WASHINGTON (AP) — Letantia Bussell, a Beverly Hills dermatologist, says she appreciates Donald Trump's "unique personality." Peter Zieve, an engineer in Washington, loves Trump because "the guy's a person, not a robot." Daniel Arias, an El Salvadoran immigrant in Florida, is positive Trump will put an end to newcomers "coming here and begging for food stamps."
They are the few, the proud, the maxed-out Trump donors.
The leader of the Republican presidential contest ridicules donors and insists he is a billionaire who wants to "self-fund." Yet there's a prominent "donate" button on his campaign website, and he has raised more than $9.5 million, including from about 200 people who have given $2,700, the maximum allowed by law for the primary election.
Because it's such a relatively small sample — a tiny sliver compared with Hillary Clinton's nearly 29,000 maxed-out donors — it's impossible to reach broad conclusions about Trump's benefactors. Still, these are arguably the most loyal of Trump fans, and their interviews with The Associated Press reveal unexpected layers of the political newcomer's appeal.
They're both attracted and repelled by Trump's inflammatory comments. Just like the thousands who attend Trump's massive rallies, these well-off fans want dramatic change and see Trump as the only person capable of making it happen. And far from being embarrassed by their candidate, the donors seem to love converting their friends and associates to the cause.
HELP NOT WANTED
First things first: Why did the donors decide to give to a candidate who belittles them? Trump recently said of his campaign donors' help, "Whatever. It's peanuts."
Bussell didn't set out to give the candidate money. She wanted to write him a letter of encouragement in August. But when she saw the donate option on his web page, she decided financial help was a better way to show support.
Donating is taking action. And just as Phillip Braunstein likes politicians who "walk the walk, not only talk the talk," he felt compelled to do more than just say he likes Trump. That's why the 33-year-old Los Angeles real estate business owner laid down his $2,700 in October.
The list of maxed-out donors includes some characters. Literally. There's Alice Chapman, a reality television star and the wife of Dog the Bounty Hunter. There's Jim Shore, a well-known artist who sells his figurines on QVC. Kelly Roberts has also chipped in. She's the mother of two "television personalities," wife of a millionaire frozen-burrito king and co-owner of the historic Mission Inn Hotel and Spa in Riverside, California.
Most people who part ways with several thousand dollars are on firm financial footing. Some of Trump's donors are downright rich. John Ferolito, who co-founded AriZona iced tea, gave in July. And Scott Shleifer, head of the multi-billion-dollar New York hedge fund Tiger Global, ponied up $2,700 last year, a few months before he purchased an $18 million Park Avenue condo.
The AP culled the names of Trump's top donors from his public Federal Election Commission filings, which are complete through the end of February. More contributors will emerge on Wednesday, when he files his March fundraising documents.
WHAT THEY LIKE
It's all about immigration for Arias, himself an immigrant.
The 75-year-old real estate investor in Coconut Grove said he came to the country legally, thanks to sisters already here and visas that made it easier for family members to emigrate, some 30 years ago.
"He's the only one who is going to do something to stop illegal immigration," said Arias, who contends many come here for the government benefits and "to steal and sell drugs." Trump famously kicked off his campaign by saying some Mexican immigrants who entered the country illegally are "rapists."
Arias is far from alone in parroting Trump's saltier language and buzz words. More than one said they like Trump because they think he will make America great again, which happens to be his slogan, emblazoned on red ball caps.
Al Gamble, a Connecticut restaurant owner, said he gave to Trump in October because he is tired of families like the Bushes and the Clintons, who have "raped this country to assist in the globalist's agenda."
LIKE CANDIDATE, LIKE DONOR
And some of the donors seem to have adopted Trump's tone on his opponents.
"I think Trump has the best chance of winning, and I only back winners," Braunstein said. He liked Marco Rubio and others, but asked himself, "why would I spend my money on a loser?"
Many who spoke with AP said they could do without some of Trump's incendiary rhetoric but didn't hold that against him.
"I love the Trump ideas," Gamble said. "The way he delivers that message is terrible."
Zieve, an engineer who said he conducts business around the world and is a longtime Republican Party donor, said he's "not proud of some the silly stuff he's said." He cited Trump's recent assertion that if abortions are outlawed, the women who have them should be punished (Trump quickly walked that back).
"Sometimes I wish he would put a zipper on it," Zieve said.
At the same time, that no-holds-barred approach has kept him riveted — and supportive. Zieve gave $2,700 at the end of February.
"Every time something comes out of his mouth, it's exactly something that would come out of my mouth," he said. One example: When Mexican leaders dismissed Trump's demand that they pay for his proposed border wall, Trump declared the wall "just got 10 feet higher."
"Bingo! That's the right answer. I love that guy!" Zieve said. His bottom line on Trump sounds a lot like something Trump would say: "We are getting screwed around the world because we don't have a leader. He is a leader."
WINNING OVER OTHERS
Bussell, the dermatologist, said she gave because she likes Trump, though she hasn't met him. She's from New Jersey and said she spends lots of time explaining to her West Coast friends — and Beverly Hills patients — that Trump has "a certain sense of humor" and doesn't precisely mean everything he says.
"He's refreshing. He has an incredible loyalty to our country and a strong desire to see the people of our country do well and be happy," she said. "We don't need more of the same. We need a change. It's as if the country is in need of a significant oil change and he is the best mechanic."
Richard Worthington, who is in Las Vegas real estate development and describes himself as a "bleeding-heart conservative," said he readily engages friends on Trump — and often finds they end up liking him. Trump's plain talk about trade deals being bad for the U.S. is a big point of agreement, he said. "Even my liberal girlfriend actually likes him," he said. "She's from New York."
Zieve insisted the support for Trump is broader than people think: "I work with a lot of bright people. And the brightest are all for Trump."
Public opinion surveys throw a bit of cold water on his theory. Seven in 10 Americans, including close to half of Republican voters, have an unfavorable view of Trump, according to an AP-Gfk poll this month.
The first person to donate $2,700 to Trump's presidential bid, weeks before he even glided down the escalator in his New York tower and declared his candidacy, was Pamela Newman, a friend and a longtime insurance provider for Trump's business.
The campaign has been good to her, as well: Between June and February, it paid the branch of Aon Risk Services where she works almost $300,000.
Yet not all of those who know Trump and gave him money are doing so for the usual reasons.
Joe Kaminkow, a well-known game developer, met Trump years ago when designing a slot-machine version of "The Apprentice," Trump's hit TV show.
"From my one-on-one dealings with him, he's a gentleman," Kaminkow said. He thinks Trump is right about some policy issues, too, such as making trade deals more favorable to the U.S. "But the question is, who do you want answering the call at 3 a.m.? I think we need a president who maintains our stability and strength with understanding. And he isn't behaving in that way."
So why the heck did Kaminkow give Trump $2,700 in August?
"Well, I'm a Democrat, and I feel like Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person in the race," he said. "But I was so entertained by what I saw from the Republicans on TV that I wanted to do my part to keep that party going."
Associated Press writer Chad Day contributed to this report.
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