at 11 percent. The online poll of 352 Republicans over the past four days had a credibility interval of plus or minus 6 percentage points.

At the rally, Gary Johnson, 64, praised Trump as someone "not afraid to tell you how it is," and said Trump was better suited to handle foreign policy than Carson. "I was on the fence until the whole thing with Paris, and his lack of knowledge on foreign affairs," he said of Carson, referring to the Nov. 13 attacks in the French capital.

Asked what he would do about the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, Trump has said he would locate the Iraqi oil fields from which the militant group draws much of its revenue and "bomb the shit out of them."

Some Trump supporters interviewed at Tuesday's rally said that foreigners coming to the United States are trying to transform it beyond recognition and only Trump has the gumption to acknowledge this and stop it.

The thought moved Carolyn McClintick close to tears.

"Sharia law is so brutal," McClintick said, dressed in the red, white and blue colors of the American flag, as she described the Islamic body of law that she said she feared might end up governing her daughters' and granddaughters' lives.

"They're in our country, they're going to live under our laws," she said.

Arguing it is necessary to prevent militant Islamist violence, Trump has said he wants surveillance of mosques and would not rule out a database to track all U.S. Muslims. He also said he would bring back waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning used in the interrogation of some detainees by former President George W. Bush's administration. President Barack Obama's administration, among others, considers it torture.

At Tuesday's event, Trump filled the stage for more than an hour with his characteristic improvised pitch for voters: because he is great, he says, and because everything he does is great, then it can be inferred that if he becomes president the country will be great.

But a new voice appeared on Trump's stage, too, that of his wife, Melania, a jewelry designer and former model. She had 16 words for the crowd: "Good evening. Isn't he the best? He will be the best president ever. We love you."

For more on the 2016 U.S. presidential race and to learn about the undecided voters who determine elections, visit the Reuters website. (http://www.reuters.com/election2016/the-undecided/)

(Writing by Jonathan Allen)