Female Trump fans explain why they back him, despite ‘sexism’ rows

Olly Owen and her daughter Kendall at the Donald Trump rally at the JS Dorton Arena in Raleigh North Carolina on the eve of election day, Monday November 6. 2016. By Ben Lowry
Olly Owen and her daughter Kendall at the Donald Trump rally at the JS Dorton Arena in Raleigh North Carolina on the eve of election day, Monday November 6. 2016. By Ben Lowry
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Donald Trump was fiercely criticised during the election campaign for some of the sexist comments that he had made over the years.

On election day, he polled better than expected among female voters, although he still picked up a smaller share of that vote than among men.

Donald Trump speaks at the rally at the JS Dorton Arena in Raleigh North Carolina on the eve of election day, Monday November 6. 2016. By Ben Lowry

Donald Trump speaks at the rally at the JS Dorton Arena in Raleigh North Carolina on the eve of election day, Monday November 6. 2016. By Ben Lowry

Even so, he outpolled Hillary Clinton among women who lack a college degree.

On the day before voting, I attended an eve-of-poll rally in North Carolina where plenty of women were present – as many women and girls in the crowd, it seemed, as there were men and boys.

There was a jubilant, family atmosphere at the event in Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, which was seen as a swing state but in the end was won by Mr Trump by a clear margin of 4%.

I asked some of the women present at the JS Dorton Arena if they had been concerned by his remarks about women, such as the recorded conversation in which he talked about his success with attractive females and their receptiveness to being grabbed by him. Many critics characterised the comments as a description of assault.

Wendy Kelly and her daughter Stormy Smith at the Donald Trump rally at the JS Dorton Arena. 2016. By Ben Lowry

Wendy Kelly and her daughter Stormy Smith at the Donald Trump rally at the JS Dorton Arena. 2016. By Ben Lowry

None of the women that I spoke to at Raleigh let such controversies cloud their view of Mr Trump.

Heidi Toma, who was present with her daughter Raquel and niece Nadia, said: “It’s propaganda. He’s been tagged unfairly. Many women have risen to the top of his organisations, of all ethnicities.”

Wendy Kelly and her daughter Stormy Smith also defended Mr Trump.

Stormy said: “We’ve all said some pretty outrageous things, but what he has said has been in the spotlight.”

Heidi Toma and her daughter Raquel at the Donald Trump rally at the JS Dorton Arena in Raleigh North Carolina on the eve of election day, Monday November 6. 2016. By Ben Lowry

Heidi Toma and her daughter Raquel at the Donald Trump rally at the JS Dorton Arena in Raleigh North Carolina on the eve of election day, Monday November 6. 2016. By Ben Lowry

Outside the stadium, Shanley Howrigan, a student aged 21, said that she was concentrating on the Republican candidate’s platform. “I’m voting on policy, not feelings,” she said. “I like his proposals, strengthening our national security, borders, stricter vetting for immigration.”

Kendall Owen and her mother Olly also said that they were not deterred by the controversies and liked his overall outlook.

“He’s speaking the truth,” said Kendall. “He has balls.” She added: “Hillary’s corrupt, she’s a crook.”

The main difference between Monday’s event and a Democratic Party rally I attended the day before in Osceola Heritage Park Stadium, Orlando was race, not gender.

Shanley Howrigan, a student, 21, outside the Donald Trump rally at the JS Dorton Arena in Raleigh. By Ben Lowry

Shanley Howrigan, a student, 21, outside the Donald Trump rally at the JS Dorton Arena in Raleigh. By Ben Lowry

There were thousands of men and women at both events – the JS Dorton Arena holds 8,000 people, the Orlando event 11,000.

President Barack Obama had delighted the Florida crowd with an often humorous but emphatic speech in support of the woman who had fought him bitterly for the Democratic nomination in 2008.

But while his audience was racially mixed – around a third Hispanic, a third black and a third white, with a small a smattering of Muslim women wearing headscarves – the Raleigh crowd was almost entirely white.

North Carolina does not have a significant Hispanic population but it has a large African American community, who make up a quarter of the residents of Raleigh.

Another difference between the Trump rally and the Obama rally in Florida, or with a Hillary Clinton rally later that night, also in Raleigh, was the abusive content of the Trump speech.

It was not so much aggressive in tone as casually abusive, and he said nothing that you have not read about or seen on TV on the far side of the Atlantic.

Mr Trump encouraged the crowd in its periodic chant of: “Lock [Hillary] up, lock her up”

There was no equivalent talk at the pro-Clinton rallies, such as the Orlando one, but Mr Trump’s unsuitability for office was repeatedly raised.

Mr Trump also repeatedly attacked the media as the “most dishonest people ever”, pointing to the pen in which we were located.

He attacked the cameras for never turning round to pan the stadium and show the size of the crowd.

He had begun his speech with an inflated claim about thousands of people outside still trying to get into the stadium but adding that it was best to start the rally even so.

I had been outside the arena moments before the event began and there were scores of people around, some selling campaign merchandise, but no crowds trying to get in.

During his 45-minute speech, Mr Trump’s calls for a wall to be built on the Mexican border (“and Mexico will pay”) met roars of approval, and perhaps the biggest cheer went to his vow to suspend the Syrian refugee programme.

Despite the inflammatory rhetoric, it wasn’t uncomfortable being in the media pen.

The people I later talked to from the crowd were not in the least hostile to a journalist.

One elderly man did politely decline to speak to me “because you are in the media” and the media would distort what he said.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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