Then it struck me. The deafening roars and vigorous choruses from the capacity crowd at the 20,000-seat Amway Arena showed that Trump’s supporters were excited to watch a rerun. They’d stood in line for hours or camped overnight — enduring stifling humidity interrupted only by brief bursts of hard, heavy rain — to ensure a spot inside. Now I was rattled. I had let the rallies, which formed the core of one of the most steadfast political movements in modern American history and reordered the Republican Party, turn stale and rote. Why was Trump’s performance still so fresh and resonant for an entire arena of fellow Americans? I spent the next year and a half embedded with a group of Trump’s most hardcore rallygoers — known as the “Front Row Joes” — to try to understand what I’d overlooked.
The answer wasn’t so much what I’d missed as what they had found. They were mostly older White men and women who lived paycheck to paycheck with plenty of time on their hands — retired or close to it, estranged from their families or otherwise without children — and Trump had, in a surprising way, made their lives richer. The president himself almost always spent the night in his own bed and kept few close friends. But his rallies gave the Joes a reason to travel the country, staying at one another’s homes, sharing hotel rooms and carpooling. Two had married — and later divorced — by Trump’s second year in office.
In Trump, they’d found someone whose endless thirst for a fight encouraged them to speak up for themselves, not just in politics but also in relationships and at work.