How did he transcend this culture war beachhead? By moving a message of single-issue politics that resonated far more with modern conservative women than the right's status quo: He's not closing clinics, but building walls. Specifically, one very big, long wall.
"We as Americans want our jobs on our country, so we can thrive again," says Lynnette Hardaway, a YouTube vlogger better known as Diamond. Hardaway is one half of the North Carolina YouTube duo Diamond and Silk, a pair of avid Trump supporters that prove that Trump's appeal goes beyond the stereotypical white male conservative voter.
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In their videos, Diamond and Silk (Rochelle Richardson) list the ways Republicans and Democrats have failed black voters. In a video from November 2015, Diamond attacks Hillary Clinton's support of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which created harsher sentences, encouraged incarceration, and funded construction for privately owned prisons. According to a recent article by Michelle Alexander in The Nation, President Bill Clinton "championed" the $30-billion bill, creating a three-strikes policy that forced some three-time offenders to serve life sentences. Hillary has promised to overturn much of her husband's bill, but in this Diamond and Silk accuse her of "pander[ing]" to black voters, saying in the video that Hillary's "two biggest donors" are "two prison corporations." (In February 2016, Politico's Josh Gerstein uncovered an $8,600 donation to a women's prison charity in a Clinton FEC filing from late 2015. Although the campaign said it would decline donations from prison lobbies, it has still taken funds from a man who was registered as a lobbyist for a for-profit prison company until recently.) "If Bill Clinton can do mass incarceration, we can do mass deportation," Diamond says.
If Trump wins, art historian and feminist cultural critic Camille Paglia believes the video will "go down in history as 'the shot heard round the world.'" Writing about the video in Salon, Paglia highlights how Trump has transcended pundits' expectations with his "fearless candor and brash energy." "[Diamond and Silk's] fiery endorsement blew me away because it demonstrated how Trump was directly engaging with a diverse coalition in ways that the mainstream media had completely missed," she writes.
According Neil Irwin and Josh Katz in the New York Times, Trump fares best in areas where a relatively large percentage of white Americans did not graduate from high school. "The analysis shows that Trump counties are places where white identity mixes with long-simmering economic dysfunctions," they write. But their study also notes that "the places where Trump has done well cut across many of the usual fault lines of American politics—North and South, liberal and conservative, rural and suburban." I had the chance to meet many of Trump's supporters at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, and it was clear that the women who support Trump privilege his stance on issues like immigration and his hawkish foreign policy over his views on abortion or the death penalty.
"[Trump] knows that it's time to put the American people first," Diamond and Silk said in an email to Broadly. "He understands that trade policies must be put in place for the good of the American worker and Americans must feel safe and secure in this country. He appeals to us because he wants to work for us and not against us."
Existing even further away from the trailer-dwelling, menthol-smoking stereotype of a Trump supporter is Scottie Nell Hughes, a Nashville-based commentator who has built a career as a self-proclaimed "conservative feminist." With a Dusty Springfield–style bob and gold bracelets dangling off her wrists, Hughes tells me she's anti-abortion but thinks social conservatives are stupid for rejecting Trump because of his views on Planned Parenthood. "There are good things [Planned Parenthood] does," Hughes says. "Pap smears, breast exams—those are things that save women's lives." Most of all, Hughes believes Trump is looking out for women and returning to a common-sense conservatism that the so-called "Republican establishment"—social conservatives and neocons who follow corporate donors' orders—has lacked for several years.
"As a woman I have two goals: protect my family and support my family," Hughes says in a thick Southern accent.
It's likely that Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric—which draws on the idea of "protection"—is resonating so well with women because a chief influence on his radical policies is one. Writing in The Atlantic late last year, David Frum argues that Trump created his get-out-stay-out immigration policy after reading Adios, America, an anti-immigration manifesto by one of America's most popular—and controversial—conservative writers: Ann Coulter. According to Coulter, Trump's people contacted her to request an advanced copy after he saw Univision's Jorge Ramos interview her about the book for Fusion in late May 2015.
Adios, America hit stores on June 1, 2015. Two weeks later, on June 16, Trump announced his candidacy at Trump Tower in New York. During his speech, Trump outlined his aggressive immigration plan. "[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with [them]. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime," Trump said. "They're rapists." Much of Trump's anti-immigrant stance appears to have come straight from Adios, America, which argues pretty much the same thing.
