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These first-time voters are all-in for Donald Trump
02:41 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

CNN reporters interviewed more than 150 people in 31 cities across the country about Trump

The goal: to document what is driving the Trump phenomenon

CNN  — 

They are showing up in droves to see Donald Trump: Men and women, overwhelmingly white, frustrated with the country’s first black president, fearful that they are being displaced by minorities and immigrants, and nostalgic for the way America used to be.

And Trump is thriving, tapping into the fears and anxieties that have erupted into the open in an extraordinary presidential campaign.

The voters pledging their allegiance to the Republican front-runner hail from all corners of the country. They work on farms, in nursing homes and run small businesses; they’ve voted for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama and participated in the tea party movement; they are high school students who will vote for the first time this November and retirees and veterans who came of age during World War II.

In Trump, these people see the next president of the United States.

His attitude, one voter said, is that he “seems to just not give a f—.” Trump’s nativist rhetoric and hardline immigration stance is a relief for those who see a segment of the population “getting away” with breaking the law. Post-San Bernardino, the candidate’s promise to “bomb the sh– out of ISIS” exudes an uncomplicated confidence rare in other politicians. His accomplishments in the business world offer reassurance that he’ll “put the economy back where it belongs.”

Perhaps most important is Trump’s imperviousness to the typical boundaries around race. He has made provocative remarks on the subject since the earliest days of his campaign – and his supporters are listening. They are rowdy, and at times, even violent. On more than one occasion, they’ve accosted protesters, lobbing racial slurs and physical abuse.

The following story attempts to capture the remarkable Trump phenomenon – and the anti-establishment anger, and the racial and economic fears beneath it – through the people who have flocked to Trump rallies since last summer. The voices were chosen from more than 150 people – including supporters and opponents of Trump – that CNN reporters interviewed in 31 cities across the country over the past few months and asked about some of the candidate’s more controversial statements.

These interviews provide a snapshot of a political movement unprecedented in modern politics. They reflect some of the loudest and most passionate defenders of Trump, a candidate who has said he has such deep loyalty among his supporters that he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Many people CNN interviewed were not turned off by Trump’s provocative remarks — but inclined to agree with his statements and his unvarnished approach to self-expression. There is no getting around the impression that for some, racial attitudes are fueling their support.

But there are also other factors feeding the enthusiasm: the belief that Americans are unsafe, and he will protect them; an appreciation for the simple good vs. evil worldview he presents; an admiration of his celebrity status and business background. And, above all, a faith that he will restore an America they feel has been lost to them, and dream of experiencing again.

Why can’t they follow the rules?

There’s widespread anger that too many immigrants are simply “getting away” with not playing by the rules at the expense of hard-working white Americans. Why do some people not pay taxes? Not have jobs? Come into the country illegally?

On October 21, a line had begun to form outside the Burlington Memorial Auditorium in southeast Iowa by mid-afternoon. Trump, at the time topping national and Iowa polls, was scheduled to speak at 6 p.m.

One of the people waiting in line – a woman in her 30s named Norma Sweet – stood out. She appeared to be the only non-white person waiting for Trump.

Sweet was there with her husband, Terry Sweet, who is more than 30 years her senior. They said Norma came to the country 13 years ago from the Philippines and that she has been a citizen for 8 years. Speaking with a CNN reporter, Terry proudly pointed to his wife as an example of immigration done “correctly.”

“It’s not fair to her to let the illegals stay here. She does everything right. She works, she pays taxes, she votes,” he said.

The couple said they both planned to vote for Trump.

This sentiment – that too many immigrants are bending the rules and even have a leg up on American-born citizens – is widespread among Trump supporters, despite laws that bar illegal immigrants from receiving benefits such as welfare, food stamps and Medicaid. These individuals have drawn comfort from Trump’s hardline immigration stance and his vow to create a system in which “no one is above the law.”

A November CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation survey captured the white frustration around race that Trump is tapping into. A majority of whites have a fundamentally different view of whether the federal government should ensure income equality between whites and minorities: 57% of whites said this was not the government’s burden, but a majority of African-Americans (67%) and Hispanics (63%) said it was.

Paul Weber of Appleton, Iowa, describing himself as “kind of a redneck” at an October Trump rally in Waterloo, said he was tired of the so-called “new Americans” flooding the country.

“The people that are coming in here from China, Indonesia and all of them countries, they’re getting pregnant and coming here and having babies,” Weber said, telling an Asian reporter that he meant no offense. “They get everything and the people that were born here can’t get everything.”

A woman named Deena from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, attending a Trump rally there in late November made the following analogy about illegal immigration.

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