LONG ISLAND, New York — Chris Schnupp saw Thursday’s GOP primary debate going one of two ways for his candidate of choice, the braggadocios, unrelentingly forthcoming Donald Trump. “He’ll kill himself tonight, or he’ll hit a home run,” Schnupp said prior to the debate.
While some think Trump came across as anything but presidential during the first Republican presidential debate, at a Trump watch party in Long Island Thursday night his supporters praised the real estate mogul and former reality TV star for being an atypical politician. Their unyielding support suggests Trump's run at the top of the polls among the GOP candidates is far from over. To his fans, a Trump presidency isn’t ludicrous, but rather an opportunity for a straightforward and shrewd businessman to bring fresh leadership to the White House.
“We’re no longer having great discourse … people just get offended,” Schnupp said. “Whether people like [Trump] or not … They’ll tell you he’s probably saying what he thinks.”
Inside the Trump party
Schnupp, 36, is the head of the New York chapter of Team Trump 2016, an organization of supporters -- about 1,400 strong -- smattered across the country who mainly organize online. You've probably see Team Trump posting on Facebook or Twitter, hashtagging that it’s time to Make America Great Again. Trump supporters say they aren't so different from you: They want a strong United States. For his debate watching party at his Farmingville, Long Island home, Schnupp served chicken wings and Yuengling lagers.
Inside the neat one-story suburban home, it was mostly quiet, the television noise interspersed with excited comments and Schnupp's cat scratching for treats in the kitchen. Everyone spread out on couches and got cozy for a couple of hours. Despite the prospect of free food and beer, only four of the group's 50-some invitees from the New York chapter showed up for the party. The rest followed along from home and chatted together online. As he watched his television, Schnupp tapped in spurts on his laptop perched atop a tray table, nodding along with comments coming in through the Facebook group.
Now involved in academia in Manhattan, Schnupp used to work in Queens, New York near LaGuardia Airport. He’d watch Trump’s plane take off and land, take off and land. He saw TRUMP plastered on buildings downtown. Schnupp said he admires Trump’s record as a businessman and said the billionaire talks about the things conservatives are too scared to voice. Schnupp, a former history teacher, compared Trump’s style to the brashness of Teddy Roosevelt.
Trump's divisive remarks, however, have often landed him in controversy. In his June campaign announcement speech, he spurred a firestorm by suggesting Mexico was sending rapists and drug dealers to the U.S. Trump repeatedly said the border has to be tightened and that the country needs a big wall to keep people out. Yet one Trump supporter in Long Island said she backs Trump despite her parents being immigrants from Ecuador.
“I agree with him 500 percent on immigration,” said Rosanna Pastor, a 42-year-old saleswoman with a sharp New York drawl who chirped affirmations to many of Trump’s points during the debate as she lounged on a sofa. “Everything that he said was 100 percent true … He was not lying. He was not exaggerating.”
Some critics, including a focus group on Fox post-debate, said Trump evaded questions during the debate, not addressing specific policy. But the Trump supporters in Long Island, and those posting away on Facebook, claimed he was getting unfair questions. One commenter on Facebook said the debate had turned into a Trump-bashing, Schnupp said. When moderator Megyn Kelly opened by asking Trump about his history of making disparaging comments toward women, his Long Island supporters were unfazed. They laughed when Trump said he only made fun of celebrity Rosie O’Donnell's weight. That's just Trump, they said.
When Trump later tossed barbs at Sen. Rand Paul or said he had given the other candidates “plenty of money,” the group snickered. When Trump said, “I don’t think [the other candidates] like me very much,” the group cracked up. When Trump bellowed matter-of-factly “We need to build a wall” to keep out immigrants, Geri Aloise, Schnupp’s wife, said “Yup.”
“I think there’s a great deal of momentum getting people talking,” Aloise, 37, said of Trump's campaign. Aloise has an MBA and, in part, she likes Trump because of his business background. “[There’s] still a great many on food stamps,” she said. Trump could boost the economy and get those people jobs, she said.
Whenever Trump wasn't centerstage during the debate featuring 10 Republican candidates, his supporters were impatient. At one point Euripides Kokolakis, 29, confidently said, “You’ll hear more him, I promise.” He wasn’t wrong.
The mogul went on to defend his business’ bankruptcies and suggest he donated to Hillary and Bill Clinton in the past in exchange for an appearance at his wedding.
Once the debate ended and the talking-head analysis began, the Trump supporters in Long Island prepared to head home. They all agreed it had been a pivotal night for Trump's campaign.
“I’m thinking home run,” Schnupp said.