They operate heavy machinery. They Uber. They gush over the Olympics. Their friends are Bernie Sanders supporters. They’re on the local baseball team. Yes, they want to make America great again, but Donald Trump’s supporters contain multitudes. They are not, on the whole, the white-devil, frothing Confederate fanatics baffled columnists have made them out to be. So who is Team Trump, really? We met up with locals waiting in line to attend a Trump rally in Altoona, Pa., where the population is 93.8 percent white (as opposed to the national proportion of 77.1 percent), and discussed the colony at Jamestown, non-theoretical nuclear war and George Washington’s personal Koran. Here’s what we found:
Bridget Rae, 20, college student, Hollidaysburg: It’s kind of like, whoa, is this person even real? So I’m going to find the real person, hopefully.
Chris Smith, 28, sales, Altoona: He’s playing this very strategic game, and he’s kinda doing it in an unorthodox way, and I was pretty game until I read something that he said about “why don’t we use our nukes?” He asked someone three times, you know? And I have a daughter that’s 6 months old. And it’s like, you said that out loud? You actually said that out loud? And so now I think, do I want to enable something like that? If you’ve got a problem: hellfire missile, whatever. But a nuke?
Preston Shoemaker, 16, high school junior, Altoona: Personally, I could’ve heard more from him on the point of maybe environmental stuff.
Rae: I go to a small liberal arts college, so that’s a very concentrated area of Democrats. I thought it was interesting that the Republicans on campus were, kind of ironically, not treated in a way that you would think that liberal people would treat people.
But they relate to him
Jackie Syktich, 54, president of DuBois Business College, DuBois: I grew up in a family-owned trucking business. And my husband owns an appliance store. It’s always a struggle when you’re from a family-owned business, and he speaks to that. He speaks to the common person who makes a living. His kids seem to have grown up a little bit the way I did, with a family-run business; everybody participated, and everybody had to work.
Mary Campbell, 73, countertop maker, Hollidaysburg: I don’t connect to him because he’s a businessman. I don’t connect to her because she’s a woman. I just think that he has a better idea for our country.
Johnny Balliet, 29, doormaker, Altoona: I don’t know that it ever was all that great. Remember whenever he was saying that Obama apologized for — was it Hiroshima? Was it an apology? [Trump] said he would never apologize for something like that. I kinda liked that. I mean, I don’t like that we bombed Hiroshima, but I wouldn’t apologize for it, because it basically won the war. I just think he’d be a stand-up guy.
Susan Harry, 56, Huntingdon County treasurer: He’s not afraid to call a spade a spade.
Shoemaker:It’s not that I like someone who has no punishment for what he says. But at the same time someone who’s not afraid to tell people what he actually wants and what he thinks will be good for our country.
Rae: It’s as if he’s standing on the first-place gold-medal podium, and his eyes are just trained on the American flag. And I think that’s a really interesting thing — the ruthless focus that is going on with him is something that’s pretty admirable in a leader.
Smith: He makes remarks like: “Trust me, I know. I’ve written the checks.” You kind of chuckle, and it’s like you’re part of the system, but, wow, you would know. “Everyone can be bought; trust me, I know.” That’s very reassuring, that he would hit the reset button. Eh, it’s reassuring and scary. He has backroom experience.
Balliet: I like Trump because he’s not a politician. Like, he wasn’t a politician. Whether now he’s a politician, I’m not 100 percent sure yet, which is why I came out to see him.
They feel forgotten and frustrated
Curtis Diehl, 46, oil truck driver, Altoona: We had a lot — particularly in Pennsylvania, in this area — of clothing and silk factories. Coal mines. Steel mills. You only had to drive around the local communities and railroad yards. They all supported one another. [Now] they’re empty buildings being torn down, or they’re already torn down, or sitting vacant and very dilapidated.
Syktich: He picked Altoona. Altoona is the heart of America, too. So many times, people forget. And there’s all these big cities — and I get it, because they’re larger volume — but, you know, a lot of times people forget that rural communities keep those engines rolling for so many things in business.
Howard R. Hughes III, 60, writer, Mifflintown: We want people to be self-employed, own their own homes. We want medical insurance that’s cheap, yes. We want college education that’s cheap, okay? And these things can be done if we have economic reforms like Trump is offering.
Campbell: There are a lot of times that people are able to work but don’t want to work. Just simply, we have an element of that in our country. And I think we all know that.
Shoemaker: It’s amazing that he took the time to make the stop here. Good for the community. To be able to see him here in our little small town, it’s really neat. He kind of made it personal for Altoona. He brought in the McLanahan Corporation, which is a big deal around here locally, big organization that goes back a long ways. It’s a very long family business, and he brought them up and he talked about them personally, and it was kinda cool to listen to him — he’s all big and in the news and stuff — and to have him make that personal connection to the local area. It was kinda neat to see him try to connect with us around here.
Harry: In my personal life, my husband and I own a small business, a hardware store. And I think at the end of 2015, my husband and I had to go without health insurance because it skyrocketed under the Obamacare. We were paying $700 a month for our premium and $7,000 deductible, and then after the first of the year, because we didn’t fall under any of the low incomes, it was going up to $1,200 a month and $15,000 deductible. We went without health insurance. It was just for a few months, because then I ran for county treasurer and I was able to get health care under that.
Diehl: George Washington bought the Koran. It’s in the Library of Congress. It’s a two-volume edition. It’s still there today. And after he read the Koran, he said we need a law that protects us so that no one religion can come in here and overrun us and create a tyranny of religion. We have to stand up and represent, because if we don’t I think we’re at that turning point in our country where we’re either going to represent or wish we had. We’re at the Revolutionary War moment.
And stuck making lemonade out of this election
Rae: If you can’t fit it on a bumper sticker, nobody wants to hear about it. I think that’s ridiculous. That’s why you go to these rallies. That’s why you go watch prolonged interviews, full speeches on things, because you’re getting everything in a context.
Smith: It’s a shame that we as a society came to this. I feel like the parties really messed up. Both parties, there’s no excuse. I feel like this might be the beginning of the end for Republican and Democrat parties.
Diehl: We have what they call the establishment; it’s the good ol’ buddy system where they take care of one another and they feed the pork barrel spending and things of that nature.
Mary Emery, 54, hospital hospice pastor, Duncannon: I believe in my faith that God has used many men through history of time that have not been that ideal person, and used them for really good things. And I believe that’s what going to happen now. Jesus was a carpenter and was never liked by anybody. Nobody liked him until they got to know him. You have to follow your heart. But I always look back and say, okay, go look and see who Jesus used, who God used, and see where Donald Trump lines up.
And they’re not who you think
Rae: I’m actually a registered Democrat.
Campbell: I really liked Marco Rubio and John Kasich.
Hughes: I’m an 11th-generation American, a direct descendant of Jesse Hughes, a Jamestown colonist. My family’s fortune is the oldest fortune in America. I have more at stake in this election than anybody else. . . . I’m not voting for what I can get out of the government. I’m voting for what the country can get out of the government. America needs reform.
Balliet: I’ve never voted. And honestly, I think most of America’s like me. They don’t [vote].
Emery: I was a Cruz fan.
Diehl: To be honest, the guy I was rooting for was Ben Carson. But I’m very appreciative that he has brought Ben Carson in alongside.
Smith: I actually voted Obama, in the past, for both terms.