PLYMOUTH, New Hampshire — Mixed in with the work boots, camo jackets, and “Make America Great Again” hats at Donald Trump rally on the night before the primary were tweed jackets, cashmere scarves, and rep ties.
They were telltale signs that the populist’s base is growing beyond aggrieved blue-collar workers to encompass professionals, entrepreneurs, and managers.
Exit poll data measuring Trump’s winning coalition mirrored the faces in the Plymouth crowd. Trump won Tuesday night among all income levels, including among those making more than $200,000 a year, and all levels of education, from those with a high school diplomas to those with postgraduate degrees.
Many in that the second group, highly educated and very worried, say they see a country and an economy in crisis and just one man on the ballot with the skills and the will to turn it around. Many came to Plymouth to see that man for themselves.
“I like Trump because I believe he’s a very real person and he’s non-political. He’s a businessman,” said Jeff McIver, the president and general manager of The Mountain Club Resort in Lincoln, on his way out of the Trump event.
McIver described the country in 2016 as being at a crossroads, where voters will choose between becoming a socialist country or a capitalist country.
“I believe if we’re going to have a capitalist form of government, I want to find a candidate who supports that as well,” said McIver. With Trump in the White House, McIver said, he would “absolutely” have more confidence in the economy and his own business.
Trump’s career in real estate comes up again and again in conversations with other professionals supporting him.
A financier at the Plymouth event asked that his name not be used because he has business with one of the other candidates. But the Harvard grad, who also has a master’s degree in economics, argues that Trump is alone among the presidential field as someone with the capacity to deal with the economy’s structural weaknesses.
“If this was a business, you’d bring in a turnaround artist, someone who could go from department to department, meeting to meeting, and say, ‘What’s the problem with this, how are we going to fix that?’ I think that’s what Trump would be.”
But Trump’s business record isn’t spotless. He has filed four Chapter 11 bankruptcies over the past 25 years, including for his premier brands, Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal, and Trump Resorts and Casinos. While he had once specialized in acquiring and developing real estate, he now simply licenses his name to most properties with the Trump brand attached to them. It’s been a lucrative business model. Trump’s net worth is estimated at between $3.5 billion and $9 billion.
Although the unnamed financier had voted for many Republicans in the past, he said the GOP today “doesn’t get it.”
“We have a lot of people who are unemployed. We have a lot of people on food stamps,” he said. “When you put that all together, we need someone who can really think like a business person because there’s a crisis.”
It’s not surprising that successful businessmen are attracted to someone like themselves, but Trump’s penchant for bombast and mean tweets often obscures his otherwise obvious appeal for voters looking for a candidate with significant experience in the private sector. Beneath relentless attacks on Jeb Bush and Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims stands an overtly pro-business, anti-government promise to return American businesses, jobs and manufacturing to pre-eminence in the global economy.
It’s the message that resonates with Tony Benge, a real estate developer in Winter Park, Florida, who says Jack Welch would be his ideal candidate, but Trump is good enough for now.
“I absolutely would feel better with a businessman’s perspective,” Benge said. “Trump is the vehicle for the protest vote. I’m tired of having politicians lecturing professionals on how to do what they do, when they were too stupid to get a job in the private sector in the first place.”
Benge said he’d like Trump to tone down his rhetoric on immigration and social issues and focus on what he sees at Trump’s unique strength: the economy.
“If the house is on fire, you don’t care what color the drapes are. That’s the way we see social issues,” Benge said. “My dream speech from a politician would be, ‘I’m not here to be your mother, I don’t care about social issues, I’m here to fix the economy and leave.”
Although Trump has given almost no details on how he’ll live up to the big promises he’s making (e.g. “We’re going to have more of everything”), his low-information approach to campaigning didn’t bother any of the Trump supporters I spoke with. Many saw it as positive.
“I believe that as a leader, you do not want to go into detail, you don’t want to go into the nitty gritty of micromanaging,” said Dr. A.D. Amar, a professor of management at Seton Hall University who has been studying Trump’s management style for years. He is also heading up Indian Americans for Trump, a community Amar describes as entrepreneurial, uniquely focused on the future of the economy, and looking for a leader like Trump. “We expect a leader to have an understanding of the issues, vision of how to solve them, and a commitment, and a structure in place to execute it. That is Donald Trump’s style.”