On a warm summer day in Cleveland, Ohio, a pair of middle-aged African-American women are holding a crowd in their thrall. As their voices ring out across a lush green park, their patter, a well-rehearsed rhythmic call-and-response performance, is focused on a man they adore – Donald Trump.
“Vote for Trump the businessman, he’s the one with the master plan!’’ The crowd, mostly older white men waving “Hillary for Prison” T-shirts, is hooting and hollering their approval.“The more people throw hate, the more you need to ed-u-cate!”
And education is what these two women are focused on. That is: passionately educating voters on why they should help elect a real estate magnate turned reality star turned political firebrand to the White House. They go by the nom de YouTube of “Diamond and Silk” and in a matter of months they’ve become superstars among Trump supporters.Real names Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, their pro-Trump YouTube channel (“The Viewers View”) has been viewed more than nine million times and The Donald himself regularly flies them around the country as a warm-up act for his rallies. In an unlikely campaign, they have become unlikely cheerleaders for a man who seems to relish his sexist image.
Today in Cleveland they are one of the headliners at the America First Unity Rally, an event organised by conservative action group Citizens for Trump. Every line they hurl from stage is a verbal love-child born of a hot July-night tryst between Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream”, Barry White’s “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby”, and Johnnie Cochran’s “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.”
This gathering is happening only blocks away from the gargantuan sports arena where the official Republican National Convention is in full balloon-festooned swing. There, tens of thousands of the party faithful are in the midst of officially anointing Trump to be their candidate for president. But this rally is explicitly for diehard, predominantly blue collar Trump supporters. Which is why I am here: to meet diehard female Trump fans and try to understand their unwavering support for the candidate with a well-known ‘‘woman problem’’.
Trump has said the secret to managing women is “to treat ’em like shit”
It’s no secret Trump is a man who publicly refers to women he finds unattractive as pigs, dogs, and “disgusting animals”. When running against former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina for the Republican presidential nomination last year, Trump suggested she didn’t have what it takes to be a leader because she was ugly.
Annoyed by a tough question tossed his way by Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly during a debate, he later suggested that she had been tough because she had “blood coming out of her wherever”. He has repeatedly suggested the responsibility for male infidelity lies with women for not properly “satisfying” their husbands. In 2011, he walked out of a court deposition after a female lawyer asked to take a three-minute break to pump breast milk, declaring the practice “disgusting”. Earlier this year, he said that if he were president a woman getting an abortion would face “some form of punishment”. And in his book The Art Of The Comeback he reasoned that all women are gold diggers, which likely explains why he was once quoted as saying the secret to managing women was “you have to treat ’em like shit”.
Unfortunately, there just aren’t that many women at the rally. I’m not the only person disappointed.
I have waited all summer to meet some real live ‘Break the Internet’ Trump girls,” a young man named Tom tells me conspiratorially as we stand in the Ohio sunshine.
He is referring to the social media movement launched by the pro-Trump camp, which encourages women to show their support for The Donald by posting hot selfies online. As a result, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are now rife with groups like Babes4Trump, Trump Hotties and RumpsforTrump, all of which revel in provocative shots of female Trump supporters (it appears these accounts were created by men).
Hence, the number one reason most of today’s attendees have travelled across the country for the rally is “to meet a #TrumpGirlsBreakTheInternet girl”.
The hashtag – and broader movement –highlights the confusing and fraught role women play in Trump’s campaign. Never before has a political race traded on the perceived hotness of female supporters in a quest to build political capital. However, the women posting the shots seem comfortable flaunting their sexuality to bolster Trump’s political ambitions, saying the images are simply an amusing means to an end.
“The selfies are a really fun way to get the message out about Donald Trump,” explains Sarah Hagmayer, national spokesperson for Students For Trump. Hagmayer has posted various shots of herself and her sister wearing patriotic bikinis in all weathers (including in the snow). As we chat, she assures me that the Trump camp would never objectify women. When I ask if this is an odd statement considering the cleavage selfies she and her organisation, which boasts more than 280 chapters and over 5000 volunteers, promote, she seems truly taken aback. Asked what message the selfies send, Hagmayer doesn’t hesitate. “The message is that Trump will make America great again.”
Why is she supporting Trump? “I love his policies!” she chirpily responds. And what are some of those policies? It fast becomes clear that firstly, she can’t really name any other than maybe building a wall between the US and Mexico, and that secondly, no-one has ever asked her that before.
If “beautiful women = patriotism” seems a bizarre message for a presidential candidate, it does seem to have motivated a lot of men to drive to Cleveland and this rally. Ironically, it also seems to have motivated most women to be nowhere in the vicinity; the crowd is almost entirely white males.
However, somewhere in among the sea of beards is Jan Morgan, proud Trump supporter, Fox News contributor, gun range owner and speaker at today’s rally. According to Morgan, the need for a Trump presidency transcends what she sees as women being “politically correct”. “I don’t care what Donald Trump thinks or says about women. Frankly, I think it’s pathetic that anyone would.”
