The macho appeal of Donald Trump

Many of Trump's enduring supporters see him as forceful, unapologetic and a symbol of economic success

By Jennifer Medina
Published: Oct 15, 2020

trump macho appeal 1_bgSupporters of President Donald Trump pose for selfies with his son, Eric Trump, raising his fist in the background, at a campaign event organized by Latinos for Trump in Phoenix, Arizona, on Sept. 23, 2020. Though a majority of Latino voters favor Democrats, Hispanic men are a small but enduring part of Trump’s base; Image: Adriana Zehbrauskas/The New York Times

PHOENIX — They packed into the room to cheer their heroes.

The crowd of more than 100 hollered enthusiastically at Henry Cejudo, a local hero and Olympic gold medalist, the son of undocumented immigrants from Mexico who had gone on to become a mixed martial arts superstar.

But they were really there to celebrate President Donald Trump.

Wearing red Make America Great Again hats, several men held giant American flags and stood in front of several campaign signs: “Latinos for Trump,” “Cops for Trump” and another imploring them to text “WOKE” to get the latest information on the campaign.

In the words of Eric Trump, the president’s son and the headliner of the event, the battle is simple. It’s right versus wrong, he said, to a loud round of cheers.

“They are trying to cancel our voice, guys.”

Men are the core of Trump’s base. In polling, gender gaps exist in nearly every demographic: among white voters, among senior citizens, among voters without a college degree, men are far more likely than women to support his reelection. And little of that support has shifted in the days since Trump announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Polls suggest that this presidential election could result in the largest gender gap since the passage of the 19th Amendment a century ago.

Then there is one of the most enduring questions of the Trump appeal: Who are the nearly 30% of Hispanic voters who say they support him, despite his anti-immigration rhetoric and policies?

There is no one simple answer. Trump has strong backing from Cuban and Venezuelan exiles in South Florida, who like his stance against communism. And his campaign has heavily courted evangelical Latinos throughout the country. But no other group worries Democrats more than American-born Hispanic men, particularly those under the age 45, who polls show are highly skeptical of former Vice President Joe Biden.

Yet what has alienated so many older, female and suburban voters is a key part of Trump’s appeal to these men, interviews with dozens of Mexican-American men supporting Trump shows: To them, the macho allure of Trump is undeniable. He is forceful, wealthy and, most important, unapologetic. In a world where at any moment someone might be attacked for saying the wrong thing, he says the wrong thing all the time and does not bother with self-flagellation.

“I feel so powerful,” the president declared at a rally in Florida on Monday, standing in front of Air Force One. Lest anyone miss the message, the rally ended with “Macho Man” by the Village People blasting on the speakers.

Paul Ollarsaba Jr., a 41-year-old Marine veteran, voted for a Republican for the first time in 2016, won over by what he saw as Trump’s commitment to the military.

“I am Mexican,” Ollarsaba said, adding that for years he thought that meant he had to vote for Democrats. When he began supporting Trump in 2016, his family ostracized him. “My parents say: ‘Why are you supporting a racist? You’re Mexican, you have to vote this way,’” he said. “No, it’s my country. It’s fear, people are afraid of saying they support the president.”

Cejudo clearly had no such fear. When Trump hosted large rallies in Nevada last month, Cejudo joined several other MMA fighters who backed his campaign.

“I’ve been the biggest fan of him,” said Cejudo, 33, recalling watching “The Apprentice” in a high school class. “We need a businessman, we need somebody like this to run our country.”

Other attendees at the event with Cejudo and Eric Trump spoke of watching Trump on “The Apprentice,” saying they liked his strong style, his apparent confidence in his own opinions. In interviews, they said they viewed his actions as president much in the same way: Even those they do not wholeheartedly agree with, they see as further evidence of his strength.

They said they saw his defiance of widely accepted medical guidance in the face of his own illness not as a sign of poor leadership, but one of a man who does his own research to reach his own conclusion. They see his disdain for masks as an example of his toughness, his incessant interruptions during the debate with Biden as an effective use of his power.

Though Hispanic women overwhelmingly support Biden, Hispanic men appear to have a persistent discomfort, with polls showing him struggling to maintain more than 60% of the group, far below his average among nonwhite voters. (Polls show him still well ahead of Trump’s roughly 30% support from Hispanic voters.) Biden has not done enough to directly reach out to these young Latino men, Republican and Democratic strategists say.

“You have these U.S.-born Hispanic males under 40 who are pretty Trumpy, the question is why?” said Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant involved with the Lincoln Project, which is working to get Trump out of the White House.

Both parties have often focused their outreach efforts on white, working-class voters, though many Hispanic men share the same basic priorities. “They’re English dominant, they are facing very similar economic situations, listening to the same media,” Madrid said.

After facing months of persistent criticism that it was not doing enough to reach out to Latino voters, the Biden campaign has released several Spanish language advertisements in the last few weeks, including one featuring Bad Bunny, a pop star known for his gender-fluid style. Other advertisements focus heavily on the way Trump administration has targeted Latinos, a message that simply does not resonate among men who do not want to see themselves pitied.

Some Democrats argue that the support for Trump is an example of machismo culture, venerating traditional gender roles and a kind of hyper-masculinity. But the enthusiasm hints at some of the underlying trends among U.S.-born Latinos. More Hispanic women than men attend and graduate from college, while Hispanic men tend to be overrepresented in law enforcement institutions, including the military, the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Yet the admiration of Trump reveals something deeper as well. Democratic pollsters who have closely tracked Hispanic men say they are more likely to prioritize jobs and the economy and less likely to be concerned about immigration and racism. Many Hispanic men are singularly focused on earning a living, gaining an economic edge that they can pass on to their children. There is a deep belief in an up-by-your-bootstraps mentality — and that Trump did no such thing seems utterly beside the point.

“In the Latino community, you are defined by your ability to provide,” said Tomás Robles Jr., an executive director of Lucha, a progressive group that is campaigning for Biden and other Democrats in Arizona. “Folks who live in a perpetual state of economic insecurity want to look around and at least believe that you can do great in this economy. Biden needs to have a message that they matter, that he is going to create an economic reality they have the ability to make it.”

In interviews with scores of Hispanic Trump supporters at events in Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona over the last year, nearly everyone said their politics angered some friends and family, and rejected any suggestion that their support was based on anti-immigrant attitudes.

And it is not quite assimilation either: These men are proud to be Latino, children and grandchildren of Mexican immigrants specifically, and many have made an effort to continue speaking Spanish.

Many say there is some appeal in being a political curiosity and voting differently than the vast majority of Latinos.

Even Cejudo, the MMA star, told the enthusiastic crowd in South Phoenix that he had been shunned for his views, which had made him only more outspoken.

“Getting backlash as a Latino, you know what that tells me,” he said. “That there’s a lot of ignorance in this game.”

He told the group — supporters of a president whose first campaign was largely built on opposing illegal immigration — that his own mother came from Mexico “in a politically incorrect way.” He said his father was later deported, while his mother helped him nurture his dreams of becoming an Olympian.

Then he posed for pictures with a flashy bicep flex.

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©2019 New York Times News Service

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