As Donald Trump slumps in the polls and spins from one controversy to another, many of his supporters are even angrier than before at his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
For years, they have not liked or trusted her — many say it’s fair to describe their feelings as hatred — and the nine days since Trump’s poor debate performance have only confirmed and intensified their feelings. At several recent Trump rallies, anti-Clinton sentiment felt stronger than ever as attendees screamed out nicknames and criticisms of her, erupted in chants of “Lock her up!” and angrily accused reporters of promoting her candidacy.
Trump supporters have long worn shirts or buttons labeling Clinton a “b----,” but there’s a new T-shirt popping up at recent events with an even harsher message: “I wish Clinton had married O.J.,” the former football star who was acquitted in 1995 on charges that he murdered his ex-wife.
In interviews at recent rallies in battleground states, Trump supporters called Clinton robotic and over-rehearsed. They complained that she shimmied and laughed during the first presidential debate last week instead of offering full explanations of the 2012 attack on Benghazi, her use of a private email server while secretary of state and how her family raised money for its charitable foundation. They accused her and her campaign of playing the “woman card.” They shared conspiracy theories they read online about Clinton’s health, sex life and whether she had any outside help during the debate.
“I just dislike her,” said Shawn Fahy, 46, a police officer from Maine who attended a rally in New Hampshire last Thursday and wore a “Hillary for Prison” T-shirt. “She comes across as an angry, crotchety old hag who is just out for power, who just wants to be able to line her pockets.”
“I believe she’s a communist,” Jim Denlinger, 47, said at Trump’s rally in rural Pennsylvania on Saturday night. “She also has done so many illegal things. There are 48 people who are dead around the Clintons. . . . If you look at each case, it’s suspicious. I think the Clintons are a very spooky couple.”
“When [Bill Clinton] was running for president the first time, I remember my dad saying: ‘He’s okay. He’s kind of Playboy-ish, but so was Kennedy, so he may be okay,’” Ellen Kaufman, a 56-year-old emergency-room nurse, said at a rally in Melbourne, Fla., on Sept. 27. “And he said: ‘That wife. Something about her.’ And it’s not because she’s a professional, it’s not because she’s a lawyer and all of these things. He said she just isn’t right.”
Kaufman said she agrees with her late father; she says Hillary Clinton has “always just rubbed me the wrong way.” On the other hand, she said, Trump is the “strict dad” that America needs.
Clinton and Trump are the two least-popular presidential nominees in modern history, although his unfavorable ratings are higher than hers. While there is anti-Trump sentiment at many Clinton rallies — her supporters have, after all, likened the Republican nominee to Hitler and mocked the size of his hands and his hair — the seething anti-Clinton sentiment at Trump’s massive rallies is usually much more intense and menacing.
Trump gets some of his biggest applause with attacks on Clinton. Since the Sept. 26 debate, he has called her “dishonest,” “incompetent,” “crooked,” “corrupt,” a liar, “an insider,” “unfit to be president” and “worse than Obama.” On Saturday, he accused Clinton of not being “loyal” to her husband, imitated her stumbling to her van during a bout of pneumonia and declared that he agreed with supporters who like to chant: “Lock her up!”
Trump’s pre-rally speakers often prime the crowd for the attacks. In Wisconsin, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani repeatedly called Clinton “stupid.” In Pennsylvania, a Republican candidate for state treasurer said more people believe in Big Foot and UFOs than trust Clinton.
And in New Hampshire, a state lawmaker warned what a Clinton presidency would mean. “Ladies and gentlemen, if she becomes president, she’s moving in,” said Andy Sanborn, a state senator. “She’s going to be eating at your dinner table every night. She’s going to be taking part of your wages every week. She’s going to be driving your car on Tuesdays. Every aspect of your life, she’s going to be involved with and make life more and more and more restrictive.”
So why is it that Clinton is so very disliked?
Trump supporters give a variety of answers: She broke the law by using a private email server and has not been held responsible. She stood by her husband when he cheated on her and, according to them, enabled him in his mistreatment of women. She didn’t do enough to protect Americans stationed in Benghazi in 2012, which she refuted in 11 hours of congressional testimony. She became too wealthy after her husband left the White House and used her political power to funnel money from big donors and foreign governments into a family charitable foundation. She is not as accomplished as she claims and has not done enough to help fellow women. Many are also fond of conspiracy theories that say she is hiding a serious health condition.
Many of Trump’s supporters want debate moderators and reporters to dig into all of those stories exclusively instead of needling Trump on his tax returns, his late-night tweets and his comments about women, especially Alicia Machado, whom Trump has accused of gaining too much weight after she won the Miss Universe pageant in 1996.
“This girl is a piece of garbage,” said Christine Oliveira, 37, a Trump supporter who lives in Auburn, N.H., and works at a power plant. “If you sign up to be one of them, you’re supposed to look like one of them.”
Many Trump supporters agreed, painting Trump as a caring boss who held Machado accountable and helped her keep her job rather than firing her. Many of them also see no problem in Trump going after issues related to the Clintons’ marriage.
Aleta Zayas, who lives in Howell, Mich., and attended a rally Friday in the Detroit suburbs, said she believes that Hillary Clinton knew her husband was unfaithful and that she should have stopped him.
“I don’t believe you can have a history like he had and have her not know about it. I believe she covered up for him because she’s very ambitious and she’s always wanted to be president,” said Zayas, 66. “I believe she allowed him to do it. And I wonder if the two of them really live together. . . . I think their whole relationship is phony, and what she has done to women is terrible.”
At a rally in Florida last week, Patty and Keith Rodriguez said they were taken aback by Clinton’s excessive smiling and laughing during the debate.
“You know, like she thought it was a joke,” said Patty Rodriguez, 57, who works for a defense contractor.
Her husband agreed: “I think she was told to smile and laugh more.”
“Yeah, but it came off as phony,” Patty Rodriguez said.
Keith Rodriguez chuckled and said: “Well, she is.”