My Afternoon with the Women Who Won't Quit Trump
For these Las Vegas women, the narrative about their candidate's struggles and sexism is manufactured by the media.
All photos by the author
"I see a lot of women in the audience," Lara Trump told the crowd at Las Vegas's South Point Casino, during her turn at the Women For Trump rally Tuesday afternoon. She paused, playing dumb. "But I thought women didn't vote for Donald Trump..."
And the full house devoured it, with a side of hoots. Because for the most part they were women, and they were going to vote for Trump—never mind the polls, the media, the very good chance that women will hand the White House to Clinton. This was a safe space, one where by the logic that would come to govern the event, that which could be proven superficially was utterly true. Women would vote for Trump, because they were voting for Trump.
"I'm married to Eric," Lara continued, referring to Donald's son.
An older woman in a tight red dress in the front row shot up. "He's so sweet!" she yelled with open palms.
"Thank you, he is so sweet," Lara brushed back her hair. "But so I didn't expect any of this. I grew up in North Carolina. My parents have been small business owners my whole life. I grew up a in a very normal existence. I'm a very normal person, by the way. Very normal..."
South Point is at the far end of the Vegas strip*, and the Trump event was by far its biggest attraction of the day (the World Gay Rodeo Finals would not start until the 20th). It was a showcase of the Trump campaign's most diverse surrogates: Lyyne Patton, the black vice president of the Eric Trump Foundation; Katrina Pierson, a spokesperson known for her willingness to say strange and factually inaccurate things; Omarosa, the Apprentice contestant who is now Trump's director of African-American outreach; and the YouTube duo Diamond and Silk, a pair of black sisters who have travelled the country giving pro-Trump speeches.
Forget the "grab them by the pussy" tape, forget the sexual assault accusations that are brushed off by most loyal Trump supporters. (One former flight attendant of 30 years told me she found the New York Times story of Trump's mid-air groping incredulous because, clearly, a flight attendant would have come to that woman's aid.) This was a place where Donald is beloved, where Eric—who recently waved off his dad's ugly statements about harassing women as a sign that he was an "alpha"—was "sweet," where America was about to be made great again.
This was also a place where interviews could turn into arguments, and arguments could turn circular. Sondra Lynch, a 64-year-old woman for Trump who met the candidate while working at a Vegas Gucci store in the 1980s, spent part of the rally thrusting a button reading "I'm an Adorable Deplorable" at the stage and yelling, "I'm adorable! I'm adorable!" She told me she hadn't heard the 2005 tape that everyone has been talking about for two weeks straight.
"I was out of the country," she said.
"Do you not want to hear the tape?" I pressed her.
"It's not that, it's that I was in Ireland, like I said. I don't want to hear it."
"But what if it might make you switch your vote?"
"But you haven't heard it."
"I don't want to."
"But you've heard about the content, you've heard what he says?"
"I haven't heard him verbally say it, I've heard other women say it."
"But you do know that on the tape... he says that that's OK to do."
"No. I have not heard that. I was out of the country."
"Are you aware of the content of the tape? Is what I'm asking."
"...I don't see how that's possible."
"I was in Ireland."
Our host for the afternoon was Patricia Martinelli-Price, 64, a third-generation Vegas native whose father Al "used to run Las Vegas, and that's all I'm saying." Her wild platinum hair belied a reasonable demeanor. "Vegas sells a lot of sex," she said. She'd done time as a lounge singer herself and hence—she gestured—her habit of displaying cleavage.
Being a woman of the world, she wasn't particularly bothered by Trump's bawdy talk. She has heard her son speak that way en route to the golf course. She has heard women talk that way about men's "buns." Her gay friend has sent her a picture of his boyfriend's penis. She used to hear her father talk that way. "Not in front of me, yes, but I would hear him when i was trying to sleep and he was talking to his friends on the phone." Just the other day, she said, a muscular man saw her Women for Trump button and told her, in so many words, that if she wore that she must like cunnilingus, and that he was a guy who was sure good at it.
At any rate, she said, America was a business and should be run like one, by a businessman.
"On the first episode of The Apprentice, do you know the task that he gave us?" Omarosa asked the crowd. "He sent the 16 of us out to sell lemonade on the street corner. He gave us the lemons, he gave us sugar and he said, 'Look: This is all you got and you gotta make the most of it.'"
By that point she was almost inaudible over this crowd's cheering. "We have been given a big ole basket of lemons in this country for the last seven years," Omarosa bellowed, "but the true spirit of the American people is we're able to take those lemons and make a hell of a glass of lemonade."
If you asked yourself during the second debate how this many people could possibly be undecided, how many of Trump's supporters remain unmoved by all the evidence that he is at best a creepy, undisciplined braggart and at worst, well, something much worse—just spend some time inside a bubble like this, where all men really do talk like that and where everything Trump does is great, and where they literally can't hear the haters.
"Nobody move," an organizer said from the podium when the speaking was done. He wore a baggy suit. "Nobody move. You are the most beautiful crowd. We love you. The girls are going to come stand down there. You are so beautiful. We've got to take some pictures with you. Nobody move."
Update 10/20: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that South Point wasn't on the Vegas strip.