‘Trump needs us’: People of color at Trump’s Des Moines rally talked about why they support him

Supporters watch the president speak during the Trump rally at the Des Moines International Airport, Oct. 14, 2020. — Anjali Huynh/Little Village

Andrew Rohde had many things in common with the almost 4,000 other supporters of Donald Trump at the president’s reelection rally at the Des Moines International Airport last week. But he differed in one key way: the 18-year-old was born in Mexico.

“This is the greatest nation in the world, nothing’s better, and Donald Trump really stands for everything in my beliefs about us being able to keep our rights,” Rohde told Little Village as he waited for the president to arrive. “Just having gone through the process of being an American, it drove me to have some serious pride for this country.”

Rohde said he supports the southern border wall Trump has promoted since the 2016 presidential campaign, calling it an “incredible idea so we can know who’s coming in the country.” (During the rally, the president recycled his often-repeated lie that Mexico will pay for the wall’s construction.)

Rohde immigrated to the U.S. as a child, and grew up in Nevada, Iowa. A member of the Iowa National Guard, he plans to attend Iowa State University.

Trump is well-known for his hostile rhetoric towards Mexicans and migrants from other Latin American countries, as well as U.S. citizens of Hispanic heritage. He famously kicked off his presidential campaign in June 2015 with a speech in which he claimed, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Rohde said that kind of language doesn’t bother him.

“Every group has its bad apples,” he explained. “There’s evil in this world, and it usually stands out a lot more than the good. [Trump’s words] don’t bother me because I know that we’re not all perfect.”

Trump’s racist and xenophobic statements as a candidate in 2016 and as president haven’t solely focused on Latinx people. As president, Trump has called countries with majority non-white populations “shitholes,” defended white supremacists as “very fine people” and attacked some congresswomen of color, asking “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came?”

But with the election looming, Trump has attempted to make headway with minority communities in diverse states like Georgia, where he’s held events that specifically targeted Black voters. At a Sept. 25 rally in Atlanta, Trump promised voters he’d create three million jobs for Black Americans and increase support for Black-owned businesses if re-elected.

“What do you have to lose?” Trump said at the rally, repeating a line he’d used to try to appeal to Black voters in 2016.

Trump didn’t include any appeals aimed at minority voters at the airport rally in Des Moines. That’s not surprising, given that 90 percent of Iowans are white. But he didn’t need to in order to secure Chuck Evans’ support.

“In the last four years, Trump has made a change that these other guys before him couldn’t get it right,” Evans, a 45-year-old Black man who drove in from Omaha for the rally, said. “He put America first where my kind is starting to eat, we’re starting to get treated fair.”

Trump supporters waiting for the president to arrive at the rally at the Des Moines International Airport, Oct. 14, 2020. — Anjali Huynh/Little Village

Some recent polls have shown Trump making some gains among voters of color, particularly among Black and Hispanic men, even though Biden remains far ahead.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Black voters by 82 percentage points, according to exit poll data. In recent polls, Biden is leading Trump in that demographic by 71 percentage points on average in recent national polls, according to an analysis by the data journalism site FiveThirtyEight. Among Hispanic voters, Clinton won by 37 percentage points, but FiveThirtyEight found Biden led by 23 percentage points, per recent poll averages.

Trump’s gains in those demographics, however, are more than offset by his loss of support among white voters, FiveThirtyEight reported.

It’s not clear why Trump appears to be doing better within these demographics this time. Rohde talked about feeling Trump aligned with his values, and Evans cited Trump improving life for people “like him.” Other people of color at the rally credited Trump’s version of law-and-order and his restrictive immigration policies for their support.

“He supports our police, and I’m a big supporter of our law enforcement,” said Sean Cortlandt, a student at Des Moines Area Community College. Cortlandt was born in South Korea and adopted by a family from the U.S.

A woman who immigrated from Vietnam and now lives in Des Moines said, “He’s done a lot to stop bad people from not coming here. I’m an immigrant, but I came the legal way, so I wish everyone did that the right way.”

She declined to give her name, saying she was worried her businesses might be hurt if customers knew she was attending a Trump rally.

Trump will be the first person she’s ever voted for since becoming a U.S. citizen in 1998. She said she’s excited to engage in the electoral process for the first time, explaining, “Trump needs us.”

While there were only a handful of people of color among the thousands at the Des Moines rally, white Trump supporters were more than willing to share why they think the president’s appeal should extend beyond his overwhelmingly white base.

“The Republican Party is accused of not supporting racial things, but Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and he freed the slaves,” said Mason Holsman, a white 19-year-old from Peosta, Iowa. “When you actually talk about helping minorities, it’s usually been the Republican Party.”

People in the overflow area of President Trump’s rally in Des Moines, Oct. 14, 2020. — Anjali Huynh/Little Village

It’s telling, perhaps, that when Trump supporters want to explain what the GOP has done for people of color, they frequently cited Lincoln and the Civil War-era Republican Party, instead of anything that’s happened in the last 150 years.

Trump, for his part, has often invoked Lincoln as his peer among presidents. But during an interview with Fox News in June, Trump suggested he’d actually done more for Black Americans than Lincoln, since the results of Lincoln’s actions were “questionable.”

“So, I think I’ve done more for the Black community than any other president, and let’s take a pass on Abraham Lincoln, cause he did good, although it’s always questionable,” Trump said.

“You know, in other words, the end result.”

The interviewer was Harris Faulkner, one of the few Black correspondents at Fox News, who gently pushed back on Trump questioning the end results of Lincoln’s actions.

“Well, we are free, Mr. President,” she said. “He did pretty well.”

“But we are free,” Trump replied. “You understand what I mean. So I’m gonna take a pass on Abe, Honest Abe, as we call him.”

Trump did not mention Lincoln at the rally in Des Moines. He did, however, reassure voters that his current talking point about how he “saved the suburbs” by making it more difficult to build low-income housing — widely recognized as a barely veiled attempt to stoke white fears — is not racist.

“So this has nothing to do with discrimination,” Trump said to reassure the crowd. “It has nothing to do with anything.”