He may be derided by pundits and mocked by opponents, but GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has followers so devoted that they’re willing to send him money — even though he never asked for any.
The billionaire businessman said he would fund his own campaign so he wouldn’t be beholden to any donors, which has turned out to be a great way to get funding from ordinary folks enthralled by his business acumen and fighting spirit and believing he is the only candidate in the race who can make America great again.
His campaign collected $3.9 million from July to September, according to the Federal Election Commission. And 75 percent of those campaign contributions came in amounts of $200 or less.
“I think Donald Trump is the only one for America,” said Rita Montesi from Cordova, Tennessee, who sent Mr. Trump $500. “America used to be a great country; it’s no longer a great country. He’s a businessman, he knows how to negotiate, he says what he thinks I think it’s either him or I don’t know what.”
Ms. Montesi, who owns an industrial supply store, said she contributed because she wants to “stand up and be counted” among Mr. Trump’s supporters. She put his bumper sticker on her car, attended his rally in Franklin, Tennessee, and is actively campaigning for him.
“This is the first time I have ever had this passion for anyone,” she said. “This really is a phenomenon. The establishment and media laughed at him and thought he was a joke, but trust me, he is no joke. If the Republican Party doesn’t embrace him, I won’t be with the Republican Party.”
On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump insists there is a “silent majority [who] wants this country to have victories again.” Ms. Montesi and a dozen other Trump supporters interviewed by The Washington Times say they are a part of that group — and Mr. Trump has given them the confidence not to be silent any longer.
They express frustration over how the U.S. is perceived by foreign nations — weak and listless — under President Obama’s direction. They say their taxes are wasted in Washington and their Christian beliefs are being targeted. They feel they have been swept away in a tide of political correctness.
And they see in Mr. Trump a champion willing to fight all of that.
“People like courage, and a lot of these candidates don’t have the chutzpah Trump has,” said William Ritchie, a retired editor for the Yellow Pages who has donated to Mr. Trump’s campaign. “We haven’t had someone who will stand up and fight for us. Trump is a forceful personality and is not afraid to speak out. He’s a winner.”
His supporters are swayed by Mr. Trump’s professed ability to take a hard line and negotiate a deal — a qualification he often touts as the reason the country needs him.
“Trump is the most successful guy on the stage, period,” said Kent Baughman of Jupiter, Florida. “The U.S. is a big business, and it’s failing now. You can only borrow so much money. At some point you have to turn the business to where it’s profitable. He’s the most successful businessman, and we need a businessman. Not a politician, not a humanitarian, a businessman.”
Mr. Baughman gave $500 to Mr. Trump and owns an advertising company.
“I figured I’d throw some money in the pot,” he said. “Trump can roll his sleeves up and get into a slugging match. If you’re a president, you have to have some grit, and ours now doesn’t.”
His grit and determination are what Mr. Trump’s supporters love about him — and they’re perplexed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson’s run for the top office. Despite pundits lumping the two GOP front-runners together as “outsiders” who draw from the same pool of supporters, none of the Trump supporters interviewed by The Times said they would vote for Mr. Carson.
“I like Ben Carson, but I don’t know if he’s strong enough for what we need,” said Priscilla Ferguson of Cypress, Texas, who donated to the Trump campaign.
That sense that Mr. Carson lacks a fighter’s instinct came through in the interviews, with many saying Mr. Carson would be overmatched in negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Gentle Ben is Gentle Ben,” said Philip Damiano of Hayden Lake, Idaho. “I wouldn’t want to put him in a room with Putin because Putin would kill him.”
Trump supporters also dismissed the other “outsider” in the race, Carly Fiorina, for varying reasons: Some cited her business record as the ousted CEO of Hewlett-Packard as a cause for concern, while others said she lacks the charisma or unscripted personality of Mr. Trump, a reality TV star.
The only other candidate mentioned by Trump supporters was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who many like but not as much as “The Donald.” Mr. Damiano said Mr. Cruz would make an excellent vice president on Mr. Trump’s ticket.
Conservative pressure groups accuse Mr. Trump of being an opportunist. One of them, the Club for Growth, announced $1 million worth of advertising in Iowa portraying the candidate as a liberal who only recently has flip-flopped onto conservative stances.
Others in the GOP presidential field question Mr. Trump’s temperament, saying his brashness eventually will wear thin and voters will jump ship. But the donors The Times spoke with either embraced Mr. Trump’s approach or brushed aside complaints about it.
“We’re not trying to elect someone who is politically correct or says what we want to hear all the time, we’re trying to elect someone who can run our country,” said Amy Sheldon of Flower Mound, Texas. “Only Trump has what it takes.”
The voters also dismissed incidents that pundits deemed gaffes, and didn’t appear concerned by charges that Mr. Trump lacks detailed policies.
“Donald Trump is a businessman. He’ll hire the best generals, the best economists. He knows how to do that — he knows how to hire the best people,” said Amedeo Amato, a Trump supporter in Brooklyn, New York, who, along with donating money to the campaign, sent Mr. Trump a box of hand sanitizers as a gift and has invited him to lunch. “It’s still early yet. More people will come around to him.”