When I asked one neatly dressed pair of attendees whether Trump had been their first choice, both of them made you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me faces while drawing their chins sharply back into their necks. “Oh no, no, no,” said Katie, a 26-year-old who wore a pink-and-blue dress printed with elephants and gold elephant earrings, her shoulder-length blond hair tucked behind her ears. “Or second, or third, or fourth, or fifth.” (Katie did not want to give her last name because she was afraid Trump supporters might come after her for speaking her mind about the candidate.)
“I’m a Republican that wants to see face to face what this is all about,” said her companion, Brian Rauso, 49, who would have liked to see Jeb Bush atop the ticket instead. Both were hoping to see a different Trump than they’d read about and seen on TV—kinder, gentler, one they could bring themselves to vote for.
“It’s scary, but it’s what we have,” Katie said with a sigh. “It’s like when you’re going to break up with someone and you make a list of pros and cons. Sometimes one list is only one tick longer than the other.”
Behind them, a knot of matching white T-shirts read, “Chinese Americans (Heart) Trump!” A nearby section of seating was occupied by activists wearing shirts printed with the faces of people killed by illegal immigrants.
“Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for Hillary,” Aaron Mendoza, a 38-year-old business owner from South Beach, told me. He switched parties to vote for Trump and didn’t see himself as a “typical Republican.” “For me, this is like a whole new party,” he said approvingly.
His husband of 17 years, Mike Mendoza, added that he approved of Trump’s stances on guns, terrorism, and immigration. “When my great-grandfather came from Italy to Ellis Island, they made sure he wasn’t a criminal first,” he said.
The Mendozas saw Trump as accepting of gay rights; a few yards away stood Kevin Smith, a 47-year-old inventor and Christian worship leader, who believed the opposite. “As Christian Americans, getting rid of same-sex marriage, that’s huge for us,” he said. (In fact, on gay and transgender issues, Trump has been all over the map.)
Smith told me he’s been married for 21 years to a Mexican woman who immigrated illegally but now has a green card. “I love Mexican culture. I’m like half Mexican,” he said. But his wife did not accompany him to the rally. “She doesn’t like him—she finds him too abrasive,” he sighed. Smith agreed with Trump about building a wall on the border.
As Trump began to speak, I looked around. I was standing next to an older man with thick gray mutton chops and a black military-veteran cap, and a guy with an eyepatch, a cowboy hat, and a Disney T-shirt bearing the slogan, “Every Day Is a Grumpy Day.” Whatever else he accomplishes, Trump has made the GOP weird again.