"TRUMP READ IT!" Coulter says in an email to Broadly. "Anchor babies, building a wall, how many illegals are here (minimum: 30 to 50 million), Mexican rapists, immigrant crime, the heroin epidemic brought to us by Mexico, H-1B workers—all this is from Adios, America! You might have found some of that elsewhere (if you looked really hard), but the immigrant crime wave, and specifically the Latin American rape culture, has never been written about until ADIOS, AMERICA!" (The Pew Research Council says that there were approximately 11.3 million undocumented workers in the United States in 2014; in Adios, America, Coulter disputes this data, which is derived from the census. Coulter arrives at her figure of "at least 30 million" by combining a 2005 report from two Bear Stearns analysts, which put the undocumented migrant population at around 20 million that year, with estimates from a Time magazine report that said the number of undocumented workers in the US had increased by three million in 2006. In Adios, America, Coulter assumes that the number of undocumented migrants increased by at least three million during each subsequent year. In late July 2015, Trump told MSNBC that he was "now hearing [the number is] 30 million—it could even be 34 million.")
Coulter has subsequently joined Trump on the campaign trail, occasionally opening for him at events. "I love the idea of a Great Wall of Trump," she said at a Trump rally in August 2015. "I want to have a two-drink minimum, make it a big worldwide tourist attraction, and every day live drone shows whenever anyone tries to cross the border."
Since then, Trump has sat at the top of the Republican polls, using immigration as a plan to carry him to the nomination. When his crowds die down, Trump routinely yells something along the lines of, "We're going to build a wall!" Writing about Coulter's influence in The Atlantic, Frum says, "Perhaps no single writer has had such immediate impact on a presidential election since Harriet Beecher Stowe."
"It's not about his personality—though I'm sure they like that Trump doesn't wilt like a little girl in a pink party dress when some journalist gets mouthy with him about 'anchor babies,' Mexican rapists, and a wall," Coulter says over email. "It's the fact that he's talking about keeping criminals, terrorists, and welfare recipients from overwhelming our country. And he'll make hedge fund managers pay the same tax rate that you and I do. And he'll bring manufacturing back to the US. And he's not being bossed around by the donor class—which is the only reason he's able to take all these very popular positions in the first place."
But despite Trump's hardline immigrant bashing, he's even appealing to some Latina voters. Cuban-American attorney AJ Delgado, for instance, is one of Trump's biggest supporters. The child of Cuban immigrants, Delgado grew up in Little Havana in Miami. She remembers only speaking Spanish until she was six. She went on to receive her undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and then attend Harvard Law School. She has since practiced law in New York City, and she says she finds Trump "sensible."
"Like African Americans, Latinos are the most impacted by illegal immigrants," Delgado says. "If you're a working-class immigrant, and you see your jobs going to illegal immigrants, then you do seem to see Trump as a hero."
[Trump's] being a bully to the bullies who have bullied all of us.
Delgado is not an anomaly, either. Last week in the New York Times, David Barstow profiled a Cuban-American Trump campaign volunteer named Mireya Linsky. She told Barstow she detests illegal immigrants who "come basically to see what they can get." At the Trump campaign office in Tampa, Florida, working with Linsky, Barstow also met "a young woman who recently arrived from Peru; an immigrant from the Philippines; a 70-year-old Lakota Indian; a teenage son of Russian immigrants; a Mexican-American." The volunteers came from across the political spectrum, too, ranging from Democrats to libertarians to conservative Republicans.
Delgado believes Trump is appealing to moderates. Although she is anti-abortion, Delgado holds relatively nuanced views on women's health issues: She has used Planned Parenthood and supports the organization. "I find it ironic the pro-life movement would go after Planned Parenthood," Delgado explains. "If you're pro-life you should like Planned Parenthood. They prevent many [unplanned pregnancies]." Although other commentators have worried about Trump starting a nuclear war, Delgado believes Trump will prevent more American conflict. "When you see someone who thinks the Iraq war is a mistake and [also] wants diplomacy with Russia, it's incredible," Delgado says. She considers Rubio a "neocon" who wants to use the military as the "police of the world."
Delgado and other female Trump supporters want the US government to stop worrying about other nations and focus on the people struggling at home. The Republican establishment has continually fucked over working-class Americans, and many women believe America needs a new political force to fix their problems. Because of his plans for "the wall," political incorrectness, and reality-TV bully persona, they think Trump is their man.
"[Trump's] being a bully to the bullies who have bullied all of us," Hughes says. "The bullies are the establishment."
Since CPAC, Marco Rubio has dropped out of the race, and Trump has won primaries in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina. Nevertheless, Trump's radical anti-immigrant rhetoric has alienated some older Republican women. At CPAC, an elderly woman named Maggie told me she considers Trump a racist. Her grandparents immigrated from Germany and Poland, and her Polish grandma started a bootlegging business that kickstarted her family's fortune. "The Kennedys had nothing on grandma," she says.
Maggie, though, is apparently in the minority.