Today she is dressed entirely in black and white. The pistol that pokes out of her belt, black-barrelled and pearlhandled, looks like it was purchased as an accessory to her outfit. Her message is simple: “Hillary will take your guns away; Donald will let you keep them.”
Morgan tells me later that women like Donald Trump because “safety and security is important to them”. “The women who support Donald Trump care first and foremost about their family’s safety,” explains Melissa Deckman, chair and professor of Political Science at Washington College and author of Tea Party Women. “They see immigrants and Muslim extremists as very real threats, and they’re looking for someone to protect them.”
Deckman’s findings matched perfectly my conversations with the small number of women at the America First Unity Rally. For them, Trump’s promises to build walls and ban Muslims are the commonsense solutions they believe stand between their children growing into prosperity and falling victim to violence.
None of these women could name a single Trump policy besides building a wall, mass deportation of immigrants and a ban on Muslims entering thecountry. Despite not knowing how any of the three could be legally, logistically or financially realised, they’re adamant Trump will accomplish them all in his first 100 days in office.
For a man seemingly so hopped up on testosterone, women have played a high profile role in Trump’s race to the White House: including his wife, Melania, daughter, Ivanka, and press secretary, Hope Hicks.
Hicks remains something of an enigma. Prior to this position, the 27-year-old had never worked in politics. In fact, she first entered the Trump family orbit when in 2012, the PR firm employee was tasked with helping Ivanka expand her fashion line. Then, in early 2015, as her mother, Caye Cavender Hicks, told The New York Times, “Mr Trump sat her down and said, ‘This is your new job.’ It was a shocker.”
Now, the unlikely press secretary contends daily with hundreds of media requests, while managing the reverberations of the various, and often confusing, salvos her boss regularly lobs into the political ether. (Earlier this year, Trump put out five different policy positions on abortion in three days.)
Like the other women in the Trump inner circle (namely Melania and Ivanka), Hicks is a former model. Put simply, Trump likes to surround himself with attractive women. An investigation by The New York Times revealed that in the workplace “he occasionally interrupted routine discussions of business to opine on women’s figures … Whenever possible, [he] wanted his visitors to see his most attractive employees.”
However, the women in his life have been nothing if unwavering in their support of the billionaire. Both Melania and Ivanka took centrestage during the convention to sell the 70-year-old to the female voters. Melania delivered a one-line pitch directed to wives, girlfriends, and single women everywhere. “Donald,” insisted Melania to the darkened sea of faces before her, “is intensely loyal.” The pitch that Trump is “loyal” is both curious and jarring, coming from the third wife of a man infamous for both his extramarital dalliances and his history of divorcing older wives in order to pursue younger ones. Even in the pro-Trump convention hall, eyebrows raise.
The women in Trump’s life are staunch in their support, rallying the female vote
Back across town at the Republican candidate’s rally, Diamond and Silk are finishing up. “Are we on the Trump train? Are we all aboard?”
“All aboard!” voices in the crowd yell.
The event security team is stationed around the stage. Instead of using police, the Trump camp is using members of the group Bikers for Trump, a loose affiliation of motorcycle gangs who support The Donald. They are dressed like extras from a Sons Of Anarchy episode, and they line up in front of the crowd, sunglasses on and burly arms crossed, scowling at the crowd as if daring someone – anyone – to approach the stage.
But despite speakers trying to get the crowd riled up throughout the day, most of the men around me aren’t even pretending to pay attention to the stage. They’re focused on the three women the crowd has dubbed the Trump Babes, who appear to be paid models imported by one of the rally’s sponsors. They stand to the side of the stage, still visible to the audience, so that if someone was filming it would give the illusion that Trump fans are all beautiful young women. Together, the Trump Babes consist of one blonde, one brunette, and one redhead, because, of course, they do.
Later, a woman takes the stage to give a heartfelt talk about the tragic loss of her son, a young man brutally murdered by an illegal immigrant. What she lacks in public-speaking experience she makes up for in emotion. The crowd palpably grieves with her. Meanwhile, the Trump Babes don’t seem interested; instead they’re taking smiling selfies of themselves to Tweet to the world.
I restart a conversation with Tom, the scruffy young guy in his mid-20s from Indiana who was on the hunt for #TrumpGirlsBreakTheInternet starlets. Tom tells me he never cared for politics until this year. I ask him about his “Hillary for Prison’’ T-shirt. Does he really want Trump to lock up Hillary Clinton? “Of course not,” he says, as he shakes his head, “That’s just what the T-shirt said when I bought it.” We stand quietly watching the crowd for a moment before he adds, “I think Hilary needs to be publicly hanged.” Then he turns on his heel and heads back into the crowd. He’s off to “find some babes”. Good luck with that.