Outside the security perimeter at Lakeland Linder Airport on Wednesday, Donald Trump faced grim polls in the battleground states, TV pundits still talking about House Speaker Paul Ryan refusing to campaign with him, and political pros speculating about Trump losing even overwhelmingly Republican states like Utah.
Inside the fences, all was good in Trump world.
Polls showing Hillary Clinton pulling away? Bunk.
“The numbers that come out are never factual,” said Kelli Woodside, 46, of Plant City, echoing so many of the thousands of other Trump supporters who turned out in the middle of a weekday to see the candidate. “There’s always a pile of people at Trump rallies, and not so much at Hillary’s so you can’t tell me those numbers are all factual. The Democrats are also much more vocal than Republicans. To me it looks like we’re in much better shape than they say they are.”
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That Access Hollywood tape of Trump talking about how he gropes and kisses women whether they welcome it or not? No biggie.
“I bought ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ and I have three grandsons. Boys are going to be boys. They’re going to talk. I’ve heard women make worse comments than that about what they’d like to do to men that walk by,” said Jennifer McCourt. “Actions speak louder than words, and Slick Billy, his actions spoke really big.”
“I say the same things Trump did about a good-looking guy, and I’m 72 years old,” agreed Judy McCourt, her mother-in-law. “Now, I’ve not seen Trump’s back side too much, but I’d like to.”
In today’s starkly polarized country, people live in alternate universes. One side can’t fathom how a majority of voters could support Clinton, and the other can’t imagine Trump. They rarely intermingle, these two groups.
Trump lately is speaking mainly to the residents of his own universe. Rather than try to expand it by reaching out to the remaining sliver of Americans who might be undecided or susceptible to changing their minds, he is focused on firing up the voters convinced Clinton belongs behind bars.
“Based on her crimes, she should not be allowed to run for president,” Trump told the thousands who turned out to see him in Lakeland.
A similarly large and friendly crowd greeted him in Ocala earlier Wednesday.
Liana Lopez, a University of Florida student, said that “women have to tolerate” lewd comments on occasion.
“I’m a college student. I know what men are capable of saying when they’re together,” she said. “And I don’t condone what he said and I don’t think it was right, but that’s not going to stop me from agreeing with his policies.”
Trump is counting on his energized supporters to deliver Florida, and there is no question based on their rallies that Trump’s supporters in Florida are more fired up than Clinton’s.
The problem for the Republican nominee is that few political experts think there are enough Trump supporters for him to carry Florida without growing his support. He is trailing Clinton in all but one of the last eight Florida polls, with RealClearPolitics.com showing him lagging by an average 2.7 percentage points as voting by mail gets underway.
Preaching to the most rabid Clinton critics, as he did Wednesday and during the last debate, may help dampen turnout by likely Clinton voters but it’s unlikely to win over voters wary of his temperament.
“That’s where we have to come in,” said U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, suggesting more mainstream Republican leaders like himself have an obligation to help Trump expand his base of support. “I want to see my colleagues who are Republicans get out there and carry the banner.”
Pessimistic polls suggesting he’s performing poorly with Hispanic voters or women had no place at the Lakeland Airport, where Trump made an airplane entrance befitting someone already in the White House. The soundtrack from Air Force One blared as the crowd waited for him to step out of his 757.
“I love these 'Women for Trump’ signs. Everywhere we go I see hundreds of women,” he gushed.
“CNN sucks! CNN sucks!” the crowd chanted at one point.
Supporter after supporter complained about the media’s bias against Trump, with several suggesting there is a concerted effort to depress turnout.
“I think the media can steal this election,” Winter Haven retiree Grady Maxwell said. “If they keep on telling people Trump’s lost, he’s lost.”
Attending his sixth Trump rally this year, 50-year-old software developer Donald Buzzelli of Clermont said Trump supporters aren’t buying much of what the media says about the race.
“The pundits make no difference. They say what they want to happen,” he said, noting how many pundits said Trump would never win the nomination. “The mainstream media tries to create this narrative, but people see through that. They say, 'It’s our time, we’re going to the polls, and we’re going to push him through.’ ”
Contact Adam C. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @adamsmithtimes