FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The Republican establishment, after his three Tuesday night wins, continues to fret that Donald Trump is costing the party support among the demographics it most needs to court: Hispanics and women. And the candidate's behavior at a rally here Wednesday night — his second in the state this week — didn't give them any reason to feel comfortable with the idea of him becoming the nominee. It was another exercise in eviction. "This is lots more fun than a Trump rally, right?” the GOP front-runner yelled, watching as police in the Crown Coliseum forcibly removed protesters. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday showed 60 percent of voters think Trump is hurting the GOP's image. Some conservatives echoed those concerns at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington last weekend.
But Republican primary voters in the NBC/WSJ poll were almost evenly split about whether Trump is positive or harmful to the party. Plenty of Trump's supporters, especially women for whom the economy is more important than social issues, told Roll Call they believe Trump is actually widening the GOP tent by bringing in not just new voters, but voters who see him as more willing to negotiate than Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
“He has the potential to ultimately enlarge our party,” Michelle Eichelberg, a retired public school teacher from California's Bay Area, said in Pittsboro, N.C. “And I don’t know why the establishment is fighting him so much," added Eichelberg, now the volunteer chair for the Chatham County GOP.
Stephanie Grabey, who is in her 40's, has never been very involved in politics. But with Trump running for president, this year is different. She’s an unaffiliated voter, and she’s fully in Trump’s camp. She and her 9-year-old daughter turned out, in Trump T-shirts, for the opening of Trump’s Raleigh headquarters last weekend ready to help the GOP front-runner win the Tar Heel state's primary on March 15. (The latest polls show Trump leading Cruz.)
But what about the things Trump has said about women, including Fox News' Megyn Kelly? "I don’t care — and I know that sounds brash — but I don’t care what he thinks about women," Grabey said. "The government has done us so wrong, that I don’t even care about that." Much has been made of Trump’s ability to energize Americans who have never before been active participants in the political process. But they're not the only ones flocking to Trump. A number of women and immigrants in North Carolina and Virginia said in interviews they are attracted to his business experience and his willingness to put economic issues and immigration ahead of social issues.
Arlette Graux, an elderly woman from Paris who settled in North Carolina after living and working in the Middle East and Washington, showed up to Trump's headquarters in Raleigh to find out how to help the campaign. She's not concerned about Trump's rhetoric. “Margaret Thatcher was a female Donald Trump,” she said.
“We all know arrogant men. So what,” Raleigh resident Shelly Micyus, 54, said in an interview at the Wake County GOP Convention Tuesday night in Raleigh. She considers herself a conservative, but she likes that Trump has carved out some middle ground on Planned Parenthood and recognizes that the organization does "some good work."
Perhaps most significant for Trump's ability to grow his base, these female voters said they make a distinction between what Trump says on the campaign trail and what he’ll be like as president.
“I know he says really outrageous things,” said Eichelberg. “I don’t pay too much attention to his antics. I think that’s just part of the campaign. I think once he gets in, and I do think he’ll get in, you’re going to see a real difference," she said, pointing out that Trump seemed more presidential on Super Tuesday.
“I wouldn’t say it bothers me, but it could have gone another way,” said Maha Nafees, 22, an intern leader at Trump’s Raleigh headquarters, when asked about Trump’s treatment of Kelly. “I don’t believe he’s actually saying anything to hurt anybody.”
“He’s not a saint, none of us are saints," said Ram and Seetha Bashyam, an Indian couple in their 80's, who immigrated to the United States in the mid 1980s. The two showed up at Trump's Raleigh headquarters last Saturday to stock up on lawn signs. Both former Democrats, t he couple said Trump should not be attacking reporters but went on to blame the media for blowing Trump's comments out of proportion, especially his proposed ban on Muslims entering the country. "And this Hispanic thing. All Trump is against and all the rest of us are against," said Eichelberg, are "the illegal Hispanics." “It’s not like we hate these people,” echoed Grabey.