Trump supporters identify economic woes as driving factor for support

“Macho Man” played between show-tunes from Phantom of the Opera as Trump rally attendees made their way through security just inside the doors of the Greater Richmond Convention Center on Saturday.

By the time former President Donald Trump took the stage at the campaign rally, the weekend before Super Tuesday, the exhibit hall was half full. Though the primary contest hadn’t been officially decided, Trump spent little time on the importance of voting on Tuesday, when Virginians will go to the polls to cast their choice for the nominee.

The crowd chanted “USA! USA!” as the former president took the stage, before he launched into an hours-long speech that jumped from topic to topic.

He sprinkled in rhetoric steeped in election denialism between jabs at President Joe Biden’s border and economic policy. He promised, if elected, to implement “MAGAnomics” complete with tax cuts. He sowed doubt in this country’s democratic process. He vowed to “not give one penny to any school that has a vaccine mandate or mask mandate.”

“2024 is our final battle,” he said. “We will liberate our country from these tyrants and villains once and for all.”

More: Virginia Voter Guide

Throughout the nearly two-hour speech, Trump cribbed mostly from his 2016 playbook. He called migrants terrorists and drug dealers and said he planned to seal the border as his first act in office. He called the free press the enemy of the people.

The audience joined him in booing or laughing with him as the “law and order” candidate made light of his 91 felony indictments. Those indictments include fraud, election tampering and the willful retention of classified documents.

“In the end, they’re not after me, they’re after you. I just happen to be standing in their way,” he said. “I stand before you today, not only as your past and hopefully future president but as a proud political dissident.”

For the first hour, the audience appeared to hang on every word. At the hour mark, groups began to trickle back out of the exhibit hall. It still hadn’t filled to capacity.

Economic dissatisfaction fueling Trump support

Linwood Johnson, 38, of Richmond, sat in one of the folding chairs inside of the exhibit hall before Trump took the stage.

“I’m looking at White America, the people who feel like they’re forgotten after Obama,” he said as he looked around.

Johnson voted for Biden in 2020 but said he plans to vote for Trump in 2024.

“I’m a Black man who lives in Richmond, Virginia, I’m voting Democrat,” he said of his voting record. “Biden didn’t do anything for us. I feel like we’re in a worse position now in America than we were before, and if Biden has been doing work, he hasn’t shown it well.”

He pointed to the higher cost of living as the motivation in his decision to switch from a Democratic voter to a Republican voter in the upcoming November election.

Lorie Smith, 43, and her 11-year-old son, Julien, took a break from standing in line to see Trump, to stand in line to get food and drinks at a coffee shop across from the convention center. They had traveled from Warsaw, Virginia, with their extended family to see the former president speak. She wore a black shirt that had a picture of Trump’s face on it, which read “Miss me yet?”

She had gotten the shirt in 2021 from an event in Orlando that she had attended with family. Trump’s speaking engagement had become a sort-of family gathering for her. Her motivation for supporting Trump is based on her view of the economy.

“Everybody seems to be suffering, especially with inflation,” she said. “I think people are tired and ready. Even if you don’t like Trump, I think you like the idea of not having Biden in office anymore.”

Julien had borrowed a sweatshirt from his aunt to wear to the rally. It had a picture of Trump, wearing a Christmas hat, surrounded in Christmas lights and it read, “It’s beginning to look a lot like you miss me.”

“I didn’t have anything Trump to wear so she gave me this to wear because I wanted to wear something Trump to go to the rally,” he said.

Julien won’t be old enough to vote in the November election, but he said he still supported the former president. His interest in politics began during the COVID-19 shutdowns. Lorie said the shutdowns were hard on children, and it’s something she and Julien had talked a lot about.

“Everything was easier back then,” he said, referring to the period when Trump was in office, and before COVID-19 halted everyday life. “When Biden was in office, inflation and gas prices went up and it’s been harder to get gas because it’s really high right now.”

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